Chuck Daly, 1930-2009

Pistons Hall of Fame coach dies at 78

Chuck Daly, the Hall of Fame Pistons coach, passed away Saturday at the age of 78.
Jonathan Daniel (NBAE/Getty)
AUBURN HILLS – Chuck Daly, the coach who guided the Bad Boys to NBA titles and the Dream Team to gold medals, died at his Jupiter, Fla., home early Saturday morning. Daly, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February, was 78.

Daly came to the Pistons in 1983 when they were a franchise awash in a history of mediocrity, playing before thousands of empty blue seats in the Pontiac Silverdome, and left them nine seasons later firmly established among the NBA’s most respected and successful franchises.

Daly’s No. 2 – representing the two NBA titles he won in 1989 and ’90, at the height of the NBA’s competitive best and bracketed by dynasties on both sides – hangs from The Palace rafters alongside the retired numbers of many of the players he coached, including Hall of Fame guards Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. Daly was voted to the Hall of Fame in 1994.

“The Daly family and the entire Detroit Pistons and Palace Sports & Entertainment family is mourning the loss of Chuck Daly,” family spokesman and Pistons vice president Matt Dobek said. “Chuck left a lasting impression with everyone he met both personally and professionally and his spirit will live with all of us forever.”

Though Daly already had three decades in basketball when he came to the Pistons, it will be his time with them for which he will be most remembered despite his three other NBA stops and his college head coaching stints at Boston College and Penn. In 14 NBA seasons, Daly went 638-437, including 467-271 with the Pistons.

Daly’s greatest gift was his ability to manage egos and personalities – and there was no shortage of them with the Bad Boys, as the Pistons came to be known for their hard-nosed, blue-collar defense.

“It’s a players’ league,” he once said. “They allow you to coach them or they don’t. Once they stop allowing you to coach, you’re on your way out.”

Jack McCloskey, the man who brought Daly to the Pistons, assembled a deep and talented roster by the time the Pistons were ready to compete with the dynastic Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. It took Daly’s deft touch to keep all of those sometimes volcanic personalities in check and manage the playing time of a team that had eight or nine players who were talented enough to start for most teams.

It was Daly’s achievement with the Pistons – both his winning and his hand at managing egos – that led USA Basketball to tab Daly to coach the 1992 “Dream Team” at the Barcelona Olympics. It proved to be a perfect fit.

“There were some huge egos there,” Palace CEO Tom Wilson said. “You never heard a bit about them. Somehow you had to manage all that stuff with a goal toward winning and managing minutes for guys who all felt they were the best player in the world. It was perfect. Plus the persona – Daddy Rich, the smooth operator. The image was perfect for that group of guys. The best coach in the world and the best group of players.”

That “Daddy Rich” nickname was bestowed upon him by Thomas for Daly’s affection for stylish suits. Daly’s wardrobe – he favored double-breasted suits, mostly in dark blues and grays – and perfectly groomed hair were the subject of constant media references as the Pistons rose to prominence.

But Daly never took himself seriously. Dubbed the “Prince of Pessimism” by Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan, whose relationship with Daly went back to his Boston College days, Daly would say he was an “optimist with experience.”

Daly was born in Kane, Pa., and graduated from Bloomsburg State in 1952. He coached at Punxsutawney, Pa., High School from 1955-63, but networked throughout the East at coaching clinics and finally landed a job as an assistant at Duke in 1963, where he stayed until taking the head coaching job at Boston College in 1969. After three years at BC, Daly went to Pennsylvania in 1971 – McCloskey, after a decade as Penn’s coach, had left five years earlier – and won four straight Ivy League titles, posting an overall record of 151-62 as a college coach.

He left Penn and college basketball after the 1977 season to join his longtime friend, Billy Cunningham, on Cunningham’s Philadelphia 76ers staff. His first NBA job came in 1981 when Cleveland owner Ted Stepien hired him. The Cavs were a notoriously bad team, and badly run franchise, under Stepien. Daly knew it would be a tough job. He never even signed a lease, choosing instead to take a room at the Holiday Inn near the old Richfield Coliseum. He lasted 41 games – spending 93 nights at the Holiday Inn – and didn’t get his next chance for another season and a half, when McCloskey came calling.

That call not only launched the richest chapter in Pistons history, it established Chuck Daly as one of basketball’s all-time great coaches.

Visitation will take place 5-9 p.m. Tuesday at Aycock Funeral Home in Jupiter, Fla., and again from noon-12:45 p.m. Wednesday at St. Jude Catholic Church in Tequesta, Fla., with the funeral to follow at 1 p.m. In lieu of flowers, it is suggested that those who wish to further honor the memory of Daly may do so by making a contribution to the Jupiter Medical Center Foundation, 1210 South Old Dixie Highway, Jupiter, FL 33458, (561) 746-7974 or at www.jupitermed.com.