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Coach Chuck Daly dies at age of 78

Chuck Daly's striking appearance - his finely tailored suits and his meticulously combed hair - sometimes overshadowed his skills as a basketball coach.

Chuck Daly led the 1992 Olympic "Dream Team" to the gold medal after winning two NBA titles in Detroit. He died yesterday of pancreatic cancer.
Chuck Daly led the 1992 Olympic "Dream Team" to the gold medal after winning two NBA titles in Detroit. He died yesterday of pancreatic cancer.Read moreED REINKE / Associated Press

Chuck Daly's striking appearance - his finely tailored suits and his meticulously combed hair - sometimes overshadowed his skills as a basketball coach.

But Mr. Daly showed time and again as a head coach at every level - in college at Penn, in the NBA with the Detroit Pistons, and internationally with the original U.S. Olympic Dream Team - his talent as a keen basketball strategist able to mesh players with dissimilar personalities into a successful team.

Mr. Daly, who won four Ivy League championships with Penn and two NBA titles with the Detroit Pistons, and coached the Dream Team to an Olympic gold medal in 1992, died yesterday morning of pancreatic cancer at his home in Jupiter, Fla. He was 78.

Former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino, whom Mr. Daly hired as an assistant at Penn in 1971, said that the cancer had been diagnosed in February but that Mr. Daly kept up with basketball as well as he could, even drawing up a play for Wildcats coach Jay Wright to use in the NCAA Final Four.

"He really loved people," Massimino said yesterday. "He carried the posture of being someone very special. The last week and a half as he struggled, we used the word dignity. That's the word in my mind. He had such dignity. He carried himself that way until his death."

'Absolutely admired'

"In my 41 years in the NBA, he's the only guy I know who doesn't have one detractor - anywhere," said former 76ers general manager Pat Williams, now a senior vice president with the Orlando Magic. "That's nearly impossible in this business. He's absolutely admired, respected, loved, and valued."

Mr. Daly won 638 games in 14 seasons as an NBA head coach with Cleveland, Detroit, New Jersey, and Orlando, and led his team into the playoffs 12 times. His nine seasons with the Pistons included NBA titles in 1989 and 1990.

He resigned from the Pistons after the 1991-92 season, saying that his players "needed to hear another voice." That summer, however, he led a team that included Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, and Larry Bird to the gold medal, the first time the United States had gone with an Olympic team of NBA players.

Mr. Daly was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994. The NBA Coaches Association had dedicated the 2009 playoffs to him, and all coaches are wearing "CD" pins on the sidelines in his honor.

In a statement, NBA commissioner David Stern said that while Mr. Daly was known for his work on the sidelines, he "did much more than coach basketball games."

"He positively impacted everyone he met, both personally and professionally," Stern said, "and his love of people and the game of basketball helped develop the next generation of coaches. The void left by his death will never be filled."

Isiah Thomas, the on-court leader of the Pistons' two championship teams, called Mr. Daly "so much more than a basketball coach."

"He was a mentor, a father figure, someone we all looked up to in everything he did," Thomas, now head coach at Florida International, said in a statement. "I can't explain in words how much he gave me as a player and a man. This is an immeasurable loss for the NBA and the entire basketball world."

Pennsylvania native

Born Charles Jerome Daly on July 20, 1930, in St. Mary's, Pa., he graduated from Kane Area High School and attended St. Bonaventure before transferring to Bloomsburg State (now Bloomsburg University), where he averaged 13.0 points in two seasons.

After two years in the military, he got his first head coaching job at Punxsutawney High School, where he spent eight years before moving up to the college ranks in 1963 as an assistant at Duke. His first college head coaching experience was at Boston College, where he succeeded Bob Cousy and went 26-24 for two seasons.

Mr. Daly took over as Penn's head coach in 1971 and compiled a 125-38 record in six seasons, including a 20-5 mark in Big Five games. One of his players during that time was Ed Stefanski, now president and general manager of the Sixers.

"The experience I had playing for Coach Daly during my four years at the University of Pennsylvania was invaluable," Stefanski said in a statement issued by the Sixers, "and I still carry with me the lessons he taught both on and off the court."

Mr. Daly was ready to begin a seventh season with the Quakers when the 76ers, and new head coach Billy Cunningham, came calling to offer him a job as assistant coach.

"Billy hadn't coached at any level, not even CYO, and he wanted Chuck on the staff," Williams recalled. "I met Chuck after a practice and asked if he'd rather be an NBA assistant than a college head coach. He said he wanted to be in the NBA. Penn's administrators gave me the green light, and I paid him $35,000.

"Any time I saw Chuck after that, he'd always say, 'You stole me. You got me on the cheap.' "

Cunningham, who replaced the fired Gene Shue early in the 1977-78 season, developed a lifelong friendship with Mr. Daly.

Mr. Daly left the Sixers in December 1981 to take his first NBA head coaching job, at age 51, with Cleveland. The results were disastrous. He lasted all of 41 games with the Cavaliers, compiling a 9-32 record, and exchanged public barbs with owner Ted Stepien until Stepien fired him.

He returned to the Sixers as a broadcaster and decided to go back into coaching in 1983 when Jack McCloskey, one of his predecessors as head coach at Penn, hired him to coach the Pistons, who never had posted two consecutive winning seasons.

"I didn't really want to end my coaching career on a note like that," Mr. Daly told The Inquirer's Frank Dolson after being hired, "and I wasn't quite ready to give up coaching. I guess that's what the bottom line is."

Winning with 'Bad Boys'

Mr. Daly learned early on that the NBA was a players' league, and he found a way to get disparate personalities to play as a team. He managed to unite the "Bad Boys," Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn, with the unpredictable Dennis Rodman and Hall of Fame guards Joe Dumars and Thomas.

"Part of my philosophy," Mr. Daly said during that time, "is that everybody gets their slice of the pie along the way if they're willing to hang in there. If you have the ability, you'll get the chance."

While basketball purists grumbled over the Pistons' rough style of play, Detroit found success, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers for the 1989 championship and doing the same the next season by beating the Portland Trail Blazers.

"He was always so positive," Massimino said. "He changed the structure of NBA coaching with his style. He knew how to handle all his players. You mention Dennis Rodman - Dennis loved him like a father. Dennis used to go to his house on Christmas and bring him gifts. That's the way Chuck was."

Mr. Daly's ability to relate to players helped him as he entered the pressure cooker of coaching NBA players in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. With the world watching, he found ways to keep all his superstars happy and productive while using a different lineup in each game.

Two of those players remembered him yesterday.

"Chuck was a great leader," Jordan said. "I only wish I could have played for him outside of the Dream Team."

"In 1992, he handled that team and its talent as well as anybody could," Bird said. "He treated us all with respect and had us all vying for the same goal. For me, it was an honor to play for him."

Mr. Daly coached the New Jersey Nets for two seasons after resigning from the Pistons. He took a job as a Turner Sports commentator before taking one last crack at coaching with Orlando, where he spent two seasons and then resigned in 1999.

Mr. Daly remained in the game after that as a senior adviser for the Vancouver and Memphis Grizzlies.

Temple coach Fran Dunphy said he spoke with Mr. Daly via telephone before the Owls' NCAA tournament game in Miami.

"We talked for about 15 minutes about basketball and life," Dunphy said. "He said he had watched all the games over the last week. It was a great conversation, one I'll always remember."

Mr. Daly is survived by his wife, Terry; his daughter, Cydney, and grandchildren Sebrina and Connor.

A visitation will be Tuesday at the Aycock Funeral Home in Jupiter. A funeral Mass will be celebrated Wednesday at St. Jude Catholic Church in Tequesta, Fla.