Pete Carril, the scruffy, cigar-smoking basketball coach who led Princeton to 11 NCAA Tournament appearances, where his teams baffled formidable opponents and rocked March Madness with old-school fundamentals, died Monday. He was 92 years old.
Princeton released a statement from Carril’s family, which said he died “peacefully this morning. He did not give a cause of death.
“We kindly ask that you respect our privacy at this time while we process our loss and handle any necessary arrangements. There will be more information in the coming days,” the statement said.
Carril, a Hall of Famer, educated his teams on a distinctive and ancient brand of ball: the Princeton offense, a game marked by patience, intelligence, constant movement, quick passes and gate cuts. rear that often ended up on trays.
It was an offense that could be played at any level of basketball. At Princeton, it was usually performed by players often dismissed or overlooked by some of the nation’s basketball powers. Come the NCAA Tournament, however, Princeton’s relentless discipline could make up for the disparity of talent on the court.
During Carril’s 29 seasons as Tigers coach, the system worked splendidly. His teams won 13 Ivy League titles and posted a 514-261 record without the benefit of scholarship holders. With his deliberate approach, draining high-octane from many opponents, Princeton led the nation in scoring defense in 14 of his last 21 seasons, including the last eight in a streak that ended in 1996.
He guided Princeton to the National Invitation Tournament championship in 1975 and was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1997.
Basketball fans loved seeing the headaches Carril’s teams caused in March. That was certainly the case in 1989 for Georgetown’s John Thompson, the Hall of Fame coach who was sweating at game’s end with his signature towel draped over his shoulder.
Princeton gave a No. 1 Georgetown team with Alonzo Mourning and Charles Smith all it could handle, and as the No. 16 seed it was on the verge of a monumental upset. The Tigers had two chances in the closing seconds to send Thompson and his team home, but they were denied, losing 50-49.
Carril’s final season in 1996 was highlighted by an NCAA first-round win over defending champion UCLA, a result many consider one of the biggest upsets in tournament history.
Peter Joseph Carril was born on July 10, 1930 to Spanish immigrant parents in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He played at Lafayette College under a venerable coach in Butch Van Breda Kolff. After a stint in the military, Carril coached high school in Pennsylvania in the 1950s and ’60s before landing a job as a college head coach at Lehigh. He spent the 1966-67 season there, going 11-12, and then headed to Princeton.
Carril was more than a basketball coach. Friends and former players say he was smart, philosophical, a great judge of character, honest and caring. He wasn’t the country club type. He was down to earth, his attire was simple: open-necked shirts, wrinkled sweaters, his sparse hair never quite combed. From time to time, there would be a sports jacket.
On the court, Carril was demanding. He worked his players hard and striving for perfection. It wouldn’t be unusual for him to sit on the bench with a 20-point lead and a pained expression on his face after a bad pass, turnover or missed layup. It was the craft, the process that mattered, regardless of the score.
If asked about it, he would recall what his father had told him growing up in Bethlehem, one of the country’s steel capitals.
“When you lower your standards, they can turn around and attack you,” Carril often said.
On-court success never changed Carril. He liked the cigars from him. He enjoyed a drink, coffee, or just chatting with people at Andy’s Tavern in Princeton, until it became a sushi bar in the 1990s. Conte’s Pizza remained one of his hangouts. He would occasionally stop by the Princeton basketball office to talk basketball with Mitch Henderson, who became Princeton’s coach in 2011.
After leaving Princeton, Carril jumped into uncharted territory: the NBA. He spent 10 seasons as an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings. He helped Rick Adelman’s Kings win two Pacific Division titles and a spot in the 2002 Western Conference finals.
He joined the staff of the Washington Wizards in 2007 and in 2009 returned to the Kings, where in his first season the Princeton offense found new life at basketball’s highest level.