Newell played basketball at Loyola University of Los Angeles. He graduated in 1939 and after WWII, began his college coaching career at the University of San Francisco, where he emphasized team defense and a controlled offense. His USF teams won 25 of 30 games and the 1949 National Invitation Tournament. Newell had a 70-37 record in four seasons, then went to Michigan State in 1950. After indifferent success there, a 45-42 record in four seasons, he moved on to the University of California in 1952. Newell took California to the NCAA championship game in 1959 and 1960, winning the title the first year and losing to Ohio State in the second. He coached the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal in 1960, becoming the first coach ever to win an NIT, an NCAA tournament, and Olympic gold. In six seasons at California, he won 118 games and lost 44. His overall college record was 233 wins and 123 losses. Newell later served as general manager of the San Diego Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA.