We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. We’re starting with Princeton because that’s where T.S. Eliot is from. “In the room the women come and go/Talking of Michael Bechtold…”
Princeton University was most fortunate that Peter J. Carril, a high school basketball star
from Bethlehem, Pa., decided to play for Lafayette and coach Butch van Breda Kolff. A decade and a half later, when VBK succumbed to the lure of Hollywood’s bright lights, his diminutive protégé was installed as his successor after only one season of college coaching at Lehigh in his hometown.
To understand the genius of Carril, you must understand that he aspired in his life to be a teacher. That his subject was the game of basketball made it inevitable that where he chose to practice his craft would become a very special place. Carril was never driven by the desire to make a lot of money, nor did he ever seek fame. He felt no need to ingratiate himself to his employers, the media, nor, frequently, to his players. His relationships with each were often characterized by a churlishness that only worked because of his success. Princeton was the perfect setting for him and he well understood that. His success was based on the recruitment of talented, intelligent and unselfish players who grasped that he was a winner who would make them better at their game and at life.
He will forever be associated with the term “Princeton offense,” although when asked what he called his style he famously stated, “I never called it anything.” One of his prized pupils, Georgetown’s head coach, John Thompson lll, described the “Princeton offense” as “guys playing together, sharing the ball.” Carril could not have put it any better.
On many occasions Carril was offered head coaching opportunities at other colleges and in the professional ranks. That he always chose to stay at Princeton is perhaps his greatest contribution to the university. Quite simply, he was happy there and that was worth everything to him. (VBK, on the other hand, did not last long in Lotus Land. He bounced around the NBA and several colleges, even returning to high school coaching at one point.)
In 29 seasons at Princeton Carril’s record was 514-261. He is, and will probably always be, the only D1 coach to win 500 games without the benefit of athletic scholarships. He won or shared 13 Ivy titles and took 11 teams to the NCAA tourney. While chiefly remembered for his offensive style, his teams were celebrated among the coaching fraternity for tenacious defense, frequently leading the nation in scoring defense.
Pete’s continuing influence on the game for many years is assured through the Carril Cradle of Coaches. These coaches make up his legacy and it is a proud one. A partial list of the men who learned how to coach from their experiences with him include Gary Walters, who played for him at Reading High School before his years as a Tiger guard. Walters later coached at Dartmouth and Providence before becoming Carril’s boss as Tiger AD.
David Blatt, a gritty guard, spent 30 years coaching in Europe before getting his chance in the NBA with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He is currently in the NBA Finals in his first season. Craig Robinson coached at Brown and Oregon State before moving into an analyst’s chair at ESPN. His daughter is a member of the Tiger women’s team that finished at 31-1 this season.
Armond Hill was the head coach at Columbia and has been a highly respected assistant in the NBA for many years. Bill Carmody was Pete’s top assistant for 14 years prior to succeeding him in 1996. He later spent 14 seasons at Northwestern in the Big Ten and was recently hired to restore the fortunes of the Holy Cross program.
John Thompson lll, succeeded Carmody at Jadwin and now holds the position formerly held by his own Hall of Fame father at Georgetown. Joe Scott coached at Princeton and the Air Force Academy and has found a home as the head coach at Denver. Chris Mooney is the very successful coach of the Richmond Spiders. Mike Brennan has guided American to the Patriot League title. Sydney Johnson, captain of Carril’s last team, was named head coach of the Tigers in 2007. He is now the head man for the Fairfield Stags. Two of his teammates, Mitch Henderson and Brian Earl, are currently running the show in Jadwin. Henderson enters his fifth season this year, with Earl at his side as top assistant.
The occasion of Pete Carril’s Hall of Fame enshrinement surely ranks among the highlights in the history of Tiger basketball.