Kirby Mannon: Forever a Giant

Kirby Mannon dies at the age of 84 after 55 years of coaching basketball, 45 of them at College of the Sequoias where men’s tournament bears his name

By Nick Giannandrea
COS Athletics

VISALIA – Kirby Mannon, a near life-long athlete and coach of multiple sports during a 45-year career at College of the Sequoias, died on March 22 after a battle with cancer.

He was 84.

“The COS family lost a good one this week. Kirby was a fixture in Tulare County athletics for seven decades,” COS superintendent/president Brent Calvin said. “He’ll be remembered for his easy-going nature and willingness to teach and coach students of any age, from his freshmen athletes to the folks he helped at numerous nursing homes. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

Mannon arrived at COS in 1970 as a part-time assistant coach in both men’s basketball and track and field, the same sports he once starred in for the Giants.

After three seasons as an assistant, Mannon was elevated to become the ninth head men’s basketball coach in program history.

Mannon spent seven seasons coaching the Giants, going 107-103 overall and 50-41 in conference play.

His best seasons were in 1974-75 and 1975-76, when he led COS to overall records of 18-13 and 20-9, respectively.

After his run as the Giants’ men’s basketball coach, Mannon coached a high school girls basketball team in Oregon for two years before returning to COS in 1983 as the head women’s cross country coach and a track and field assistant.

Mannon coached women’s cross country for seven seasons and remained a track and field assistant through 2018.

In 1996, Mannon returned to the Giants men’s basketball program as an interim replacement for coach John Boragno, who had taken a sabbatical. That gave Mannon the opportunity to coach his son “Sonny” Kirby Mannon Jr. and his son’s close friend Brent Davis, who is now COS’ athletic director.

“Kirby was a genuinely good person,” Davis said. “You always felt great when you were around him. He always gave you his attention and was always willing to help anyone. That’s his legacy. His willingness to help others. And he didn’t want anything in return. He just wanted to help.”

Mannon moved to Tulare County from Oklahoma with his family when he was 5 years old.

Playing alongside childhood friends Les Borges and Wayne Head, Mannon excelled at athletics while attending Eastland School (now Mineral King Elementary), Visalia Union High and eventually Mt. Whitney High.

Mannon was a three-year starter on the Pioneers’ boys basketball team (under influential coach Frank Starnes), and a standout in track and field, specializing in the jumps.

“Kirby loved competing,” Borges said. “He was a great athlete.”

After graduating from Mt. Whitney, Mannon moved on to COS, where he played basketball for legendary coach Polly Wilhelmsen and participated in track and field. He was COS’ athlete of the year in 1956.

The standout jumper received a track and field scholarship to USC, where he earned his degree. He later obtained a Master’s degree from Cal Poly in 1967.

Mannon launched his teaching/coaching career in 1961 at Farmersville Junior High. He also taught and coached at Divisadero Middle School in Visalia before getting his first high school job in 1968 at Corcoran, where he coached boys basketball for three seasons.

“He was a tough coach and expected a lot out of you,” said Greg Sheela, who played for Mannon at Corcoran and COS. “You didn’t want to disappoint him. He was like a father figure. I learned so much from him. He was a big inspiration for me and a great coach.”

Once at COS, Mannon began running a weekly open gym on Sundays, where he was able to feed his insatiable desire to compete while providing a place for faculty, students and youth from the community to play the game of basketball.

Mannon became known for his lethal drive to the basket and a deadly accurate shot. He continued to play pick-up games against men decades his junior well into his late 70s.

“I played a lot of basketball, and I never played against anyone quicker than Kirby,” said Borges, a long-time boys basketball coach at Mt. Whitney. “He was just a very talented athlete.”

Visalian Joe Dougherty, who considered Mannon to be like an older brother while growing up, was a regular at the open gyms and a frequent teammate in pick-up games.

“He had the best (shooting) form of anybody I’ve ever seen,” Dougherty said. “I would set picks for him and he’d hit those 3-point shots, and his (shooting) percentage was incredible. And he could go to the bucket quicker than many younger men. These kids would be sitting there with their mouths open because they couldn’t believe this old man had driven the bucket on them.”

Mannon didn’t just play, he always took the time to teach the game to anyone willing to learn. Dougherty said Mannon was responsible for helping launch the careers of future Visalia prep standouts such as Calvin (Redwood), Davis (Redwood), Jason Glick (Mt. Whitney), Robert Dougherty (Mt. Whitney) and his own son Sonny (Redwood).

“Those guys wouldn’t have been who they became without the mentor-ship Kirby offered them,” Joe Dougherty said. “Kirby was the spark.”

Davis agreed with that assessment, adding that he likely wouldn’t be COS’ athletic director without Mannon’s influence and guidance as a youth.

“He taught me how to shoot a basketball,” Davis said. “If not for Kirby, I wouldn’t be sitting where I am today. What I did in basketball took me to this job. I’ll forever be grateful to him.”

Calvin enjoyed the journey of going from one of Mannon’s teammates in pick-up games as a 12-year-old kid, to his boss when he joined COS as athletic director in 2002.

“Like a lot of other people, I met Kirby through the game of basketball,” Calvin said. “I count it as an honor to have been friends and colleagues with him for the last four decades. He touched many lives in a positive way.”

COS named its annual holiday men’s basketball tournament after Mannon in 2010. And his track and field jersey from 1956 is framed and hangs in the Giants’ athletics office.

In all, Mannon enjoyed a 55-year career as a coach at the junior high, high school and community college levels. And he enjoyed crossing paths with the people he encountered over the years.

“Whenever he saw someone he coached or played basketball with, he lit up,” said his son, Sonny Mannon. “He came into contact with so many people through sports and teaching. He was always a positive person. He always had a smile. Always had something nice to say. When people think about him, they are going to smile and think about how warm and friendly he was. And how much of a stud he was, too.”

Kirby Mannon is survived by his wife of 59 years, Bernadine, 79, daughter Monica Maudet, 54, and son Sonny, 42.

Sonny Mannon said a private graveside service for immediate family only will be held soon, with a Celebration of Life/Memorial to be planned once current state-wide restrictions over pubic gatherings because of the coronavirus pandemic are lifted.

“He was an extraordinary man in a lot of ways,” Joe Dougherty said. “He was loved by everyone. I don’t think anyone could say they didn’t like Kirby Mannon. That’s just the way it was. And he represented COS every day of his life. He’s a Giant, and will be a giant in the next life.”

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