Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"Coach" Turns 80

TigerBlog remembers seeing three movies in the big New York City theaters way back when.

The first was "The Poseidon Adventure," a 1972 movie about a luxury ship that capsizes in a giant tidal wave on New Year's Eve and the efforts of a small group to be rescued; Gene Hackman was great as the reverend who leads the group. TB, as any pre-teen would have been, loved the scene where the toilets were upside-down.

The second was "Star Wars," back when it first came out in 1977. TB and BrotherBlog went to the movie at the wrong time and saw only the last two-thirds of it, and to this day, that remains the only portion of any "Star Wars" movie TB has ever seen.

The last was "On Golden Pond," a 1981 movie about a dysfunctional family led by Henry Fonda (who won an Oscar) and Katherine Hepburn. Fonda's character is Norman Thayer Jr., who by the way is a professor emeritus at Penn, and part of the story involves the fact that Norman is turning 80.

When he's asked by his daughter's fiance's son what it's like to be 80, Norman replies with a fairly classic line:
"Twice as bad as it did to be 40."

Pete Carril turned 80 this past weekend, and when TB thought about that, he first remembered the line from "On Golden Pond" and realized it hardly applies to the man so many refer to simply as "Coach."

When Pete Carril turned 40, he was three years into his tenure as Princeton men's basketball coach. His record stood at 55-22, and he had won two Ivy League championships and played in one NCAA tournament.

Among his 22 losses was a one-point defeat, 76-75, at UCLA against one of John Wooden's best teams, a game the Tigers lost when Sidney Wicks hit a jump shot in the final seconds. It would be one of the three most excruciating losses (all by one point) of Carril's Princeton career, along with a game when he was in his 40s (against Rutgers in the 1976 NCAA tournament) and one in his 50s (against Georgetown in the 1989 NCAA tournament).

When Carril turned 10, he was living in Bethlehem, Pa., where his father worked in the steel mills. When he turned 20, he was playing basketball at Lafayette.

By 30, he was a high school teacher and basketball coach at Reading High in Pennsylvania. Gary Walters was between his freshman and sophomore years at Reading at the time, just beginning a relationship with Carril that would see him play for him at Reading, coach with him at Princeton and ultimately become his boss as Director of Athletics at Princeton.

Carril would lead Princeton to the NCAA tournament 11 times, once in his 30s, twice in his 40s and then four times each in his 50s and 60s. When he left Princeton after the 1996 season, he was 65 years old.

At 70 he was still in basketball, working with the Sacramento Kings, an affiliation that continues into his 80s.

TigerBlog once had this exchange with Carril during a pregame radio interview before a game at Penn:
"This is where we met. You remember?"
"You were coaching, and TB was was chanting 'sit down Pete' with the rest of the Penn fans."

In reality, TB didn't actually meet Carril until the late 1980s, when Carril was 57 or 58 or so. Since then, TB has gotten to know him extremely well, and he continues to be TB's favorite subject on which to write.

As TB often says, of the 50 funniest things he's ever seen in his life, Carril was probably directly responsible for 25 of them. He is a driven man, one with a high level of expectation of those who played for him.

In Carril's own words: "If you lower standards, they turn around and attack you."

TigerBlog maintains that in the long history of Princeton athletics, there are four icons who rise above everyone else. Three were Princeton athletes - Hobey Baker, Dick Kazmaier and Bill Bradley; the fourth is Carril.

TB once wrote that Carril has long been the conscience of Princeton basketball (and to a larger extreme, Princeton athletics), and by that he means that Carril was never one to let anyone get away with anything less than full effort, full commitment. He couldn't be conned as head coach, and he cared little about what a person's background was. Nobody had a free pass on his teams.

He himself grew up poor, and TB has heard stories both heartfelt and hysterical about Carril's experiences as a child and the effect they had on him.

Today, at the age of 80, he's a more mellow person. He's still the conscience of Princeton basketball, but he does so from the perspective of your wise old uncle that you see a few times a year.

And yet, he hasn't slowed a step. He still has the quick wit, the dominating persona, the ability to sniff out the BS immediately.

There has never been anyone to walk into Jadwin Gym quite like Pete Carril. Now that he's 80, there still isn't, and TB suspects it will forever be this way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The highlight of my basketball career was guarding Coach when he played in a pick-up game in Dillon his first year at Princeton. Great set shot and first step to the hoop. (Him, not me)