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Doc on the passing of Chuck Daly

05.09.09 at 2:53 pm ET

When Doc Rivers got the Orlando Magic coach job in 1999 he wasn’t the first coach to know about it. Chuck Daly was way ahead of him. Daly called Rivers into the office he was about to vacate and laid it all out for him–who to keep, who to trade, who to fire.

There wasn’t much Chuck Daly didn’t know about basketball. A lifer who started coaching high schools, he worked his way up through an assistant job at Duke and then on to head jobs at Boston College and Penn before landing his first NBA gig as the head coach of the woeful Cleveland Cavaliers. Daly didn’t last long there, but he found basketball nirvana with the Detroit Pistons where he led the Bad Boys to back-to-back NBA titles before later stints running the Nets and Magic.

Daly died Saturday morning in Jupiter, Fla. after battling pancreatic cancer. He was 78 years old.

“He loved it,” Rivers said. “He was a coach. He and Red Auerbach were very similar. You’d think when you called Red he’d give you a complicated answer, but they saw the game so simply. It’s a tough loss.”

Rivers had ample reason to call Daly often during his time with the Magic. They ran through 19 players his first year and then lost Grant Hill after only four games the following season.

“At the time I thought the whole freaking sky is caving in and I’d call Chuck and he’d say something simple to you,” Rivers said. “I thought that was his secret. He had a way of making complex things very simple.”

Like a lot of coaches, Rivers has his own inner circle of trusted advisers. He is close with San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, for example, where Rivers served as an assistant for the Spurs. “Coaches lean of coaches,” Rivers said. “Losing him now is going to leave a big void. He was special to the game. More importantly, he was just a great guy to be around.”

The last time Rivers talked to Daly was a few weeks ago. Daly told him that he “got a tough draw” with all the injuries, but that he had to rally his team because you never know what can happen. It’s noticeable that since the Celtics lost Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe, most of the attention paid to their absence has come from the media. What does KG’s loss mean? Will he play? Those are all press-fueled storylines. The players and the coaches have answered when asked, but they have not used their absences as an excuse, nor have they spent a lot of time lamenting the reality.

How would Doc sum up Daly’s legacy as a coach?

“It speaks for itself,” Rivers said. “He was a world champion twice. He was a tough-minded coach who they still called a player’s coach. It’s a rare combination.”

Read More: Chuck Daily, Doc Rivers,
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