With 199 wins,
Bargen continued Blue Dragon
In Coach Gary Bargen’s eight years at Hutchinson Community College (1978-86) as men’s basketball coach, his teams earned a collective record of 199-56, including seven Jayhawk West titles. He became the second-most winning coach in Blue Dragon history and was honored as Region VI Coach of the Year twice.
In 1986, the Blue Dragons took third place in the NJCAA Tournament. Big things were expected of that team right from the start. With seven very talented sophomores returning from the 1985 team that was 22-8 and tied for first in the Jayhawk West, Hutch was ranked fourth in the country in preseason. But the Dragons got off to a 1-2 start, losing to two teams at the very top of the rankings, one on a 30-footer and the other on a basket after the buzzer. Hutch fell out of the national poll after that.
With 52 seconds left in regional play, Bargen’s team was down four points to Jayhawk East Champion Independence. Every time Independence got the ball at the end, the Dragons fouled. Indy hit only 1 of 5 free throws while the Blue Dragons hit two clutch baskets and clinched the win with a pair of free throws with 8 seconds left. The Blue Dragons ran into undefeated and heavily favored San Jacinto in the semifinals of the national tournament. Despite being eight points down at the half after having turned the ball over 16 times, the Blue Dragons were down by only one with 15 seconds left when San Jac hit a 25-footer to ice an 82-81 win, despite the Blue Dragons shooting 64 percent from the field.
Bargen’s involvement in sports began early in life in his hometown of Hardy, Neb. He was a starter all four years in football and basketball, qualified for state in discus twice and played Junior Legion baseball in the summer.
Following high school, Bargen majored in physical education and minored in math and biology at the University of Nebraska. “When I graduated from high school,” he said, “I knew what I wanted to become a math teacher and basketball coach.”
He intended to walk-on to both the football and basketball teams at the university, but an injured knee prevented him from doing so.
Coaching runs through Bargen’s veins. Both his brothers were coaches. Bargen coached and taught high school math and physical education for several years in Nebraska before going to Southeast (Neb.) Community College. As head coach and athletic director, he went 140-68 in the last six years of the nine he coached at SCC. Bargen was flexible when it came to coaching.
“I have always believed that you have to adjust your offensive and defensive schemes each season according to the abilities of the student-athletes you have on your team,” he said. “At the college level, I preferred to recruit student-athletes who could play an up-tempo style of play.”
He emphasized teamwork, insisting that he “would rather coach a team that was not quite as talented, but that played hard for 40 minutes every game, played smart, and played well together as a team.”
Bargen also wanted his players to be respectable people with determination to graduate college. He said, “I felt that my players needed to know that I truly cared about them individually, more than just how many games they could win”
Beginning in 1970, Bargen attended the NJCAA tournament annually. From that point in time, he said, “I always believed that I would like to coach the Blue Dragons.
When the position opened in the spring of 1978, Bargen applied for and got the job.
Bargen believes his teams were successful “because we had good players who were good people, and they believed that when they put that Blue Dragon uniform on and took the court they were supposed to win.”
He also contributes that success to the fans, saying, “The community of Hutchinson and surrounding area took a lot of pride in the HCC basketball program, and, consequently, that helped us be able to recruit good players, who in turn made our program successful. My family and I look back on our eight years at HCC and Hutchinson as some of the best years of our lives.”
Bargen then received an offer to return home when the University of Nebraska’s head coach asked him to become an assistant. “I really wasn’t interested in an assistant coaching position,” he said, “but since our families were from Nebraska, my family and I decided that we would return to our home state and accept the challenge of helping rebuild the Huskers basketball program.”
In his years at Nebraska, he recalls numerous memorable moments, including winning the Big 8 Conference Tournament in 1994 and defeating Kansas and Danny Manning on a last-second shot in Lincoln. Bargen also helped lead the Huskers to a third place finish in the NIT in New York his first year. Nebraska qualified for the NCAA Tournament four years in a row under his guidance.