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Legendary Pistons Coach Dead at 78

DETROIT — Chuck Daly, the Detroit Pistons coach who led the "Bad Boys" to back-to-back NBA titles and was nicknamed "Daddy Rich" for his snappy dressing style, died Saturday. He was 78.

The Pistons said Daly died in Jupiter, Fla., with his family by his side. Funeral arrangements are pending, but the team said services would take place next week in Florida.

It was announcement in March that Daly, who had the most wins in Pistons franchise history, was diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer.

Before Daly, "the Pistons' legacy was two-men deep," Free Press sports writer Charlie Vincent wrote in 1996. "Bob Lanier had played here. And Dave Bing."

That changed in May 1983, when the Pistons hired Daly to coach a team that had never posted back-to-back winning seasons.

He stayed nine seasons, taking the team to the playoffs each year. His team posted five straight seasons with 50 or more victories and went to the Eastern Conference finals each year from 1987 to 1991.

They won NBA titles in 1989 and 1990. In '89, with Finals MVP Joe Dumars leading the way, they swept a Los Angeles Lakers team that went 11-0 in its first three playoffs rounds. The Pistons returned to the Finals in 1990, beating the Portland Trail Blazers in five games.

Daly once referred to himself as a second banana. He never won NBA coach of the year honors but was inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. In 1997, the Pistons retired the No. 2 jersey in honor of Daly's two championships.

His NBA coaching record — including one season in Cleveland before coming to Detroit and two seasons each in New Jersey and Orlando after the Pistons — was 638-437 (.593). His record with the Pistons: 467-271 (.633), plus 71-42 in the playoffs.

The identity still attached to the Pistons franchise was born under Daly's influence. His teams played hard. They won with defense. They were physical — so rough and tumble that the nickname Bad Boys quickly stuck.

Daly didn't shy away from the image, even as the team tallied $29,000 in fines in one season, a remarkable amount back in the day. He sometimes was called the Prince of Pessimism. He had a wry sense of humor and a knack for cutting his team — and himself — down to size.

When Orlando opened 2-3 in 1997 in Daly's coaching comeback, he said, "Perhaps it's the coaching."

From humble coaching roots

Born July 20, 1930, in St. Mary's, Pa., Charles Jerome Daly grew up in small-town Pennsylvania during the Depression. He told a magazine writer that his nickname in elementary school was Hungry. His father was a slick-dressing traveling salesman. Daly often accompanied his father on runs.

Daly played one season of college basketball at St. Bonaventure before transferring to Bloomsburg State. He studied English and speech, believing that to be a good coach he'd have to be a good communicator.

Before Daly got his break in coaching — at the high school level in Punxsutawney, Pa. — he worked a number of jobs, including furniture loader, dishwasher, night watchman, construction worker, bouncer at a Tokyo night club and leather-factor worker. He also served in the Army.

But once Daly found his niche in coaching, he couldn't turn away. Seven years in high schools led to jobs at Boston College, Duke and Pennsylvania. His NBA break came as an assistant to Billy Cunningham with the Philadelphia 76ers.

In 1982, the Cleveland Cavaliers hired Daly midseason to replace head coach Bob Kloopenburg. Daly lasted 93 days, winning only nine of his 41 games. He never moved out of his hotel, and he thought his career might be over.

But in 1983, the Pistons came calling. He stayed with Detroit until 1992, despite offers from NBC and TNT to move to the broadcast booth. He said he stayed because "I'm in love. I still want to coach. What can I say?"

That summer, Daly coached the U.S. Olympic men's basketball team, the Dream Team that won gold in Barcelona. He later coached the Nets and the Magic. But nothing meant as much to him as his time with the Pistons.

"The gold medal was wonderful," Daly said in 1997, "but the real truth is that you can take 12 guys and work with them, and they work with you, and you win a championship. There's no feeling like that in sports. It lasts forever."

The look of a champion

The image of Daly as Daddy Rich will be long-lasting for Detroit sports fans. Bad Boy player John Salley gave him the nickname because Daly had a big presence, from his emotional persona on the sidelines to his designer threads and perfectly sculpted hair.

"He looked like he should have been carrying an investment portfolio instead of a clipboard," wrote Nicholas J. Cotsonika in the Free Press book "Century of Champions, 100 years of Michigan Sports Memories."

His signature style was a pinstriped, three-piece suit. Silk. A little flash of color on the tie or pocket square. And of course, it always was a perfect fit.

Daly once said, "Tailoring covers your sins."

He topped his look with a full head of shampoo-ad worthy, never-mussed, voluptuous hair.

"When we were in Philly," former Pistons coach Doug Collins once said, "we were all under the assumption that Chuck had a comb surgically implanted in his hand so a hair was never out of place."

But Daly had as much substance as style.

He preached discipline. He once lectured at Duke about coaching with an iron fist. And his communication background came in handy, too.

He was gifted at working players' egos. He had to be. He had a collection of athletes who would frighten almost any coach working today — Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer and Dennis Rodman, to name three.

Daly once said: "Look, I'm not dealing with just 12 men out there. I'm dealing with 12 corporations. Every guy is the head of his own major corporation. The player makes a million a year. Consequently, you're dealing with the president of his own company. Each day. Every day."

But Daly mastered that challenge. He could handle his players — but he hated hearing it put that way.

"I like 'manage' or 'understand,' " he said. "I had a good feel or sensitivity toward people. You are handed 12 players, and you've got to make it work. That's your job, and your job is on the line almost day-to-day."

Laimbeer, now coach of the WNBA's Detroit Shock, said in 1990: "Chuck is our coach, but he is really our manager. He manages us. He doesn't know the X's and O's any better than anyone else, and his assistants know more about the game than he does. We do the playing, but he keeps us going. He manages all these personalities and brings out the best in us."

After he retired, Daly lived in Florida and enjoyed golfing. He did occasional broadcasting and consulting work. He said he wished he had enjoyed his coaching time more and wished he had not let the pressures and expectations get to him as much.

Wherever he went, he said, people wanting to hear about the Pistons. He was happy to oblige.

"My fondest memories in coaching and basketball revolve around Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer and Dennis and Joe and working with a group that won a championship," Daly said in 1997.

"That's the highest honor a coach can have. We were able to accomplish something that you fans can cherish for the rest of your basketball life."

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