Bill Fitch, who coached Celtics to 1981 title, dies at 89

Bill Fitch, who earned a reputation for rekindling the fortunes of dismal NBA teams and leading the Boston Celtics to the 1981 league ch...


Bill Fitch, who earned a reputation for rekindling the fortunes of dismal NBA teams and leading the Boston Celtics to the 1981 league championship during a 25-season professional coaching career, died Wednesday at Lake Conroe, Texas, north of Houston. He was 89 years old.

His death was announced by Rick Carlisle, Indiana Pacers coach and president of the NBA Coaches Association, who said he was contacted by Fitch’s daughter, Marcy Ann Coville. No other details were provided.

A strong-willed character who preached selfless play, Fitch ran through demanding practices and did not spare the feelings of even his best players.

“I believe in discipline and I think it’s the cornerstone of world champion teams,” Fitch said.

He was an innovator in recording games and practices to analyze his players and their opponents, unaware of a nickname circulating in the league in its pre-hi-tech years: Captain Video.

Fitch was the NBA’s Coach of the Year twice and was chosen as one of the top 10 coaches in league history in the 1996-97 ballot that marked the NBA’s 50th anniversary.

He received the National Basketball Coaches Association award in 2013. Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award, named after the coach who won two league championships with the Detroit Pistons.

When Kevin McHale coached the Houston Rockets in 2012, he recalled the lessons he absorbed as a Celtic rookie during Fitch’s sometimes daunting reign.

“Coming out of college, I had never been around a coach who talked like Bill did to you,” McHale told the Houston Chronicle, “but he really pushed you hard, and I think Bill did. great work.”

Larry Bird, who joined McHale and Robert Parish on Fitch’s Celtic championship team, told Sports Illustrated in 1997 that Fitch “was the best in terms of motivation, forcing you to really put him on the line. ‘one for the other’.

Bird believed, however, that Fitch, who resigned as Celtic manager after four seasons, moved on to other teams so often because he “really got under certain guys’ skin at the end of the day. of a moment”.

Fitch made his NBA coaching debut in Cleveland, watching his 1970 expansion team, the Cavaliers, lose their first 15 games.

But in his sixth season, the Cavaliers won the Central Division title, going 49-33, and advanced to the second round of the playoffs, earning Fitch his first Coach of the Year award. .

Fitch was hired as Celtics coach in 1979 after missing the playoffs for two straight seasons. He received his second Coach of the Year award in 1980, when the Celtics, in Bird’s rookie season, went 61-21 and advanced to the second round of the playoffs.

The Fitch Celtics won the NBA title the following season, beating the Houston Rockets in a six-game playoff final, the decisive victory come to Houston. It was Boston’s 14th National Basketball Association championship and their first since 1976.

Taking over as Rockets coach in 1983 after falling on hard times, Fitch developed the Twin Towers, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson, as the nucleus of a team he coached to the finals of the NBA in 1986, where the Rockets lost to the Celtics. in six games.

Fitch was given the New Jersey Nets coaching job in August 1989, succeeding Willis Reed, who became the team’s vice president after a 26–56 season.

The Nets won just 43 games in Fitch’s first two seasons in New Jersey, but he coached them until the 1992 playoffs, their first playoff appearance in six years, despite having were eliminated in the first round.

Fitch had nearly failed to survive this season. A minority Nets owner wanted to hire Jim Valvano, the former North Carolina State coach, in December 1991. Although that didn’t happen, Fitch had other problems, after facing several of its players.

He quit after that season, then became coach of the struggling Los Angeles Clippers in 1994. He never produced a winning team with the Clippers, but led them to the playoffs in his third season with them.

Billy Charles Fitch was born May 19, 1934 in Davenport, Iowa, and grew up in Cedar Rapids. His father, a former Navy drill sergeant, was a disciplinarian, shaping a trait his son would bring to the basketball court.

“I was 14 before I found out I wasn’t in the Marine Corps because I was living like a Marine,” Fitch told the Los Angeles Times in 1994. “I had no one to share that lanyard with. razor. I was an only child.”

Fitch played basketball at Coe College in Cedar Rapids and got his first head coaching job there in 1958. He then coached at North Dakota, where Phil Jackson was one of his players, then in Bowling Green and Minnesota before getting the lead from the Cavaliers. – coaching position.

He retired from professional coaching after the 1997-98 season with 944 wins and 1,106 losses. He was inducted into Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 2019.

In addition to her daughter Marcy Ann, her survivors include two other daughters, Tammy Fitch and Lisa Fitch.

Fitch retained his taste for the game of basketball long after he retired from coaching.

“I never really thought being known as Captain Video was a bad deal,” he told the NBA website in 2013. The truth is, I was glad no one else was doing it because I thought it still gave our teams a big advantage.

“If you could see my closet today,” he says, “it’s full from floor to ceiling with old tapes and now with DVDs, and I’m still making movies for different people. I always like competition and strategy.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Bill Fitch, who coached Celtics to 1981 title, dies at 89
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