INDIANAPOLIS — Dick Harter, a veteran NBA assistant who led Penn to two NCAA tournament appearances and was the Oregon coach when the Ducks ended UCLA’s 98-game home winning streak, has died at the age of 81.
A spokesman for the Island Funeral Home in Hilton Head, S.C., said Tuesday that Mr. Harter died Monday night at a community hospital. The cause of death was not released, and funeral arrangements were pending.
Mr. Harter was the first head coach of the Charlotte Hornets. He was also an assistant with the Indiana Pacers three times before retiring in 2010. He was the defensive coach under Larry Bird when the Pacers reached the NBA Finals in 2000. Before that, he assisted Chuck Daly in Detroit, Pat Riley with the New York Knicks, and P.J. Carlesimo in Portland. He was an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics 2002-2004.
Over more than half a century, the man respectfully referred to as a “sarge’’ by former Pacers president Donnie Walsh. never lost the ability to connect with young players.
“He was a great coach, really a defensive-minded coach, and he taught us a lot,’’ Pacers forward Danny Granger said in a statement from the team. “He was a tough coach, but a great guy to be around.’’
Mr. Harter knew much more than basketball.
“Among many things I loved about him was talking about current events and books, particularly World War II and Civil War books,’’ Pacers assistant Dan Burke said. “He was always thirsty for knowledge and reading. And he loved college football, particularly Notre Dame.’’
From current players to retired stars, the respect poured out.
“It was an honor to be coached on two separate occasions by one of the best defensive minds the NBA has seen,’’ former Pacers guard Reggie Miller said.
Mr. Harter coached at Rider, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Penn State, compiling a college record of 295-196 and two Ivy League championships with the Quakers.
A rival coach once compared the Ducks’ frenetic style under Mr. Harter to kamikaze pilots. The name stuck, and his Ducks became known as the “Kamikaze Kids.’’
In 1976, Mr. Harter led his Oregon team to UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, where the Bruins had not dropped a game since 1970. Oregon won 65-45, making good on Mr. Harter’s pledge to take on John Wooden’s intimidating squad.
“You talk about people leaving footprints; he left his footprints,’’ Ernie Kent, an Oregon player who went on to coach the Ducks from 1997-2010, told The Eugene Register-Guard. “He changed the mentality of a community; he changed a program; he changed lives.’’
Pacers center Jeff Foster called Mr. Harter an essential influence to how he plays defense in the NBA. And Bird remembered his assistant fondly, too.
“Obviously, it’s tough, but I had a lot of great times with Dick,’’ Bird said. “Bringing him in here to help me when I was coach was great, not only for me, but for the team and the franchise. He was very good at what he did, and on the defensive end, you couldn’t find anybody better. He loved it here, and he’d come back anytime.’’