Q&A: Chris Denari on Crossing Paths with Tony Hinkle
In 1989, Chris Denari — who is now known for being FOX Sports Indiana's play-by-play voice of the Pacers — took a job with Butler University as the school's first-ever Sports Marketing Director. Working in the athletic department, Denari often crossed paths with the legendary coach Tony Hinkle, who had been retired since 1970 but still had an office and was around the program frequently.
Hinkle joined Butler in 1921, working as a teacher, athletic administrator, and a coach. But unlike most coaches of today, Hinkle oversaw multiple sports, leading the basketball, baseball, and football teams to success. Hinkle's impact on Butler was so profound, the legendary fieldhouse was re-named the Hinkle Fieldhouse in 1966. Four years later, Hinkle retired from coaching, having led the basketball team for 41 seasons.
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Coach Hinkle passed away in 1992. For Denari, getting a chance to observe Hinkle and get to know him during their three years of overlap at Butler left an impactful impression.
What was your day-to-day interaction with Hinkle like? What impression did he make on you?
Denari: He would come in every day with a coat and tie on, he looked like he was coming in ready for work. He was older when I as there in the late 1980s and early '90s, but I had a chance to talk to him. You were sort of in awe of being in the building that was named after him and you know how much he had accomplished in his career. I mean he was the basketball coach, he was the baseball coach, he was the athletic director. He was the do-it-all man of Butler. You knew that you were sort of there to carry on and build on the tradition that he had built, and you took pride in that.
It seems like Butler is always punching above its weight on the national stage. Do you consider that part of Hinkle's legacy?
I do think that was important. If you look at what they've instituted now, The Butler Way, (Athletic Director) Barry Collier sort of brought it back to the forefront when he became the basketball coach and he's the Athletic Director now but you're right. That really started in the days of Tony Hinkle, getting athletes to play above their grade if you will. To compete at the highest level, because if you go back to the 1920s and '30s and the '40s, here's Butler, this small private school back in the day playing Notre Dame, Purdue, and Indiana, and other various institutions around the country and they were not like those other schools. So you have to think that was kind of born in those early years and carried to fruition with coach Hinkle.
Do you think it's possible that there will ever be a modern version of Coach Hinkle, who coaches multiple Division I teams?
Probably not, I just don't think that can exist anymore, especially at the Division I level because everything is so specialized now and there is so much focus on each individual sports that I think it would very difficult for somebody to do what Tony Hinkle did all those years ago. If you think about what he did it almost borders on impossible, but he was somebody that could take on the challenge and be very successful with the challenge.
When you were at Butler, would coaches and players come by his office to pick his brain?
It was funny because he parked right by the side door that is looking over the Butler Bowl and he would walk right into his office. And he would drive in every day and there were people that would stop by his office. He called everybody "kid." Didn't matter how old you were, and there were so many people. Bill Sylvester was the longtime Athletic Director at Butler, he was there when I started, and he had a great history with coach Hinkle because he had been there as an athlete back in the day when Tony Hinkle was the coach. There were a lot of people when I had first gotten there to work that had had great relationships with him, because they had been there as coaches with him and they had been there as players or student athletes with him.