Former Penn Basketball coach Chuck Daly dies at 78
May 4, 2009, 5:00 am·
May 9, 8:43 p.m.
Legendary college, professional and Olympic coach Chuck Daly, who steered the Quakers to four Ivy League and Big 5 titles in his six seasons at the helm, died Saturday after a bout with pancreatic cancer. He was 78.
Though perhaps best known for directing the "Bad Boys" Detroit Pistons teams to back-to-back NBA championships in 1989 and 1990 and earning Olympic gold with the "Dream Team" at the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Daly will forever be remembered in West Philadelphia for his successes on the Palestra's vaunted hardwood.
Owner of a .767 winning percentage as Penn's coach from 1971 to 1977, Daly was especially proficient against Ancient Eight foes, against whom Daly triumphed in 74 of 84 career games. In his first season, Daly's Quakers plowed through a 13-1 Ivy League slate en route to the NCAA East Regional Final. The St. Mary's, Pa., native is also credited with assembling the recruiting class that formed the core of Penn's Final Four team in 1979, the last Ivy League squad to reach college basketball's national semifinal.
"As long as I knew him, Chuck was the same good coach and good guy," said Penn athletic director Steve Bilsky, who suited up at point guard for the Red and Blue from 1969 to 1971. "That was true whether he was coaching high school, college, the pros or at the Olympic level."
"I speak for the entire Penn basketball community when I say that we are saddened to hear the news of his passing," current coach Glen Miller said. "He coached this program to some of its greatest successes, and whenever he spoke of Penn and the Philadelphia basketball community, he spoke of it fondly."
Indeed, through his final days, Daly never ceased in his devotion to the Big 5 hoops tradition. In March, though weakened from chemotherapy treatments, Daly diagrammed a play for Villanova coach Jay Wright to use against North Carolina in their Final Four matchup, delivering the note to Wright through his good friend and former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino.
But for all his wizardry with the clipboard, Daly's greatest asset was his mastery of "the total package," according to Sixers general manager Ed Stefanski, who played for Daly at Penn.
"He's won on any level he's been on, and he's won the biggest prizes," Stefanski said in an interview last year. "What I really learned from Chuck was how well-rounded you need to be as a head coach: how you handle not just the x's and o's - which obviously he did a great job with - but how you handle players, how you handle the alumni, how you handle the press."
Many of Daly's finest coaching moments were marked by his unique ability to foster strong team chemistry under the unlikeliest of circumstances. Notoriously outsized personalities like Dennis Rodman and Isiah Thomas found peace in Detroit under Daly's steady hand, and the '92 Olympic team - featuring Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, among others - set aside its dueling egos long enough to buy into Daly's defensive-minded brand of play, dominating all international comers with one blowout win after another.
"It's a player's league," the Hall of Fame coach once said of the professional ranks. "They allow you to coach them, or they don't. Once they stop allowing you to coach, you're on the way out."
In honor of Daly, NBA coaches have worn lapel pins initialed "CD" throughout the playoffs this year. The National Basketball Coaches' Association has also created the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award, to be dispensed annually from this point forward.
Daly passed away Saturday with family by his side in Jupiter, Fla, his primary place of residence since retiring from coaching. He is survived by his wife Terry, daughter Cydney and two grandchildren, Sebrina and Connor.