Legendary former Princeton men’s basketball coach Pete Carril, arguably the face of Ivy League basketball for all time, has died.
Carril died at 92 Monday morning, Princeton Athletics announced in a statement from his family.
“The Carril family is sad to report that Coach Peter J. Carril passed away peacefully this morning, the statement read. “We kindly ask that you please respect our privacy at this time as we process our loss and handle necessary arrangements. More information will be forthcoming in the following days.”
In his 29 years leading Princeton, Carril cemented his place as one of the most impactful innovators in the history of the sport. From 1967 to 1996, Carril’s Tigers won 514 games and 13 Ivy League titles by playing his way – smart, selective and disciplined.
Carril will forever be linked to the ‘Princeton offense,’ an offensive strategy that neutralized faster, more athletic and less versatile opponents by slowing games down through prolific passing to patiently set up high-percentage shots through screens and cuts.
Decades before it was en vogue, Carril emphasized ball-handling and perimeter shooting from all five players on the floor to complement his stingy defenses.
“Pete Carril’s fingerprints are all over the game of basketball, and will remain so for generations to come,” Craig Robinson, Carril’s former two-time Ivy Player of the Year standout and executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, said in a statement. “His signature offensive style became the defining characteristic of the Princeton program, and his philosophies continue to influence how offensive systems are developed to this day.”
All of Carril’s successors have either coached or played under him.
But while many coaches have tried to replicate and build upon his offensive patterns, no one could ever hope to duplicate his consummately curmudgeonly image.
The vertically challenged Carril was a memorable presence on the sideline, usually wearing a rumpled sweater and letting referees know where he stood in more ways than one.
“I was tough to referee a game for,” Carril acknowledged in his 1997 book ‘The Smart from the Strong: The Basketball Philosophy of Pete Carril.’ ” … I’ve seen about half a dozen good refs.”
Carril held himself to a similarly high standard.
“It is important to do things right and it is equally important to be good at what you are doing,” Carril wrote in his book.
Every generation and corner of the college basketball world – from Old Nassau to 33rd Street – agreed after Carril’s death Monday that he was among the very best at what he did.
“Your impact on basketball on basketball is evident every time someone steps on the floor, but your impact in my life is bigger than you probably ever knew,” 2020 Princeton basketball alumnus Devin Cannady said of Carril in a Twitter post.
“Pete was the ultimate competitor and warrior, and his teams were always the most difficult to play against,” Bob Weinhauer, coach of Princeton’s archrival Penn, said in a statement released by Penn Athletics. “We had such a great rivalry, and I hope he knew that everyone at Penn had the utmost respect for his teams.”
Carril retired as Princeton head coach in 1996, moving on to become an assistant for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, where he was known as “Coachie.”
“During his time in Sacramento, Coachie left an indelible imprint on the Kings organization and the many players who benefited from his tutelage,” the Kings said in a Twitter post. “Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones in during this difficult time.”
“RIP to a man who changed basketball, and who changed the lives of so many — including mine — for the better,” 1998 Princeton basketball alumnus and Time magazine senior sports correspondent Sean Gregory wrote on Twitter. “Thanks Coach.”
Bruce Lefkowitz, a 1987 Penn basketball alumnus and standout, called competing against Carril “an honor” on Twitter.
“He was a true legend of the game,” Lefkowitz wrote. “Nothing was more grueling than ‘Princeton Week’ when [we] had to defend the Princeton offense for the whole practice.”
More than a quarter-century after his coaching run at Princeton ended, Carril is still the all-time winningest coach in Ivy men’s basketball history.
Many defining moments in Ivy hoops history happened on Carril’s watch. Princeton’s 43-41 upset win over defending national champion UCLA in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and Princeton’s near-upset of No. 1 Georgetown as a No. 16 seed in 1989, memorably characterized by Gregory and fellow Princeton graduate Alexander Wolff as the game that saved March Madness – are the two most well-known moments.
That was the smart taking from the strong on the game’s biggest stage.
IHO writer Palestra Pete recalled a friend who played for Penn in the 1970s telling him that one time when the team was getting ready to play Princeton, then-Penn coach Chuck Daly told the players the things they would have to do particularly well that game, “because we know we’ll be outcoached.”
“In this life, the big, strong guys are always taking from the smaller, weaker guys … but the smart take from the strong,” Carril recalled his father, a Spanish immigrant who worked 39 years for the Bethlehem Steel Company, telling him and his sister. ” … An athlete who is fundamentally sound and plays intelligently and hard will generally come out on top.”