May 19, 1932|
|High school||Cedar Rapids (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)|
|1989–1992||New Jersey Nets|
|1994–1998||Los Angeles Clippers|
|Career highlights and awards|
William Charles Fitch (born May 19, 1932) is an American former National Basketball Association (NBA) coach who had been successful in developing a number of teams into playoff contenders. Before entering the professional ranks, he coached college basketball at the University of Minnesota, Bowling Green State University, the University of North Dakota, and his alma mater, Coe College. Fitch's teams twice qualified for the NCAA tournament. He won the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award for the 2012–13 NBA season.
Fitch coached at four universities, the University of Minnesota, Bowling Green State University, the University of North Dakota, and his alma mater, Coe College. He led North Dakota to three NCAA Division II Men's Basketball Tournaments and he led Bowling Green to the 1968 NCAA University Division Basketball Tournament in his only season with the team after winning the Mid-American Conference title with a 18–7 record and 10-2 in conference play. At Minnesota, he coached the Golden Gophers to 12-12 and 13-11 in his two seasons there.
During his 25-year pro coaching career, Fitch was often hired in an attempt to improve failing teams. Although Fitch currently ranks tenth among NBA coaches in all-time number of victories (with 944), he is also ranked second in all-time losses (with 1,106) behind Lenny Wilkens. In 1996 Fitch was named one of the NBA's Ten Greatest Coaches of All-Time. He is the only one on that list not inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. In 2016, Fitch was honored with an honorary bench by the Hall of Fame, which surrounds a statue of James Naismith along with other granite benches in honor of great coaches, done so by a $150,000 donation by Rick Carlisle.
Fitch was hired by the Cleveland Cavaliers as coach on March 19, 1970 for the 1970-71 season, the inaugural season for the team. In his first season, the Cavaliers went 15-67. The Cavaliers did not have a season as bad as that one until the 1981-82 season, which also garnered 15 wins. The team gradually rose in wins for the next two years, winning 32 in his third season, although they slipped slightly the following year. In his first four years, they finished last each time in the Central Division.
His fifth season resulted in marked improvement as the Cavs won 40 games while finishing 3rd, their first season without a last place finish. By this point, the team would have a clear leader in its #1 draft pick from 1971, Austin Carr. He had become the leading scorer for the team, but a serious knee injury curtailed Cleveland's hopes for a playoff berth.
The following season of 1975-76 was the pinnacle of his career with Cleveland. His fifth season (1974-75) resulted in significant improvement. The team, now fabled as "The Miracle of Richfield", and led by team captain Carr, scoring small forward Campy Russell, shooting guard Bobby "Bingo" Smith, and a supporting cast of largely unknown players such as starting center Jim Chones, and an aging Nate Thurmond. The team won 49 games (a team record for thirteen seasons) and the Central Division title. They defeated the Washington Bullets in seven games to advance to the Conference Finals, where they were defeated in six games by the Boston Celtics, with Chones being sidelined by a broken foot in practice two days before the conference finals. The Cavaliers did not win another playoff series until 1992. He was awarded the NBA Coach of the Year Award at the end of the season.
Fitch would lead the team to two more playoff berths, although they did not win either series. After a 30-52 record for the 1978-79 season, Fitch resigned on May 21, 1979.
His first season also happened to be the first for Larry Bird. Fitch helped lead the Celtics to 61 wins along with an Atlantic Division title. In the playoffs that year, the Celtics were defeated in the Conference Finals to the Philadelphia 76ers in five games. Fitch won his second Coach of the Year Award after the season.
In his second season, the Celtics acquired Kevin McHale and Robert Parish through a trade with the Golden State Warriors. Fitch's team won 62 games along with a second Atlantic title. They went on to beat the Houston Rockets in six games to win the 1981 NBA Finals, Boston's first title since 1976.
Fitch led the Celtics to a third consecutive Atlantic Division title while winning 63 games, although the team lost in the Conference Finals to the 76ers in seven games. The team dropped in wins (from 63 to 56) while finishing 2nd in the Atlantic Division, although they were defeated by the Milwaukee Bucks in four games. On May 27, 1983, he resigned from the Celtics. Fitch cited Harry T. Mangurian Jr.'s announcement that he was selling the team due to difficulties with Delaware North (the owners of the Boston Garden) as the last straw, despite Fitch having three years left on his contract.
