Kirk was brought to Memphis to be the head basketball coach of the
Memphis State University Tigers men's basketball team in 1979. He took a team that
winning enough for the fan base and turned it into a city-wide cause for excitement. In doing so, he became a city-wide celebrity and a legend in his own time. His tenure ended with an investigation by the National Collegiate Athletic Association and, eventually, criminal charges. Kirk died February 15, 2010, in Memphis of a heart attack at the age of 74.
Although Kirk was accused, and spent a few months in prison, of income tax evasion and obstruction of justice, those who were involved with the Memphis State athletic program say he certainly could coach. He had a winning record of 158 wins and only 58 losses while at the helm of the Tigers. In 1985, he lead his team to the "Final Four" semi-final round of the national college basketball tournament, losing to the team that would become the national champions. In just a couple years coming to Memphis, he had the team playing so well it was ranked first in the nation, the first time that had ever happened for a Memphis State basketball team. His MSU teams went to the NCAA tournament 5 times and was named Metro Conference Coach of the Year for the 1983-84 season and Basketball Weekly's Coach of the Year for the '81-82 season.
"He loved his players," said Greg Moore, who played for Kirk from 1979-82. "He really did."1
Allegations against Kirk included taking kickbacks from sponsors of various events and giving cash payments to a star player. The NCAA vacated the team's Final Four appearance in the 1985 tournament and Kirk spent 4 months in a federal prison on the tax charges.
After his firing in 1986, Kirk never coached college basketball again. Still, he remained a resident of the Memphis area and a fan of the Memphis basketball team.
1. Quoted from The Commercial Appeal, February 20, 2010.