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Rick Carlisle on the passing of coach Bill Fitch, 'the ultimate franchise builder'

Fitch coached the Celtics to an NBA championship in 1981 and later gave Carlisle his start in coaching.

Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle had a lot on his heart this week after the passing of Hall of Famer Bill Fitch on Wednesday at 89 years old. Carlisle often shares the story of Fitch cutting him from New Jersey Nets in 1989 and hiring him as an assistant coach in the same conversation.

Carlisle agreed and was there for five seasons, then spent three seasons (1994-97) with the Trail Blazers before Larry Bird hired him, the late Dick Harter and Dan Burke on his staff with the Pacers in 1997.

Fitch won an NBA championship with the Celtics in 1981 and was twice named NBA Coach of the Year. He also coached Pacers TV analyst Quinn Buckner in Boston.

“Larry Bird loves him,” Buckner said during their Feb. 4 broadcast. “Bill was a really good coach — he can be a little tough sometimes — but he was a really good coach. They won a championship in ‘81 and it was because of Bill Fitch. (Former general manager) Red Auerbach knew he was a fundamentally sound guy, he was going to get you to what you needed to do.”

Carlisle was asked about Fitch’s influence on him before the Pacers hosted the Bulls Friday night, and he spoke glowingly about him for over four minutes — a clear indication of what Fitch meant to him.

“He was the ultimate franchise builder and a wonderful man.

You can watch what he had to see in the video player above. (This is a new feature to Substack. Let me know what you think. And if you prefer to watch on YouTube, you can.)

Larry Bird on Fitch:

Stories published at the conclusion of a game — and including updates, interviews and noteworthy observations.
Scott Agness