Slam dunk

Forrest ‘Phog’ Allen, DO: The father of basketball coaching

This March Madness™, learn about Kansas Jayhawks coaching legend Forrest “Phog” Allen, DO, a pioneer who blended osteopathic medicine with coaching to shape sporting history and his athletes’ success.

In the world of sports, March and early April are a special time. March is the month of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I men’s basketball tournament, known as “March Madness™.” The event consists of 68 teams playing in single-elimination games. The tournament runs throughout the month of March and culminates in the championship game of the last two teams standing. This year, the championship game of the tournament is on April 8.

The Kansas Jayhawks of the University of Kansas (KU) have historically been one of the most successful teams in the tournament. In the last 20 years, they have won the NCAA championship twice and were runner-up once. But how did the Jayhawks become such a powerhouse? It all started with one coach, the man who is considered to be the father of modern basketball coaching.

What if we told you that this father of modern basketball coaching was also an osteopathic physician? This same person also played basketball at KU and was coached by none other than James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. Another hint: KU named their basketball auditorium after this famous coach/osteopathic physician. Do you have any guesses?

If you said Forrest “Phog” Allen, DO, you are correct! Dr. Allen, a distinguished figure in basketball coaching, holds a special place in the heart of the basketball world. What sets him apart is not just his coaching acumen, but also his background as a doctor of osteopathic medicine, a qualification that earned him the moniker “The Osteopathic Wizard of Sports.”

Below, we delve into Dr. Allen’s life, including his background in osteopathic medicine, and explore how athletes attributed his success to what they considered his “magic touch.”

An 8’8” bronze statue of Forrest “Phog” Allen, DO, stands in front of the namesake Allen Fieldhouse on The University of Kansas (KU) campus. Photo provided courtesy of KU.

The osteopathic approach

Dr. Allen’s journey to becoming a renowned basketball coach was unconventional. He was born in 1885 in Jamesport, Missouri (coincidentally, not too far from Kirksville, Missouri). In 1905, he enrolled at KU and joined the basketball team (it was during this time that he was coached by Naismith). In 1907, Dr. Allen began coaching at KU, having acquired the nickname “Phog” for his distinctive foghorn voice. In 1909, after graduating from KU, he continued his education at what is now known as Kansas City University College of Osteopathic Medicine (KCU-COM) in Kansas City, Missouri.

After graduation, Dr. Allen swiftly returned to his passion of coaching basketball, marking the beginning of an illustrious career.

Dr. Allen’s osteopathic background shaped his coaching philosophy, extending beyond the basketball court. He believed in nurturing the physical and mental wellbeing of his players, understanding that peak athletic performance required more than just skill development. His unique approach garnered national attention and soon, athletes began to attribute their success and recovery to what they described as Dr. Allen’s “magic touch.”

The magic touch

Athletes under Dr. Allen’s care consistently spoke of the positive impact his osteopathic interventions had on their performance and recovery. Many credited him with an intuitive understanding of the body and an ability to alleviate pain, enhance flexibility and promote overall physical resilience. His ability to lead by example is what allowed the athletes he coached to follow his philosophy.

One of the key elements of Dr. Allen’s “magic touch” was his hands-on approach to injury prevention and rehabilitation. Through osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), he addressed musculoskeletal imbalances, helping players recover from injuries faster and maintain peak physical condition. This hands-on approach fostered a strong bond of trust between Dr. Allen and his athletes.

Dr. Allen’s holistic perspective also extended to the mental and emotional aspects of sports. He recognized the importance of mental wellbeing in achieving success on the court, using osteopathic principles to alleviate stress and promote mental clarity among his players.

Lasting legacy

Dr. Allen’s influence extended far beyond the basketball court. His osteopathic background left an indelible mark on the world of sports, challenging traditional methods and inspiring a more comprehensive approach to the wellbeing of athletes. The magic touch that his players spoke of was, in reality, the application of osteopathic principles to enhance physical and mental performance.

When it came to sports-related injuries, athletes preferred Dr. Allen’s “magic touch” rather than medication. Continuing his private practice outside of coaching, Dr. Allen built a reputation with his patients. Some described him as a “forward thinker.”

Dr. Allen remains a pioneer in the integration of osteopathic medicine into the world of sports. His holistic approach to athlete care, influenced by his osteopathic training, earned him the admiration of athletes who experienced the benefits firsthand. His coaching and OMT skills not only helped his players, but they also translated to on-the-court success as well. He ultimately won three national basketball championships, including the NCAA’s 1952 tournament. He was an integral part of the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team’s coaching staff during the 1952 Summer Olympics, when the team brought home the gold.

Today, Dr. Allen’s legacy serves as a reminder that a comprehensive understanding of the human body can contribute significantly to athletic success. He was a true trailblazer in the world of sports medicine.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Related reading:

Get to know President Joe Biden’s personal physician, Kevin O’Connor, DO

Notable DOs you probably haven’t heard of: Read about fighter pilot Eddie Rickenbacker’s physician and musician Steve Miller’s dad, uncle


  1. Richard Uhlig Sr. D.O.

    Dr. Naismith’s grandson was a classmate of mine in college. He didn’t like sports and didn’t play basketball. Did you know that Dr. Phog Allen recruited Wilt Chamberlain for K.U. basketball. Phog retired after Wilt’s freshman year, and Dick Harp became head coach at K.U. Wilt set a K.U. scoring record of 52 points in his first varsity game, and it still stands.

Leave a comment Please see our comment policy