Legendary Princeton basketball coach Pete Carril dies at 92

Pete Carril is interviewed by Andrea Joyce. Photo courtesy of Princeton University Department of Athletics Communications.

Pete Carril, the Princeton University men’s basketball coach and National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Famer who was known for developing the “Princeton offense,” died in a hospital in Philadelphia on Aug. 15 due to complications from a stroke. He was 92.

“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, head coach of the Princeton University men’s basketball team, who played for Carril as a student.

“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. I speak for everyone who has ever been associated with Princeton basketball when I say that we love Coach, we learned lessons from him that we use every day and we will never forget him. My deepest sympathies go out to his children and grandchildren and to everyone who is touched by his passing.”

Born on July 10 of 1930 in Bethlehem, Pa., Carril graduated from Liberty High School, where he was an all-state basketball player for the 1947-48 season. He went on to play basketball for Lafayette College and graduated in 1952. He then served in the U.S. Army as a public information officer. He received a master’s degree in educational administration from Lehigh University in 1959.

Carril was a history teacher and a boys’ basketball coach at Easton High School from 1954 to 1958. He became the boys’ varsity basketball coach at Reading Senior High School in 1958. He coached at Lehigh University for a year before joining Princeton University in 1967. At Princeton, he compiled a 514-261 record over 29 years. The Princeton teams he coached won or shared 13 Ivy League championships and received 11 NCAA berths.

The Princeton offense system developed by Carril is a basketball strategy later adopted by professional teams that emphasizes constant motion, backdoor cuts, picks on and off the ball, and disciplined teamwork with a goal of spreading the floor, winding down the shot clock, and wearing down the other team’s defenders until they make a mistake so you have a chance at good shot. “We pass, we cut, we shoot the ball well and we look for good shots,” Carril said of the Princeton offense in a 1991 interview.”The main thing is to get a good shot every time down the floor. If that’s old fashioned than I’m guilty.”

Carril’s teams perfected the Princeton offense and had the best scoring defense for 14 years in the time period from 1975 to 1996, with an eight-year streak from 1988 to 1996. In his last year of coaching at Princeton, the Tigers defeated NCAA defending national champion UCLA in the first round by a score of 43 -41 in one of the biggest upsets of the tournament’s history.

From 1998 to 1999, Carril served as an assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings, working with the NBA team for 10 years until he retired in 2006. In 2007, he volunteered as a coach for the Washington Wizards. In 2009 he returned to the Sacramento Kings as an assistant coach. He was naned to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1997.

Carril is survived by two children, Peter Carril of Princeton and Lisa Carril of Pennington, and two grandchildren.

His players like Henderson remember him for the life lessons he taught them both on and off the court.

“This is a tough school. Kids ask me how they can compete with the quality of student here,” Carril said in a 1990 interview. “I tell them don’t. You compete with yourself. It’s what you do versus what you could do that counts. Life or basketball, it’s all the same.”

File photo: From left, Princeton President Shirley Tilghman congratulates Hall of Fame basketball coach Pete Carril in June of 2012 after conferring his honorary degree, as University Trustee Charles Gibson and chief marshal Douglas Clark look on. Photo Credit: Princeton University, Office of Communications, Denise Applewhite.


  1. I went to another college but remember his teams always tying up much taller, more talented ones in the NCAAs. rest in peace genius coach.

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