College basketball is a beautiful sport and former Princeton head coach Pete Carril embraced it.
On Monday morning, he passed away at the age of 92. Over the years, he made many peaceful moments for the Princeton Tiger faithful. His opponents would say otherwise, ask Jim Harrick.
One thing is for sure though, if it weren’t for him, mid-majors wouldn’t have the March opportunities that they have today. I thank him for that. This site wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for him.
Heading into the 1989 NCAA Tournament, CBS threatened to not renew their contract with the NCAA if small conferences continued getting automatic bids in the NCAA Tournament. There were far too many teams and blowouts, just look at the Ivy League, CBS cited. In 1988, Cornell fell to Arizona by 40 points in the first round. The year before was not any kinder as Penn gave up 113 points and lost by 31. It took Carril only 40 minutes to change that mindset.
From start to finish, his 16-seeded Tigers battled with the No. 1-seeded Georgetown and Alonzo Mourning, but lost just 50-49. Although it was a loss, it changed the sport forever as CBS renewed their deal and still televises NCAA Tournament games today. More importantly, mid-majors still get automatic bids..
Seven years later, Carril etched his name in NCAA Tournament lore with an upset over defending national champion, UCLA. The final score was 43-41, just the way he liked it. Meticulous.
Pete Carril could coach the hell out of a back door cut. Would make watching teams score 40-50 points fun.— Mid-Major Madness (@mid_madness) August 15, 2022
Almost pulled off the first 16-1 upset in 1989. Beat UCLA in the tournament in 1996 by a crisp score of 43-41. Bruins were defending champions.pic.twitter.com/wg44i4aHsS
Carril’s offenses never put up many points but were one of the most beautiful, sound things to watch on 94 feet. His team prided themselves on the backdoor cut, just like the one that won the game against UCLA in the 1996 NCAA Tournament. That game would be his final game as the Tigers' head coach before heading to be an assistant for the Sacramento Kings for 10 seasons. His offense still works today, all over the country, with nearly every program implementing a variation the backdoor cut — a fundamental part of an offense.
His disciples range from Colorado Springs to Princeton. The five men that followed him in Jersey all either played under him or were an assistant of his for a long time, including current Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson (played from 1994-1998). Others include John Thompson III (former Georgetown head coach), Craig Robinson (former Oregon State head coach and brother-in-law of former president Barack Obama), Chris Mooney (Richmond), David Blatt (former Cleveland Cavaliers coach), Bill Carmody (former Northwestern head coach), Mike Brennan (American head coach), Joe Scott (Air Force) and the list goes on and on.
Now, I have seen many of his disciples coach and marvel over them. It’s a beautiful brand of basketball. Whether it be a random American game in Tenleytown, Henderson picking apart teams in Jadwin, or Mooney outdoing another backdoor cut program in a conference championship game against Davidson, it makes me smile watching it every time. Just something about fooling your opponent like that.
I’m a young fella. I was born in 2001 and will be turning 21 in September, so I’ve never seen Carril coach a game live. Just like Bill Russell though, he was a common topic for small talk when speaking about college basketball with family or friends. My grandfather would often marvel at just how impressive that offense was run. I get that joy when watching the likes of American, Princeton, Richmond, or even Davidson (although Bob McKillop is adamant on it not being a Princeton style) on the basketball court.
During 29 seasons at the helm of the Princeton program, Carril went 514-261, won 13 Ivy League Championships, the 1975 NIT Tournament, and made 11 NCAA Tournament appearances. In 1997 he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Great shot of Jadwin today. pic.twitter.com/TLl6AeDTkf— Mitch Henderson (@M_Henderson98) August 16, 2022
Rest In Peace, coachie.