The lasting image of Joe B. Hall — the one cast in bronze for a life-sized statue on the University of Kentucky’s campus and painted on a 30-foot-tall mural that watches over his hometown of Cynthiana, Ky. — is a serious and bespectacled man in suit and tie with a rolled-up game program clenched in his right fist like a baton he is determined not to drop. If he sometimes seemed too solemn, too harsh, too tightly wound, it was only because he’d taken that baton from the legendary Adolph Rupp, and it was heavier than he ever dreamed. For the 13 years he coached the Wildcats after Rupp, from 1972 until 1985, Hall felt the constant weight of what he considered a sacred obligation: to not just secure the baton but carry it forward.

At the time, most folks were skeptical. How could a man who played for Rupp, coached under Rupp and then replaced Rupp possibly carve out his own legacy in Lexington? Well, like this: Hall won eight SEC championships, reached three Final Fours and won the 1978 national championship. He also wasted no time doing what Rupp either could not or would not, fully integrating the program by hiring its first Black assistant coach and filling his roster with Black players. Hall was also among the first coaches in the sport to establish a serious strength training program, he led the charge to build Kentucky’s first basketball dorm — his statue now sits in front of the newest version — and he created a fan-friendly preseason event that took on a life of its own, complete with a days-long campout, known today as Big Blue Madness.

Hall, whose contributions ensured that Kentucky would be not just a one-coach program but a blue blood built to last, died Saturday. He was 93. Among the many visitors who celebrated his final birthday at a nursing home last month was John Calipari, the fifth coach to win a national title at UK. Hall died knowing the baton was still in capable hands.

“I think he would be most proud that people believe he did all he ever wanted to do: He upheld the tradition,” former All-American Kyle Macy says. “He loved Kentucky basketball ever since he was a little kid, and he just wanted to know that he had a hand in keeping it great.”

The irony of the way we remember Hall on the sidelines, as a man hardened by unimaginable pressure, is he abandoned that persona completely in his moment of truth. He did not mimic his mentor. He did not squeeze that poor scroll of sweaty paper to a pulp. No, minutes before the biggest game of his life, the ’78 championship game against Duke, Hall slipped off his suit jacket, loosened his tie and dragged a garbage can into the middle of Kentucky’s locker room. He climbed in, sat down, crossed his eyes, stuck out his tongue and then pulled the bag up over his head. Players stared at each other, mouths agape, in silent disbelief. Their hard-driving coach had finally cracked. They expected Knute Rockne and got Oscar the Grouch instead.

“He’s lost his mind,” Macy remembers thinking.

In fact, Hall knew exactly what he was doing. Those Wildcats had marched military-style, eyes forward and expressionless, toward that championship game for months. It was a stoic pursuit that had been called a season without celebration — or fun, or joy, depending on who was describing their stress-filled slog. Only one outcome was acceptable that year, and everyone knew it. Kentucky was loaded, led by a senior class that made the title game in 1975, won the NIT in 1976 and reached a region final in 1977. Six years after replacing Rupp, who won four NCAA championships, Hall had yet to win the big one himself. Come back empty-handed again, and there would be a long line of people ready to help him back into the trash can.

As if that weight wasn’t suffocating enough, the third-place game in ’78 ran long. The Wildcats found themselves stuck in their locker room trying to take deep breaths and unclench their jaws, among other things. Hall himself had been so spun-up that he nearly entered the Blue Devils’ locker room by mistake. He’d given some spectacular pregame and halftime speeches in his time, but Hall sensed the mood and simplified this one. He sacked himself. After a few awkward beats, uproarious laughter filled the room, then Hall stood up from the garbage and gave his final order: Let’s go win this.

“We had been waiting and waiting and waiting,” remembers Jack Givens, who scored 41 points that night when Hall turned the Goose loose against Duke’s zone. “The tension was really thick, and the pressure was building up in that room. We didn’t need a whole lot of coaching in that moment. Joe had us totally prepared — he always did — and he knew that. We needed to laugh. We needed to relax. We needed to break the tension. When Joe got in the trash can, the rest was history. I’ve told him many times that was his best coaching job ever.”

Givens doesn’t just mean that final game. He means that entire NCAA Tournament. The defining run of Hall’s career could’ve ended in the first round, after all. Down seven to Florida State at halftime, Hall peeled paint in the locker room, where he also kicked over a bucket of water and soaked the team trainer, then benched All-Americans Givens, Rick Robey and senior guard Truman Claytor. He replaced them with three guys who’d barely played all year, the same trio he’d left behind when they were late to the bus for shootaround at Ole Miss. Naturally, they sparked a comeback.

“That took some courage,” Macy says, “because if that had backfired, it could’ve easily cost him his job.”

But every button Hall pushed that season seemed to be the right one. When he didn’t like the energy before a regional final against Magic Johnson and Michigan State, he quickly scribbled something on the chalkboard: 40-40-40 — 120. Three 40-minute games left to win it all, 120 minutes to achieve the dream. “That’s two hours of work,” Hall told them. “You can do anything for two hours.” The day before a national semifinal against Arkansas, he fell to the floor and clucked like a chicken in front of the team. So maybe they weren’t that shocked by the trash can stunt. Even in those rare moments of brevity, though, Hall never let the Wildcats forget their mission. He wrote “40” on the blackboard before that championship game and reminded them history was just around the corner. “Forty minutes to glory,” he told them.

“He knew what he had to do to get us ready,” Givens says. “He knew the players who could handle his wrath and those who couldn’t. He let the situation dictate his approach. There’s a whole lot more to coaching than what a guy does during the 40 minutes of the game on the court, and Joe was very good at all phases.”