On June 1, 1983, Fitch was hired by the Houston Rockets, taking over for Del Harris, who had managed the team to 14 wins the previous season. The 1983–84 Houston Rockets season also happened to be the first season with Ralph Sampson on the team. The team won 29 games that season. The next season was the season in which the Rockets drafted Hakeem Olajuwon, and the team responded with 48 wins and a playoff berth, although they were beaten in five games by the Utah Jazz. His third season was his best season with the team as they won the Midwest Division title along with the Western Conference title after beating the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. They met Fitch's old team, the Celtics. Boston beat the team in six games to win the Finals. Fitch's following two seasons led to playoff berths, although they did not advance past the Conference Semifinals. Fitch was fired on June 6, 1988.
On August 21, 1989, Fitch was hired by the New Jersey Nets, replacing Willis Reed, who had gone 26-56 the previous season. The team acquired Sam Bowie on draft day in order to try and start a rebuilding process, although the team went 17-65 for the season, the fewest wins for the Nets since joining the NBA. Fitch gradually raised the team up, with acquiring of players such as Derrick Coleman, Dražen Petrović, and Terry Mills helping the team qualify for a playoff berth in the 1991–92 New Jersey Nets season. Notably, the team went to the playoffs with a losing record of 40-42, 6th best in the 14 team Eastern Conference. They lost in the First Round to Fitch's old team, the Cavaliers in four games. On May 12, 1992, he resigned as coach of the team.
On July 28, 1994, Fitch was hired by the Los Angeles Clippers, replacing Bob Weiss, who had went 27-55 the previous year. In four seasons with the team, he could not reverse the tide of a franchise that had gone on a downward spiral since making the playoffs in consecutive seasons in 1992 and 1993. However, he led them to a playoff berth once, doing so in the 1996-97 season (the last playoff berth for the team until 2006), although they were swept in the First Round by the Jazz. Notably, they made the playoffs despite going 36-46, qualifying by just two games. The following season was a disaster, with the team finishing 17-65, the worst season since finishing with that same record in the 1994-95 season. Two days after the season ended, Fitch was fired on April 20, 1998.
|Regular season||G||Games coached||W||Games won||L||Games lost||W–L %||Win–loss %|
|Post season||PG||Playoff games||PW||Playoff wins||PL||Playoff losses||PW–L %||Playoff win–loss %|
|Cleveland||1970–71||82||15||67||.183||4th in Central||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
|Cleveland||1971–72||82||23||59||.280||4th in Central||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
|Cleveland||1972–73||82||32||50||.390||4th in Central||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
|Cleveland||1973–74||82||29||53||.354||4th in Central||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
|Cleveland||1974–75||82||40||42||.488||3rd in Central||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
|Cleveland||1975–76||82||49||33||.598||1st in Central||13||6||7||.462||Lost in Conf. Finals|
|Cleveland||1976–77||82||43||39||.524||4th in Central||3||1||2||.333||Lost in First Round|
|Cleveland||1977–78||82||43||39||.524||3rd in Central||2||0||2||.000||Lost in First Round|
|Cleveland||1978–79||82||30||52||.366||4th in Central||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
|Boston||1979–80||82||61||21||.744||1st in Atlantic||9||5||4||.556||Lost in Conf. Finals|
|Boston||1980–81||82||62||20||.756||1st in Atlantic||17||12||5||.706||Won NBA Championship|
|Boston||1981–82||82||63||19||.768||1st in Atlantic||12||7||5||.583||Lost in Conf. Finals|
|Boston||1982–83||82||56||26||.683||2nd in Atlantic||7||2||5||.286||Lost in Conf. Semifinals|
|Houston||1983–84||82||29||53||.354||6th in Midwest||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
|Houston||1984–85||82||48||34||.585||2nd in Midwest||5||2||3||.400||Lost in First Round|
|Houston||1985–86||82||51||31||.622||1st in Midwest||20||13||7||.650||Lost in NBA Finals|
|Houston||1986–87||82||42||40||.512||3rd in Midwest||10||5||5||.500||Lost in Conf. Semifinals|
|Houston||1987–88||82||46||36||.561||4th in Midwest||4||1||3||.250||Lost in First Round|
|New Jersey||1989–90||82||17||65||.207||6th in Atlantic||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
|New Jersey||1990–91||82||26||56||.317||5th in Atlantic||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
|New Jersey||1991–92||82||40||42||.488||3rd in Atlantic||4||1||3||.250||Lost in First Round|
|L.A. Clippers||1994–95||82||17||65||.207||7th in Pacific||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
|L.A. Clippers||1995–96||82||29||53||.354||7th in Pacific||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
|L.A. Clippers||1996–97||82||36||46||.439||5th in Pacific||3||0||3||.000||Lost in First Round|
|L.A. Clippers||1997–98||82||17||65||.207||7th in Pacific||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
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