Hall of Fame Princeton basketball coach Pete Carril’s legacy looms large after passing at 92

Pete Carril (left), Hall of Fame Princeton coach, who also served as an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings. Photo courtesy of Princeton University

When news of the passing of Coach Peter J. Carril – known as the architect of the “Princeton Offense” – spread, fellow coaches and former players took time to remember his impact on and off the basketball court.

The loss of Carril was announced by his family on Aug. 15 in an issued statement released by Princeton University. He was 92.

Carril coached the Princeton University men’s basketball team for 29 years and led them to more than 12 Ivy League championship titles.

“The Carril family is sad to report that Coach Peter J. Carril passed away peacefully this morning. We kindly ask that you please respect our privacy at this time as we process our loss and handle necessary arrangements,” the family wrote.

While at Princeton from 1967-1996, Carril had amassed a 514-261 record as coach of the Tigers.

“It is difficult for me to put into words the impact that Coach Carril has had on my life and on the lives of the hundreds of others who were fortunate enough to have crossed paths with him,” said Mitch Henderson, former Princeton player under Carril and current coach for Princeton men’s basketball.

During Carril’s tenure as coach, Princeton made 11 NCAA tournament appearances, earned 13 Ivy League Championship titles, and secured the 1975 National Invitational Tournament (NIT) title.

“While his impact on the game of basketball is immeasurable and his long lasting ‘Princeton offense’ will live on beyond him, it is how he touched so many people on a personal level that will be his greatest legacy,” Henderson said.

“Coach taught me that keys in life were to be unselfish, to value the team over the individual, to understand that there is no substitute for hard work and to never limit yourself in what you think you can accomplish.”

As the architect of the Princeton Offense, Carril designed the offense to have constant ball movement, constant motion from players, back door cuts, spacing and consistency from players.

“Today we lost Pete Carril, @Princeton’s Hall of Fame basketball coach who won 13 regular-season Ivy League titles and was the mind behind the Princeton offense,” Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted. “He taught a game marked by patience and intelligence – skills that translate on and off the court. He will be missed.”

The “Princeton Offense” relies on all five players on the floor and each player must be able to shoot with consistency.

This offense would often create problems for teams with stacked talent and legendary coaches such as the late John Thompson, longtime head coach of the Georgetown Hoyas, and former Duke University Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Under Carril, the Tigers defeated UCLA 43-41 in the 1996 NCAA Tournament in the opening round game, almost took down No. 1 seed Georgetown as a No. 16 seed in the 1989 NCAA tournament with a 50-49 loss to the Hoyas, and put a scare into the Villanova Wildcats with a 50-48 loss in 1991.

In 1997, Carril was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. and nine years later, he received an induction into the College Basketball Hall of Fame, Kansas City, Mo., in 2006.

Carril said in his Naismith Hall of Fame speech, “No one ever starts out wanting to be a Hall of Fame coach, or a Hall of Fame doctor, or a Hall of Fame anything. No one ever starts out that way. There are a lot of forces at work in that.”

After retiring from Princeton in 1996, Carril went on to become an assistant coach for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings for 10 years.

Parts of the “Princeton Offense” have “been and continue” to be used by coaches in college basketball and the NBA.

According to Princeton University, Carril’s coaching career began at Easton High School, in Easton, Pa. He then went on to coach at Reading High School, Reading, Pa., and compiled a 145-42 record.

Carril left his career as a teacher and high school coach to become the head coach at Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pa.

Before starting his 29-year head coaching tenure at Princeton in the 1966-67 season, he spent one year with the Lehigh Mountain Hawks, going 11-12, which was a significant improvement from the team’s previous win total of just four games.


University of Kentucky men’s basketball Head Coach John Calipari:

“I coached against Hall of Famer Pete Carril just once in my career and we spent five days saying we weren’t going to get back-doored…and then we got back-doored to death,” he tweeted on Aug. 15. “He was one of the giants of our profession, an unbelievable teacher and a great man. RIP, Coach Carril.”

Jay Bilas, ESPN college basketball analyst and former Duke University men’s basketball player:

“One of the all-time great basketball minds. His book, “The Smart Take From The Strong,” should be required hoops reading. RIP Pete Carril,” he tweeted on Aug. 15.

Tom Crean, former head coach of the University of Georgia’s and Indiana University men’s basketball teams, tweeted:

“Thank you to the @Princeton, @PrincetonMBB and especially the Carril Family for letting ALL of us watch, study and take from Coach Pete Carril. His players and coaches were truly blessed and the rest of us were fortunate to see his brilliance and creativity.”

The NBA’s Sacramento Kings issued a statement on Aug. 15.

“The Sacramento Kings are deeply saddened to have learned of the passing of Pete Carril, who was instrumental in changing the game of basketball with the Princeton Offense,” the statement read. 

“During his time in Sacramento, Coachie left an indelible imprint on the Kings organization and many players that benefitted from his tutelage. Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones during this difficult time.”