Great coaching is more than winning; it’s also about educating, guiding, passing on values. It’s helping to develop the individual not just as a player, but as a productive member of society. It’s pursuing success, but not at the expense of morality, justice and ethics. It’s, of course, about achieving excellence, but also with sacrifice and respect. Which does lead to the ultimate goals.
It’s why former Bulls longtime assistant coach Johnny Bach was a great coach, if not always identified in the pantheon of NBA coaching elites. Other than a brief tenure as head coach of the Golden State Warriors in the early 1980s, Bach, who died in January 2016, was a man who guided some of the best ever coaches, like Phil Jackson and Doug Collins, and who nurtured the youngsters who became champions on the court and in life.
[Bach would] say, ‘Paul Douglas, that bad decision you are getting ready to make, I’ve already made it. So let’s think about it before you do that.
Which is why Fordham U. in New York City, where Bach after graduating became one of the youngest head coaches in NCAA history, Monday presents the annual John Bach award. This year’s recipient, posthumously, is longtime New York broadcaster John Andariese, who played at Bronx’ Fordham under Bach.
“John received the media award from the Naismith Hall of Fame a few years ago,” said NBA broadcaster Marv Albert, a longtime partner with Andariese on Knicks broadcasts who will speak at the Monday ceremonies. “This would have been such a huge night for John because of what Johnny Bach and Fordham meant to him. He and Johnny were close for years and John stayed active with Fordham. It would have had a great deal of meaning.”
Particularly because of what the Bulls assistant meant not only in the basketball world, but in the spirit of Fordham and its Jesuit heritage.
Coaches like Bach, unfortunately, are becoming rare in the NBA, the knowledgeable veteran who not only guides the young coaches with experience and a comforting assurance, but who is a father-figure buffer who can help offer life’s lessons to the kids who have gotten so few, especially today with limited time in college.
“Johnny talked about it lot,” said Bach’s widow, Mary Sweeney-Bach. “He was very proud of being the product of a Jesuit education because he believed in the importance of intellectual honesty and every other type of honesty, being spiritually honest, intellectually honest. He believed in the importance of education. That’s part of what made him the kind of coach he was. It wasn’t just rah rah, go get ‘em. He was so much into teaching the basics, the fundamentals, the values; it was the basics of life as well as the basics of basketball.”
Among the previous recipients of the award are Jackson, P.J. Carlesimo, Patrick Ewing and Doug Collins, the latter whom Bach coached in the 1972 Olympics and went on to work with for three NBA teams.
Collins is now a Bulls advisor and he says he hears Bach’s voice every day.
“I remember he used to call me Paul Douglas (Collins’ full name), he’d say, ‘Paul Douglas, that bad decision you are getting ready to make, I’ve already made it. So let’s think about it before you do that.’
“The older I got, the more he meant to me,” said Collins. “When you are young and hear wisdom, sometimes you don’t absorb it all. The older you get you realize how smart, how much he did in the game and how much he meant to me as a person. He was very much a father figure in my life. Johnny was looked at as that tough military guy, but people also didn’t realize what a compassionate heart and spirit he had.
“You see these guys and how important they are in winning championships,” said Collins. “He helped Phil win titles with his work with the young players; sometimes assistants get lost like that, but these guys bring so much to the game, guys like John, Tex Winter and what they did with Phil and throughout their careers. How many lives did you touch? How many people were better because they were with you? I know I am a better person for the time I spent with Johnny.”
Bach, a Brooklyn native like Andariese, had one of the more remarkable careers in basketball. He played professionally with the Boston Celtics and guided Fordham to the then more prestigious NIT and the NCAA tournament as well as a young coach. He had almost 400 collegiate wins at Fordham and Penn State. He was an NBA head coach and assistant on three Bulls title teams, architect of the team’s famed defense. His paintings earned a show after his retirement and he was a decorated World War II veteran.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver also will speak at the event Monday at the Water Club in New York City.
“He wanted to be somebody who took care of these guys, who taught them,” said Sweeney-Bach. “What was giving back to him was when he saw people developing into better people. One of the things he admired about Michael (Jordan) was the way he elevated people around him as far as the game was concerned. Johnny wanted to do that as something more than the game. The idea that Fordham and the Jesuits are giving an award in his honor was something that meant a great deal to him. Those are the kinds of things he wanted to be remembered for.”