Chuck Daly wasn’t even sloppy seconds.
He was thirds—whatever the unflattering prefix to that is.
He may even have been, frankly, fourths or lower.
They say that sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.
I submit that, likewise, sometimes the best hires are the ones you don’t make.
Daly, who passed away Saturday from cancer at age 78, wasn’t necessarily on the Pistons’ radar back in 1983.
GM Jack McCloskey had just fired Scotty Robertson, a ziggy that many of us thought was terribly unfair. Scotty had taken the remnants of Dickie Vitale’s 16-66 disaster and, within two years, coached it to a very respectable 39-43.
But the team wasn’t playing defense the way McCloskey preferred.
So Jack fired Robertson and went in search of a new coach.
The coaching search when it came to the Pistons in those days was always fraught with danger. And laughs.
This was a team that, after all, had once made a 24-year-old a player/coach, and who tabbed its radio announcer to be the new GM. A team that burned through coaches like a teenager and his allowance.
But Jack fired Robertson, and in his mind it was for the good of the team’s future. The Pistons had two young stars—Isiah Thomas and Kelly Tripucka—and they needed the right man to mold them and to use the supporting players McCloskey would provide to play their roles to the “t”.
Two men, at least, turned McCloskey down when approached to coach the Pistons.
Dr. Jack Ramsay, with a wealth of experience under his belt, politely declined McCloskey’s overture.
McKinney said no, as well.
Three Jacks in the mix, and still the Pistons were playing with a losing hand.
There was another coach, rumored. Through the grapevine it was reported that he, too, turned the Pistons job down.
Enter Chuck Daly, former Ivy Leaguer and NBA assistant, then-beleaguered interim head coach and part-time radio analyst.
Actually, Daly’s background seemed to fit perfectly into the Pistons’ twisted jigsaw puzzle of former coaches. He was unknown, with a college background somewhere. He had been a radio guy. His NBA coaching record with Cleveland was 9-32.
So this was the guy who was going to lead the Pistons to championship glory?
Well, yeah—after several others told the Pistons no.
It’s very ironic that in the same week, two previously unknown, unwanted men connected to the Pistons were in the news.
First there was former player Dave Bing, elected to be the new mayor of Detroit. Bing, in 1966, was unwanted from Syracuse by a fan base hoping for U-M star Cazzie Russell. But the Pistons lost a coin flip and were “stuck” with Bing.
Then Daly, who passed away on Saturday. I can assure you, there weren’t a lot of season -ticket sales generated by his hiring. Let’s just put it that way.
Now Bing is mayor and Daly has a banner hanging from the Palace.
Chuck Daly wasn’t happy unless he was worried about something. They didn’t call him the Prince of Pessimism for nothing.
But nobody worried better, and happier, on the Pistons’ sidelines than Daly.
Maybe nobody ever in the NBA, now that I think about it.