Pacers Sports & Entertainment
Remembering George Irvine
By David Benner | Pacers Director of Media Relations
Dave Twardzik summed it up best. "If you didn't like George Irvine, something was wrong with you," said Twardzik, one of George's best friends who worked with him from 1986-89 with the Pacers. "The word great is thrown around too frequently, but in George's case, it fits. He was just a great guy."
Irvine, a former Pacers' head coach from 1984-86 and on an interim basis in 1988, passed away Monday night at the age of 69. While with the Pacers, he also served as an assistant coach and an assistant to then General Manager/President Donnie Walsh. Later in his career, Irvine would coach the Detroit Pistons.
And Walsh is well aware of George's impact on him. When Irvine was named Pacers' head coach in 1984, he hired Walsh to be an assistant. In 1986, Walsh became general manager and, as they say, the rest is history.
"George Irvine brought me to Indiana and in my mind he was the beginning of NBA basketball with the Pacers in our building process for the years to come," said Walsh. "He had a great basketball mind, which allowed him to function at a high level as a coach, administrator and purveyor of talent. George was a once-in-a-lifetime friend and one of the best men in my life."
When Irvine was head coach, his teams struggled to a .293 winning percentage. But the fact, according to another team executive at the time, was "You've got a good coach, you've got good guys, unfortunately you have a lot of young players."
One of those young players was a promising forward out of Ohio State, Clark Kellogg. When Irvine became the head coach, Clark's career was coming to an end due to a knee injury.
"I enjoyed him from the standpoint that he was knowledgeable and fun to be around," said Kellogg. "He had a good sense of humor, he was a good teacher, but I enjoyed his personality. I was young, cutting my teeth in the NBA and I never got a chance to be healthy and play for him at my best because of my knee. He was quick with a story, and he had plenty of them, and he was quick with a laugh."
Another young player was Jerry Sichting. He and George found common ground when Irvine was an assistant coach.
"George was an assistant coach when I was a rookie and he gave me a lot of insight," said Sichting. "There weren't four, five assistants like now, so he was basically the only guy. He let me know what to expect. The game was different back then and you had to make your mark as a rookie. He had gone through a lot of the same things as a player in the ABA and took the time to relate those things to me. He loved basketball, he was a very knowledgable coach. We weren't great back then, but he stayed positive. He knew we weren't going to win the NBA championship, so he tried to develop us, he looked at himself as a teacher, made it fun and kept it fun."
"I thoroughly enjoyed him," said David Craig, the Pacers' long-time trainer. "George cared about all the people who worked with him. He really cared about his players. We struggled a lot those years from a win-loss situation but he always stayed upbeat, kept his sense of humor and had consideration for all those involved. He was a very strong influence on my life. He was just a down to earth, great guy to be around."