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Chuck Daley: The Man Behind the Pistons

June 11, 1988

PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) _ Chuck Daly eased into the NBA finals as if he always belonged there. The role, like his fashionable wardrobe, fits him well.

He is smooth with reporters, sensitive to his players and skillful at setting strategy. The new face on the sidelines deals with the spotlight like an old hand.

The customary championship matchup between Pat Riley’s Los Angeles Lakers and K.C. Jones’ Boston Celtics was upset by Daly’s Detroit Pistons. Riley is back, but the Pistons beat Boston in the Eastern Conference finals, sending the 57-year-old Daly to the title round for the first time as a head coach.

All dressed up, he finally has somewhere to go.

″Look at his winning percentage in college. He’s one of the winningest coaches of all time,″ Pistons’ assistant coach Ron Rothstein said. ″Go back and look at his high school record. The guy’s won wherever he’s been and won big. That’s no fluke.″

In 1983, Daly took over a Detroit franchise that had just three winning seasons in its first 26 years. He has led the Pistons to five consecutive winning seasons and into the NBA finals for the first time since they moved from Ft. Wayne, Ind., in 1957. He has more victories and a better winning percentage than any other Detroit coach.

Now his Pistons, who will be home against the Lakers in Sunday’s third game of the best-of-seven finals, can win their first title without having to win again in Los Angeles.

A dominant impression of Daly has been his stylish dress. Now, getting recognition late in his career, there is no doubt that he coaches very well, too.

″I think he has a terrific gut for the game,″ said Dick Versace, Daly’s other assistant coach. ″He has a way that you can’t define. ... He has a way of pushing the right buttons at the right time.″

Despite the well-tailored suits and carefully combed hair, Daly, who began his head coaching career about 30 years ago at Punxsutawney High School in Pennsylvania, is a stickler for hard work.

″I’m really a professional coach, somewhere toward the end of my coaching career,″ Daly said. ″I’ve experienced a certain amount of joy but I’m a very professional, day-to-day type of working guy.″

A native of Kane, Pa., he made all the stops along the coaching path. He was an assistant coach at Duke for six seasons, head coach at Boston College for two seasons and head coach for six seasons at Pennsylvania, where he won four Ivy League titles.

Then he moved to the NBA as assistant coach for four years to Billy Cunningham with the Philadelphia 76ers and as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers for part of one season.

On May 17, 1983, he succeeded Scotty Robertson at Detroit and has put his own stamp on the Pistons.

″This club always had a tendency to get too high or too low,″ Daly said. ″The very first thing I talked (to them) about (was) don’t get too high or too low.

″Those were just words. Finally, five years later, we’ve gotten to the point that maybe a little of that has happened and I try to live like that.″

For now, he presides over a happy lockerroom filled with admiring players.

″He has to keep 12 guys happy, or try to keep 12 guys happy, and he does a great job of that,″ forward John Salley said. ″That’s the gift of being a leader.″

″He’s a loose guy,″ forward Dennis Rodman said, ″He doesn’t really get upset too much.″

″He doesn’t hold grudges,″ said forward Adrian Dantley.

″I don’t think you’ll ever see anyone wanting to shoot him,″ Versace said, referring to former NBA player Spencer Haywood’s recent statement that he considered having someone kill Paul Westhead after the then-Laker coach suspended him in 1980.

But Daly isn’t a pushover.

″When he gets mad,″ Salley said, ″Chuck will scream.″

Daly also has the ability to keep in touch with what’s going on around him while taking action only when necessary.

The players, he said, ″talk among themselves and I’m kind of around. I hear what I want to hear sometimes.

″I used to work as a construction guy, a laborer. We used to have a guy, about 80 years old, whose name was Johnson. I still remember. He would come in heavy overhauls and long underwear in the middle of the summer.

″We used to think he was weird. We’d come in with no shirts and all this business. I remember he only heard what he wanted to hear,″ Daly added. ″We’d be talking and he’d respond only to what he wanted to hear. Sometimes in this league you’ve got to coach that way.″

Like when forward Ricky Mahorn acts up during team discussions.

″Every time we have a meeting, he (Mahorn) gets up and gets to spitting in a trash can,″ Dantley said. ″He (Daly) notices sometimes. He just rolls his eyes.″

Although Daly’s contract, paying about $185,000 this season, expired during the Eastern Conference finals, he’s been offered a new deal that General Manager Jack McCloskey described as ″very lucrative.″

But Daly’s agent ″wants to wait until after the playoffs″ to negotiate, McCloskey said. ″I think they made a good move.″

The Pistons’ playoff success may earn Daly a new, rich contract. He is a major reason that Detroit had that success.

His skills go beyond plotting basketball strategy. He also knows how to get diverse personalities to accept their roles and execute that strategy.

″He’s probably the best people person I’ve ever met,″ Rothstein said. ″He’s got a great feel for people. You meet him, you like him right away. He’s a great guy.″

END ADV Weekend Editions June 11-12

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