Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Happy Birthday Coach Carril

When TigerBlog first started writing this every day, he wasn't quite sure what he was going to do in the summers.

After all, there are no athletic events, obviously. He has learned through the years that there is always something he can come up with, but back then he was uncertain.

So what did he figure he'd do? When in doubt, write funny Pete Carril stories.

TigerBlog was asked yesterday how many years he covered Carril's teams, and the answer is seven - five as a sportswriter and then the last two of Carril's 29 years at Princeton as the athletic communications contact. He's never been around anyone quite like Pete Carril, with his work ethic, character, humor and world view. And his mannerisms. And the way he combined them all.

Today is Carril's 89th birthday. TigerBlog was going to pawn this off as original, but he actually wrote it on this day two years ago. As he reread it, he figured he'd just copy and paste, since it's still what he'd want to say about Coach.  

So happy birthday, Coach Carril:

Today will be the eighth time (actually ninth) in TigerBlog history that he shares this story with you:

Back on Dec. 28, 1994, TigerBlog found himself in New Orleans, at the UNO Holiday Tournament championship game. It was Princeton against the host team, the Privateers, at the Lakefront Arena.

Before the game, TigerBlog had gumbo and jambalaya. Both were great. Seriously. He did. He remembers that clearly.

New Orleans won, 50-43. As TB looked back at the box score, he couldn't help but notice that no Tiger was in double figures. Three scored nine. Who were they? He'll even give you their initials: JM, RH, SG.

That should make it really easy. He'll give you the answer shortly, though sometimes he forgets to do that. He'll try not to this time.

The night before, Princeton had beaten Texas A&M in the first round of the event. That game went three overtimes before Princeton won 71-66.

Two Princeton players went all 55 minutes - JM and CD.

After that game, Princeton head coach Pete Carril was asked about having to play New Orleans in the final. They're going to be tough, he said. They have big guys.

When a reporter told him that his team also had big guys, Carril answered without flinching this way:

"Yeah, but I didn't go down to the docks to get them."

How did he think of those kinds of things so easily? He was so good at it. TigerBlog should have written down every great line he ever heard from Carril, in actual interviews and then in every day situations. Even without benefit of that, TB can still remember a lot of them, and they are all classics.

Why mention this today?

It's because today is Pete Carril's 87th birthday (actually now 89th). That's why.

Happy birthday Coach.

There are a lot of people who played for him at Princeton who call him only "Coach." They wouldn't dream of calling him anything different. No matter how old he gets, he's never "Pete" or "Coach Carril" or anything. He's just "Coach."

Oh, and the initials? You have: James Mastaglio, Steve Goodrich, Rick Hielscher and Chris Doyal.

TigerBlog has written more about Pete Carril than any other subject, he's pretty sure. There's a reason for that.

There has never been anyone on this campus quite like Pete Carril. TigerBlog has often referred to him as the "conscience" of Princeton University, and he thinks it's a great description.

If you're reading this, then you're probably a Princeton fan. If you're a Princeton fan, then you know well his backstory.

He's from Bethlehem, the Pennsylvania steel town. His father, a Spanish immigrant, worked in the mills for 40 years, and it was from him that Carril developed a sense for the work ethic, his own and the one he demanded of those around him.

After playing at Lafayette, including for Butch van Breda Kolff, he started his career as a high school teacher (American government) and basketball coach, first at Easton High School and then at Reading High School, where he had a point guard at Reading named Gary Walters.

From there it was to Lehigh for a year and then to Princeton for 29. He'd win 511 games at Princeton and 523 overall, and he coached the Tigers to 13 Ivy titles, 11 NCAA appearances, the 1975 NIT championship and some of the greatest games college basketball has seen.

His Princeton career ended in 1996, first with the epic Ivy League playoff win over Penn and then the even more epic win over defending NCAA champion UCLA in the NCAA tournament.

When he left Princeton, he was an assistant coach in the NBA for more than a decade. Now he's retired, and he's a frequent visitor to Jadwin Gym.

Back to the "conscience" idea, Carril brought a sense of accountability to Princeton. His players all started out equally, regardless of where they came from, what their high school was, how much money they had or didn't have.

In his nearly 30 years at Princeton, Carril was unconnable, if such a word exists (it doesn't). He couldn't be less impressed by things other than effort, teamwork, hard work, dedication. These weren't just words to him. These were the required, necessary tenets of his world, his team.

Maybe the best thing he said, and he said it a lot, was this: "you can't separate the player from the person." What he was saying was that character is as much a part of the game as talent. He's right.

The conscience.

TigerBlog connected with Carril in the 1980s, first as a sportswriter and later as the last athletic communications contact he had as the basketball coach here. TB was once on the wrong end of a shouting match with Carril, but that was it. And being the basketball contact had its perks; one of Carril's rituals was to buy the basketball contact soup for lunch.

The other perks? They were related to watching one of the game's greatest from a front row seat. TigerBlog hasn't met too many other people who have made an impact on him the way Carril has - and he wasn't even one of his players.

Pete moves slower these days. His body, that is. His mind is still sharp.
There are fewer and fewer people left in the department who were here when he was the basketball coach. He was here for 29 years. In the years since he left, Princeton has had five basketball coaches: Bill Carmody, John Thompson III, Joe Scott, Sydney Johnson and the current one, Mitch Henderson, a player on Carril's last team.

Pete is a Princeton legend. Talk like that always ran contrary to what he was about. Do your job every day. Don't worry about things like talk of legends and that sort of thing. You can't coach to have people be impressed by you. No. You have to believe in something and stay faithful to it.

Carril is in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. TigerBlog is the one who nominated him, and, in the program the night Carril was inducted, there was a four-page feature on him written by TB. 

It's one of the two really long features TB has written about Carril, in addition to the millions of smaller pieces. Carril never said one word to TigerBlog about either. Nothing. No feedback at all.

TigerBlog likes it that way. It says a lot about the man himself.

Do your job. Do it the best you can. Your reward is knowing that you didn't cut any corners. If that's not good enough, then you're missing the point of why you did it in the first place.

That's also the lesson. That's Pete's lesson.

And today is his birthday.

Happy birthday to the conscience.

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