After high school, Rupp attended the University of Kansas from 1919-1923. He worked part-time at the student Jayhawk Cafe to help pay his college expenses. He was a reserve on the basketball team under legendary coach Dr. Forrest "Phog" Allen from 1919 to 1923. Assisting Allen during that time was his former coach and inventor of the game of basketball, James Naismith, who Rupp also got to know well during his time in Lawrence.
In Rupp's junior and senior college seasons (1921-22 and 1922-23), Kansas (KU) had outstanding basketball squads. Later, both of these standout Kansas (KU) teams would be awarded the Helms National Championship, recognizing the Jayhawks as the top team in the nation during those seasons.
After graduation, Rupp looked for opportunities in banking but soon opted to take a teaching and coaching job at Burr Oak (Kansas) High School. Disappointed in the facilities in Burr Oak, he later moved to Marshalltown, Iowa where he coached wrestling, a sport he knew nothing about at the time and learned from a book.
In 1926-29, Rupp accepted the basketball head coaching position at Freeport (Illinois) High School, where he also taught history and economics. He stayed at Freeport for four years, building a record of 66-21 and guiding his team to a third-place finish in the 1929 state tournament.
During his time in Freeport, Rupp met his future wife, Esther Schmidt. Rupp took summer classes at Columbia University in New York City, where he earned a Masters degree in both education and economics. While at Freeport, Rupp travelled to nearby Madison, Wisconsin in order to observe and learn from University of Wisconsin basketball coach Dr. Walter "Doc" Meanwell.
University of Kentucky
Rupp coached the University of Kentucky basketball team from 1930 to 1972. At Kentucky, he earned the titles "Baron of the Bluegrass" and "The Man in the Brown Suit" (Rupp always wore a brown suit to games). Rupp was a master of motivation and strategy, often using local talent to build his teams. In fact, throughout his career, more than 80% of Rupp's players came from the state of Kentucky. He promoted a sticky man-to-man defense, a fluid set offense, perfect individual fundamentals, and a relentless fast break that battered opponents into defeat. Rupp demanded 100% effort from his players at all times, pushing them to great levels of success.
His Wildcat teams won 4 NCAA championships (1948, 1949, 1951, 1958), one NIT title in 1946 (when the NIT was a tournament equal in prestige to the NCAA tournament), appeared in 20 NCAA tournaments, had 6 NCAA Final Four appearances, won 5 Sugar Bowl tournament championships, captured 27 Southeastern Conference regular season titles, and won 13 Southeastern Conference tournaments. Rupp's Kentucky teams also finished ranked #1 on 6 occasions in the final Associated Press college basketball poll and 4 times in the United Press International (Coaches) poll. In addition, Rupp's legendary 1966 Kentucky squad (nicknamed "Rupp's Runts") finished second in the NCAA tournament, and his powerful 1947 Wildcats finished second in the NIT. Also, Rupp's 1933 and 1954 Kentucky squads were awarded the Helms National Championship.
Rupp was forced into retirement in 1972 after reaching age 70, at that time the mandatory retirement age for Kentucky state employees.
Career after Kentucky
In April, 1972 Rupp was named as Team President of the Memphis Pros, soon to become the Memphis Tams, of the American Basketball Association. In July, 1973 Rupp was hired as Vice President of the Board of the Kentucky Colonels of the American Basketball Association.
Rupp died at age 76 in Lexington, Kentucky on December 10, 1977, the very night UK defeated his alma mater, Kansas, at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas. Ironicly, the game that night was promoted as "Adolph Rupp Night", in honor of Rupp. Rupp listened to the broadcast of the game from his hospital bed before finally succumbing to a protracted battle with spinal cancer and diabetes. He is buried at the Lexington Cemetery in Lexington, Kentucky.
Twenty-nine of Rupp's players earned All-American honors, 52 earned All-Conference honors, 7 won Olympic gold medals, 30 played professionally, and 5 are enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. A 4-time National Coach of the Year, Rupp established a winning tradition at Kentucky later achieved only by John Wooden at UCLA. In 1969, Rupp recruited Tom Payne as the first African American to play on Kentucky's squad. This late date lead many to conclude that Rupp held racist views. This conclusion is inferred in the 2006 basketball film Glory Road. However, there are many who believe that Rupp was not a racist, telling stories about his constant attempts to recruit black players and severely chastising a group of boosters who tried to stop him from doing so.
A little more than a year before his death, the Wildcats moved from their 12,000 seat on-campus arena, Memorial Coliseum, to the (then) new 24,000 seat Rupp Arena. This huge arena, named after Rupp, is located in downtown Lexington, Kentucky. The arena continues to play host to Kentucky home games, as well as numerous other athletic events, such as the Kentucky Boys Sweet Sixteen. In addition, there have been numerous NCAA tournament games played in Rupp Arena over the years, including the 1985 men's Final Four. As a result of the large size of Rupp Arena, along with near fanatical fan support, Kentucky normally leads the nation in home men's basketball attendance.
The Adolph Rupp Trophy, named in Rupp's honor, has been awarded annually since 1972 by the Associated Press to the best player in men's college basketball
Rupp is portrayed by actor Jon Voight in the 2006 film Glory Road, which depicts the 1966 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament.
Rupp is a Past Potentate of the Oleika Shrine Temple in Lexington, Kentucky. He was active in the Lexington, Kentucky community in various charity organizations, and was a zealous fund-raiser for the Shriners Children's Hospital.