This Time, Tigers Wanted Him Rejected As Player, Bill Carmody Now Princeton's Coach.

Posted: March 25, 1996

Bill Carmody wasn't a good enough player to be recruited by Pete Carril, but he was the only coach good enough to succeed Carril.

Carmody, Carril's longtime assistant, was named Princeton's head basketball coach March 13, four days after Carril surprisingly announced his retirement and one day before the Tigers upset UCLA in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

The announcement came in the midst of an emotional roller-coaster ride that saw Princeton lose to Penn in the regular-season finale March 5, beat Penn in an Ivy League playoff for the NCAA berth, then beat UCLA in the the NCAA's first round before losing to Mississippi State.

Carril decided to retire at the season's outset, but his announcement came after the playoff win over Penn, at Lehigh University, on March 9.

``I was prepared for Pete's announcement after the tournament,'' Carmody said. `` After he made it, we still had to focus on UCLA and Mississippi State. So after all the highs and lows in such a short time, getting the job is just starting to sink in.''

Carril coached Princeton for 29 years, amassing a 514-261 record, 11 NCAA tournament berths and one NIT championship. Carmody, 44, was at his side the last 14 seasons.

When Carril resigned, there was no question Carmody was his choice for the job.

``It's funny, I saw what kind of guy Billy was in the eighth grade,'' Carril said. ``I saw him at the Jackson Valley Sports Camp [in Washington Township] and he was a scrapper, a young player that played very hard.

``I almost recruited him, but at that time we were recruiting against North Carolina, Duke and teams like that. We were looking for that caliber of player in talent.''

Carmody, a Spring Lake native who went to St. Rose High School in Belmar, attended Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. He played point guard under current Princeton athletic director Gary Walters his first two seasons. Carmody was first-team all-ECAC and was named the school's most outstanding athlete as a senior in 1974-75.

Still unsure of his future, Carmody thought about law school, but didn't have the grades. Late in Carmody's senior year, Union coach Bill Scanlon was approached by Jerry Fabiano, head coach of nearby Fulton-Montgomery Community College. Fabiano was going on sabbatical and wondered if Carmody wanted the job.

``It was one of those things that - boom! - fell right into my lap,'' Carmody said. ``I said sure.''

The job lasted one year and was completely opposite from the situation Carmody inherits at Princeton. The Tigers are known more for academics than athleticism, and many of their players go on to become heads of corporations.

At Fulton-Montgomery, the 23-year-old Carmody had players from New York City.

``Half of them were older than me,'' he said with a laugh. ``All the stories you hear about junior college coaching is true. I was taping ankles, I was a guidance counselor, I had two guys come down with venereal disease. It was unbelievable.

``Here were these guys from New York City living in Johnstown, New York, which was very rural. They all lived in an apartment over a bar. I had to keep them in the gym all the time just to keep them busy.''

Carmody ended the season with six players but finished 17-10. When Fabiano returned from sabbatical, Carmody returned to Union as varsity assistant and JV head coach for four years. He then coached under Walters at Providence for one year.

Walters left Providence for the business world in 1981, and Carmody was suddenly out of coaching. He returned to working construction, which had helped pay the bills since his teenage days.

A year later, at the start of the 1982-83 season, Carril had an opening on his staff. Walters, who had played for and coached under Carril, suggested Carmody.

``I remembered him well,'' Carril said. ``I've always tried to look for assistants who played well because they know what it takes to have success. What happened with Billy is pretty much what I expected. He's going to do a heck of a job here.''

Carmody served as the quiet backdrop to Carril's emotion-charged antics on the bench.

``When a guy misses a layup or an easy jumper, that wrenches Pete's gut out,'' Carmody said. ``My feeling is, over 40 minutes, that stuff happens. It just doesn't wipe me out as much. Maybe as a head coach it will wipe me out a little more.''

In the last 14 years, Carmody had been approached by several schools from the Ivy and Patriot Leagues about head coaching jobs. He declined, feeling it would have been too difficult to rebuild decaying programs in leagues with such strict academic standards. He also enjoys living in Princeton with his wife, Barbara, and their two young sons.

Instead, Carmody bided his time in hopes of being offered the chance to take over for a legend - and the pressure that goes with it.

``There's going to be comparisons all the time,'' Carmody said. ``When we play a bad game they'll say, `Never saw Pete's team do that.' But you have no control over that.

``We've got a lot of guys back from this year's team. We just have to continue in the direction we've been going and build on it.''

Knowing he would retire, Carril let Carmody and assistant Joe Scott handle all the recruiting over the past season.

``When I took this job from Butch van Breda Kolff, I lost five recruits who didn't want to play for a new coach,'' Carril said. ``I did not want that happening to Billy, so I stayed out of it.

``Everybody will say he's got a tough act to follow. The obvious answer to that is he was part of the act. He's bright, he has a mind of his own.''

Rider coach Kevin Bannon has watched Carmody's career from nearby since coming to the area as Trenton State's coach in 1982. Bannon believed there was no other candidate for the job.

``So many great assistants seem to get passed up these days,'' Bannon said. ``It's good to see a school do the right thing.

``It's especially important to have someone already in place at a school like Princeton, which is a little bit of a different kind of place to recruit at. You have to have a balance of excellence in basketball and still bring the kind of students in that the university attracts. It would take a pretty long time for an outsider to understand the nuances of recruiting there.''

Carmody insists he's not a Carril clone, and Carril agrees, saying, ``Some of the most difficult arguments I've had as a coach here were with Billy.''

The most frequent question asked of Carmody is whether he will change the Tigers' famous offensive system, which relies on precision passing for backdoor layups and three-point shooting. Carmody, who has been the Tigers' recruiting coordinator, said the system would be predicated on the type of talent he lands.

``Every coach that gets a new job says, `This is my dream job. I'm running, I'm pressing,' '' Carmody said. ``They say all the things a recruit wants to hear. Then they get the job and play games in the 50s.

``Every coach wants to go up and down the court. Every coach. But you just sort of temper things according to the players you get.''

Carmody does admit he wants to press more. How that affects the rest of the system remains to be seen, since it will lend itself to a more up-tempo game.

No matter what happens, Princeton will never look the same as it has the last 29 years, since so much of the style was uniquely Carril's. The outgoing coach, who is rumored for an assistant's job with the Sacramento Kings, said he would not offer Carmody advice unless he asked.

Carmody believes he's already learned his most important lesson from Carril.

``Just the simple fact that the guy worked hard every day,'' Carmody said. ``His energy level was just unmatched. We've had a lot of great assistants who went on to head jobs, and none of them could believe the way the guy could work so hard and pay such attention to every detail.

``If I can somehow take that with me - just stay with it and stay with it, never compromise - it would be very beneficial.''

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