Scott Joins Michigan Sports HOF

Ray Scott won 147 games over four season as head coach of the Pistons.
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Former Pistons player and coach has special place in franchise’s history
Scott Joins Michigan Sports HOF

by John Maxwell

Posted: Jan. 22, 2008
Updated: Feb. 12, 2008

When Flip Saunders won his 147th game as Pistons head coach on Jan. 23, he surpassed Ray Scott for No. 2 on the team’s all-time wins list. It came as a complete surprise to Scott - who didn’t realize he was still so high on the list.

“That’s unbelievable,” Scott said by phone. “I didn’t even know I ranked that high after Chuck (Daly) and Doug Collins and Rick Carlisle and some of those coaches that you’ve had there that have been successful. I didn’t think I still ranked that high. That’s amazing to me.”

Even today, more than 30 years since he left the organization that he both played and coached for, Scott is in awe of his place in Pistons history. But as the last head coach to also be a former Pistons player and one of only two Pistons coaches to be named NBA Coach of the Year, Scott’s legacy is secure - no matter how far he falls down the list.

The Michigan Sports Hall of Fame made sure of that on Monday, Feb. 11, when Scott and nine others, including Red Wings great Steve Yzerman, Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard and NBA All-Star Glen Rice, were enshrined at the Hall’s 53rd annual induction event at the Max M. Fisher Music Center.

Scott, a 6-foot-9 forward/center, was drafted by the Pistons fourth overall in the 1961 draft. He played his first six and a half seasons in Detroit before moving on to Baltimore and then the Virginia Squires of the ABA. Scott did not receive much in the way of accolades during his 11 pro seasons, never making All-Star team despite averaging a career double-double, 14.3 points and 10.5 rebounds. Scott’s teams advanced past the first round of the NBA playoffs on just one occasion: his rookie year, when the Pistons defeated Cincinnati before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Ray Scott’s Career Coaching Record
Reg. Season Playoffs
Year W-L W-L Honors
1972-73 38-37 -- --
1973-74 52-30 3-4 NBA Coach of the Year
1974-75 40-42 1-2 --
1975-76 17-25 -- --
Totals 147-134 4-6 --

After his retirement in 1972, Scott returned to the Pistons as an assistant coach under Earl Lloyd, who was entering his second season at the helm. Lloyd had taken over with 70 games left in the 1971-72 season and was looking to improve upon a disappointing 26-56 campaign. He never got the chance. After a 2-5 start, Lloyd was relieved of his head coaching duties, and Scott found himself piloting an NBA franchise at just 34 years old. He adopted the defensive approach he had learned as a player in Baltimore and Virginia.

“I learned that you have to have a defensive philosophy when you go on the floor,” Scott said. “You can’t just say we’re individually going to play defense against this player or that player. The team has to have a philosophy. Earl and I were about seven games into trying to develop that philosophy when Earl was let go. All I did was continue tweaking that philosophy and making us a more defensive-oriented team.”

Scott was the eighth head coach in nine years for the Pistons, and the team boasted just one winning record during that time. However, he inherited a roster - led by Bob Lanier and Dave Bing and complemented by Curtis Rowe, John Mengelt and Willie Norwood - that many felt could produce a playoff team if the right buttons were pushed. Apparently, Scott found them.

“Our pride was not in scoring over 100 points a game, our pride was in holding opponents under 100 points a game,” he said. “ … I’m happy to say Dave and Bob, being the leaders of the team, really went along with what I had to say and how I tried to implement that philosophy.”

The Pistons allowed six fewer points per game in Scott’s first season, down from nearly 116 points per game to 110. A midseason slump ended the team’s playoff hopes, but Detroit finished the season with a 40-42 record including the best home record in team history at 26-15.

The future looked promising for the Pistons, and they delivered on that promise in 1973-74 with 52 victories, the most in franchise history. Lanier finished third in league MVP voting and was named the MVP of the 1974 NBA All-Star Game while Bing was named to the All-NBA Second Team. Detroit sports fans started to take notice of the team’s play, and the Pistons set a franchise attendance record, crossing the 300,000 mark for the first time.

For his efforts, Scott was named the NBA Coach of the Year, becoming the first Piston and the first African-American to be so honored. “It meant everything to me,” Scott recalled. “It was very significant to me because in sports at that time, there were no African-American coaches in football, and a sprinkling of managers in baseball . . . (Black coaches in pro sports) was beginning to happen. But at that time, it was like, ‘Man, this is a big thing, to be coach of the year,’ and this had never happened before. There had never been a guy that’s came out of the neighborhood, so to speak, and been coach of the year before. So it was huge to me in terms of achievement, but it’s all because of those players. If those players don’t give you their blood, sweat and tears, trust me, it really doesn’t happen.”

Scott received the award prior to Game 6 of the Pistons’ first-round playoff series against the Chicago Bulls - and was greeted with a two-minute standing ovation from a packed Cobo Hall. It was the Pistons’ first postseason appearance in six years. The Pistons won Game 6 at Cobo but lost in the decisive Game 7 in Chicago by the thinnest of margins, 96-94.

The good vibes of the 1973-74 season, however, proved to be short-lived. Although the Pistons rebounded from a mediocre start, finding themselves 10 games over .500 with 30 games remaining, four wins over the next 22 games threatened to scuttle the season. A late victory over Chicago clinched the team’s second consecutive postseason berth, but the Seattle Supersonics sent Detroit packing in the first round.

Scott returned for his fourth season as head coach having already passed Dick McGuire as the winningest coach in Pistons history. But the roster that greeted him on the first day of training camp lacked one key component: Bing, who had been traded, along with a first-rounder, to Washington in exchange for NBA assists leader Kevin Porter.

A Dec. 9 knee injury ended Porter’s 1974-75 season after just 19 games. Without a point guard, Detroit quickly fell below .500 and Scott was made the scapegoat after 42 games. The Pistons were 17-25 at the time, giving Scott 147 career wins - the most in team history until Daly surpassed him in the 1986-87 season.

After leaving the Pistons, Scott spent four years as the head coach at Eastern Michigan - a time that he confesses was not as successful as it could have been. “My recruiting, as they say, was weak. I did not recruit as well as I should have for that level, the Mid-American Conference,” he said. “So that was a short tenure there, and then I went into business, and for 25 years I was in the insurance business.”

Now in his 40s after his second head coaching stint, Scott was ready for a life outside of basketball. “I moved on to the next step in my life because I married a wonderful lady and we’ve had three daughters,” he said. “I became a husband and a father and a businessman. Trust me, when you have children at that age, it becomes quite a job.”

Scott, who is currently the director of development for Lutheran Child & Family Services in Oak Park, still found his way back to the bench. It turns out his most rewarding coaching gig came long after his days with the Pistons.

“What I enjoyed the most out of all it was I had the opportunity to coach my children when they got to middle school, the Lady Crusaders at St. Paul’s in Ann Arbor. I got that opportunity and that I enjoyed. To be with my kids at that time growing up, that was just great.”