Jack McCloskey, who led Penn to an Ivy League championship as a coach in 1966 and led the Detroit Pistons to NBA titles in 1989 and 1990 as a general manager, died Thursday at 91 in Savannah, Ga., per the New York Times, due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
The son of a coal miner and a native of Mahanoy City, Pa., McCloskey lettered at Penn in 1943-44 and then served in the Navy at Okinawa during World War II. He became head coach at Penn in 1956, posting a 146-105 overall record, including 87-53 against Ivy League competition. He led Penn to its first ever Ancient Eight title in 1966. The 1965-66 Quakers were denied a NCAA Tournament berth when then-athletic director Jerry Ford refused to comply with a new NCAA rule calling for student-athletes to maintain a minimum grade-point average of 1.6.
“And it was a disaster,” McCloskey told the Daily Pennsylvanian in 2013 in a wide-ranging interview looking back on his life. “That’s why I left Penn. There was no way I could associate with that man (Ford).”
From there, McCloskey coached six years as head coach at Wake Forest and later served as head coach for the Portland Trailblazers and an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Then in 1979, McCloskey took the job he is most remembered for outside of Ivy League circles: general manager of the Detroit Pistons. McCloskey and Pistons coach Chuck Daly (a former Penn head coach who McCloskey hired) turned the Pistons’ franchise around, as Detroit eventually made the NBA Finals straight three years, winning two championships. McCloskey used a scouting technique in Detroit that he had developed at Penn, he told the DP in 2013.
“Well, when I was at Pennsylvania, I would put this player in when the game was just about over, and he would play pretty well, McCloskey said. “And I said to my assistant, ‘I think we’ve got to give him a little more time.’ And one of the things I did was make a card, and my assistant had to grade him from 1 to 10 on all these different categories, his quickness, his rebounding, his shooting ability, his competitiveness and so forth … I used that card in the NBA.”