Gruff Pete Carril respected those who stood up for themselves

I wish you’d all known Pete Carril. Or maybe not. 

Carril, the wildly successful “my-way” Princeton basketball coach for 29 years, died Monday at 92. 

He was a required taste. He could be nasty to refs, and occasionally to his own players. He could make courtside ear-witnesses squirm in discomfort. And he didn’t suffer reporters who asked questions he didn’t want to answer. 

Despite an impressive Eastern Pennsylvania college education — Lafayette grad, then a master’s from Lehigh — and a coaching gig at an Ivy League college, there was an indiscreet incongruity to Carril, who stayed craggy around the edges. 

The first time I met him, he snapped at me and was about to snap more — until I snapped back. That, I was told, was the key to his well-concealed heart. In February 1980, I was assigned to cover the Columbia-Princeton game. It wasn’t much of one. Princeton won, 77-50. 

But as the teams were leaving the floor at halftime, I caught a break: Near center court Carril and Columbia coach Buddy Mahar, neither taller than 5-foot-6, brought middle-age bantamweight boxing to the Ivy League as they stood swinging at the other. 

It was a no-decision. Neither connected. 

After the game, I naturally asked Carril about the halftime hassle. He shot me a glare and demanded to know who sent me. When I told him he spit fire: “You came all the way from New York to write about that?!” 

Former Princeton basketball coach Pete Carril tips his hat
Former Princeton basketball coach Pete Carril tips his hat.
he Philadelphia Inquirer via AP

I spit back: “You just won by 27, what the hell would you write about?” 

Carril glared, thought about it, then nodded. We were good. 

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