He is most often known for being the head coach at Princeton University for 30 years and for using the “Princeton offense.” Also coached at Lehigh University and the Sacramento Kings of the National Basketball Association (NBA), he died Monday morning; his age was ninety-two.
“We kindly ask that you please respect our privacy at this time as we process our loss and handle necessary arrangements. More information will be forthcoming in the following days,” said the Pete family in a statement released by Princeton.
Using a deliberate, clock-draining offense based on backdoor cuts and precision passing, Lane won 13 regular-season Ivy League titles when the conference did not have a postseason tournament. In 1975, Princeton defeated Providence 80-69 at Madison Square Garden to win the NIT.
It was one of the most memorable March nights for the Tigers during their 11 NCAA tournament appearances. As Princeton’s coach, Pete attempted to outsmart superior opponents in prime-time upsets — leaving an indelible mark on college basketball.
“Anybody can coach basketball. I can tell you that right now. It’s not that hard to know about a pick-and-roll, a back-pick, the shuffle-cut, I mean, it’s not that hard,” Pete said after retiring. “But what is hard is to see how to develop something, to have an idea how your team is going to play. And that comes under the header of thinking.”
Rhode Island’s Providence demonstrated this logic in 1989. With a No. 16 seed, Pete’s Tigers won the No. 1 Georgetown Hoyas the distance in a thrilling 50-49 Hoyas win that captured the tournament’s attention.
As he spoke at a news conference before the game, Pete, who never failed to make his audience laugh, said. “I think we’re a billion-to-one to win the whole tournament. To beat Georgetown, we’re only 450 million-to-one.”
Dick Vitale of ESPN agreed with Pete. As part of the studio segment, Vitale promised: “I’ll tell you what, I’m supposed to go home for the weekend. If Princeton can beat Georgetown, I am going to hitchhike to Providence, which isn’t that far from here. I’m gonna be their ball boy on their next game. And then I’m gonna change into a Princeton cheerleading uniform; and I’m gonna lead all the cheers.”
Despite how absurd it seemed, the Tigers led 29-21 at halftime, more than holding their own against an elite Hoyas squad coached by John Thompson and featuring Alonzo Mourning. Despite mismatches at nearly every position and Georgetown’s rebounding advantage of 32-13, led by Mourning’s 13 — the Tigers battled to a close behind Pete’s anxious huffing and puffing.
“They kind of lulled us to sleep with the backdoor cuts and running the shot clock down,” said Mourning later in the match. “As soon as we slipped up defensively, they took advantage.”
Penn lost the Ivy title in a one-game tiebreaker 63-56 overtime, and Pete announced his resignation after the NCAA tournament. With the victory over the Quakers behind him, he wrote on the locker room whiteboard: “I’m retiring. I’m very happy.”
Weeks later, Princeton, again a No. 13 seed, upset UCLA 43-41 in Indianapolis, the defending national champion.
“We just knocked off a giant,” Pete said in the postgame interview, letting out a great laugh.
Steve Lavin, an assistant coach on the UCLA staff in 1996, concurred. “It was,” the coach stated, “one of the most memorable games in NCAA history.”
A nail-biting NCAA tournament game provided the perfect stage for Pete behind the bench, as his white hair stood up in all directions. Then, finally, a classic first-round upset by the Tigers captures March Madness’ essence.
“I believe that in defining greatness in coaches, u must determine if they get maximum out of their TEAM personnel,” tweeted Vitale. “PETE CARRIL is a prime example of a brilliant coaching mind that got max out of his talent. May Coach RIP !”
After one season at Lehigh, Pete finished his college career with a 525-273 record, including 514 wins at Princeton. After the victory over the Bruins in 1997, he got inducted into collegiate basketball’s Hall of Fame, the Naismith Memorial Hall.
“Let me just say that no one ever starts out wanting to be a Hall of Fame coach or a Hall of Fame doctor or a Hall of Fame anything,” Pete said during his Naismith Award speech. “No one ever starts out that way. There are a lot of forces at work, and you don’t know where you’re going to end up, and you don’t know why it happens”.
“Princeton was always half-decent in basketball. But we’re a national school now, basketball-wise. And I don’t think that anything’s going to happen to change that.”
Pete became an assistant coach in the NBA, coaching three seasons for the Sacramento Kings before retiring in 2011.