Pete Carril, former Princeton Tigers Hall of Fame coach, dies at 92

Pete Carril, the Hall of Fame coach who brought the “Princeton Offense” notoriety during his 30-year tenure with the Tigers, died Monday morning at the age of 92.

“We kindly ask that you respect our privacy at this time while we process our loss and handle any necessary arrangements. More information will be forthcoming in the coming days,” the Carril family said in a statement released by Princeton.

Using a deliberate, clock-ending offense that relied on backdoor cuts and precision passing, Carril led Princeton to 13 Ivy League regular-season titles at a time when the conference did not have a postseason tournament. . Princeton also won the NIT in 1975, defeating Providence 80-69 at Madison Square Garden.

But it was the Tigers’ memorable March nights in their 11 NCAA tournament berths under Carril that saw the frenzied coach jumping up and down the sideline as Princeton tried to outwit their superior opponents, during surprises and near misses on primetime television. who left an indelible mark on college basketball.

“Anybody can coach basketball. I can tell you right now. It’s not that hard to know about a pick-and-roll, a back-pick, the shuffle-cut, I mean, it’s not that hard,” Carril said after withdrawal. “But what is difficult is to see how to develop something, to have an idea of ​​how your team is going to play. And that comes under the heading of thinking.”

That logic was exhibited in 1989, in Providence, Rhode Island. As the No. 16 seed, the Tigres de Carril beat the No. 1 Georgetown Hoyas the distance in a thrilling 50-49 Hoyas victory that captured the attention of the tournament.

At a pre-game press conference, said the very down-to-earth Carril, who was never shy about making his audience laugh. “I think we’re a billion to one to win the whole tournament. To beat Georgetown, we’re only 450 million to one.”

ESPN analyst Dick Vitale agreed with his good friend Carril. In a studio segment in Bristol, Connecticut, before the game, Vitale made a promise: “I’ll tell you what, I’m supposed to go home for the weekend. If Princeton can beat Georgetown, I’m going to hitchhike.” to Providence, which is not so far from here. I’ll be your ball boy at your next game. And then I’ll put on a Princeton cheerleading uniform and lead all the applause.”

As far-fetched as it was, the Tigers actually led at the half 29-21 and used their patient offense to thwart a star-studded Hoyas team featuring Alonzo Mourning and led by John Thompson. Despite mismatches at nearly every position, not to mention Georgetown’s 32-13 rebounding advantage, led by Mourning’s 13, the Tigers battled to the finish as an eager Lane huffed and puffed off the bench.

“They lulled us to sleep with the backdoor cuts and the shot clock down,” Mourning said after the game. “As soon as we failed defensively, they took advantage.”

Several more close calls followed in the tournament for the New Jersey school known more for producing Rhodes Scholars and Pulitzer Prize winners than athletes. In 1990, as the No. 13 seed against No. 4 Arkansas, the Razorbacks outscored the Carril’s Tigers 68-64.

Losses to Villanova and Syracuse by a combined 10 points followed the next two seasons as the Tigers continued to dominate the Ivy League only to fall short in the NCAA tournament. But Carril’s program finally broke through with an all-ages March Madness game in 1996.

After winning the title from Ivy in a one-game playoff, defeating Penn 63-56 in overtime, Carril told his team that he would step down after the NCAA tournament. After the victory over the Quakers, in fact, he wrote on a blackboard in the locker room: “I am retiring. I am very happy.”

A week later, facing defending national champion UCLA, Princeton, again the No. 13 seed, defeated the No. 4 Bruins 43-41 in Indianapolis.

“We just took down a giant,” Carril said in the postgame interview, letting out a big laugh.

Former UCLA coach Steve Lavin, who was an assistant on the 1996 staff, agreed. “It was,” he said, “one of the most memorable games in NCAA history.”

Indeed, the nail-biting tug-of-war of a NCAA tournament game turned out to be the perfect setting for an exhausted Lane in the dugout, whose white hair stood on end in every direction as the Tigers awaited a classic first-round upset. that really defines the essence of March Madness.

Carill, who also coached one season at Lehigh, finished his college career with a 525-273 record, including 514 wins at Princeton. In 1997, a year after the win over the Bruins, he was inducted into the National College Basketball Hall of Fame, as well as the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

“Let me just say that nobody starts out wanting to be a Hall of Fame coach or a Hall of Fame doctor or a Hall of Famer,” Carill said in his Naismith induction speech in Springfield, Massachusetts. “Nobody ever starts out that way. There are a lot of forces at work, and you don’t know where you’re going to end up, and you don’t know why it happens.”

“Princeton was always halfway decent at basketball. But now we’re a national school, basketball-wise. And I don’t think anything is going to happen to change that.”

Carril went on to a career as an assistant coach in the NBA, serving three different seasons with the Sacramento Kings before retiring in 2011.

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