Pete Carell, the Hall of Fame coach who brought fame to “Princeton Offense” during his 30-year tenure with the Tigers, passed away Monday morning at the age of 92.
“We kindly ask you to respect our privacy at this time as we are processing our loss and making necessary arrangements. More information will be released in the coming days,” Carrell’s family said in a statement released by Princeton.
Using a deliberate offense and hourly drain based on tailgate cuts and accurate passing, Caryl Princeton led to 13 Ivy League regular season titles at a time when the conference didn’t have a post-season championship. Princeton also won the NIT race in 1975, defeating Providence 80-69 at Madison Square Garden.
But it was the unforgettable March nights for the Tigers at 11 of their NCAA Championship berths under Carell that featured a frantic coach jumping up and down on the sidelines as Princeton tried to outdo his superior opponents—during the upheaval and upheaval close on prime-time television—that She left an indelible mark on college basketball.
Carrell then said, “Anyone can coach basketball. I can tell you that now. It’s not hard to know about pick-and-roll, pick-and-roll, shuffling, I mean, it’s not that hard.” He is retired. “But what’s difficult is seeing how something develops, and getting an idea of how your team plays. And that comes under the heading of thinking.”
This reasoning appeared in 1989, in Providence, Rhode Island. As seeded No. 16, Carril’s Tigers ranked No. 1 Georgetown Hoyas in a thrilling 50-49 Hoyas victory that captured the championship’s attention.
In a pre-match press conference, said the very realist Karel, who has never been shy about making his fans laugh. “I think we’re the 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 Karel. In the studio section in Bristol, Connecticut, before the match began, Vital made a promise: “I’ll tell you what I have to come home to for the weekend. If Princeton can beat Georgetown, I’ll run to Providence, which is not far from here.” I’ll be the ball boy for their next game. And then I’ll change into a Princeton cheerleader’s uniform and lead all the cheers.”
As elusive as it was, the Tigers actually led in the 29-21 half and used their patient attack to thwart the star-studded Hoyas team that includes Alonzo Morning and coached by John Thompson. Despite a mismatch in nearly every position – not to mention Georgetown’s 32-13 rebound advantage, led by Mourning’s 13 – the Tigers fought to the finish while an anxious Carell bulged off the bench.
“They kind of put us to sleep with the rear door openings and the shot clock dropping,” Morning said after the match. “Once we slipped defensively, they took advantage of the opportunity.”
Several close tournament calls were followed for a 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 outperformed the Karel Tigers 68-64.
The loss to Villanova and Syracuse by 10 points followed the next two seasons as the Tigers continued to dominate the Ivy League only to lose in the NCAA Championship. But Carril finally broke the March Madness for the ages in 1996.
After winning the Ivy title in a one-game tie-breaker, and defeating Penn 63-56 in overtime, Carell told his team that he would be stepping down after the NCAA Championship. After the victory over the Quakers, in fact, he wrote on a whiteboard in the locker room: “I am retiring. I am very happy.”
A week later, facing national title holders, UCLA, Princeton, seeded No. 13 again, beat No. 4 Bruins 43-41 in Indianapolis.
“We just hit a giant,” Carell said in a post-match interview, laughing out loud.
Steve Lavigne, a former UCLA coach who was an assistant crew member in 1996, agreed. “It was one of the most memorable games in NCAA history,” he said.
Indeed, the thrust and pull of a gritty NCAA Championship match proved to be the perfect stage for a weary Karelle on the bench, whose white hair stood in all directions as the Tigers cling to a classic first-round shock that truly defines the essence of March Madness.
Carill, who also coached one season at Lehigh, finished his collegiate career with a mark of 525-273, including 514 wins at Princeton. In 1997, a year after the victory over the Bruins, he was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame as well as the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
“Let me just say that no one ever begins to want to be a Hall of Fame coach or a Hall of Fame or Hall of Fame medic,” Carell said in his induction speech at Naismith in Springfield, Massachusetts. “No one ever starts this way. There are so many forces at work, you don’t know where you’re going to end up, you don’t know why it happened.
“Princeton has always been a half decent in basketball. But we are a national school now, basketball wise. And I don’t think anything is going to change that.”
Carell moved on to a career as an assistant coach in the NBA, serving three different terms with the Sacramento Kings before retiring in 2011.
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