Bill Fitch

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Bill Fitch
Personal information
Born (1932-05-19) May 19, 1932 (age 88)
Davenport, Iowa
Listed height6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)
Listed weight205 lb (93 kg)
Career information
High schoolWilson (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)
CollegeCoe (1950–1954)
Coaching career1956–1998
Career history
As coach:
1956–1958Creighton (assistant)
1962–1967North Dakota
1967–1968Bowling Green
19701979Cleveland Cavaliers
19791983Boston Celtics
19831988Houston Rockets
19891992New Jersey Nets
19941998Los Angeles Clippers
Career highlights and awards
Career coaching record
NBA944–1106 (.460)
Basketball Hall of Fame as coach

William Charles Fitch (born May 19, 1932)[1] 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.[2]

Fitch was a United States Marine Corps drill instructor,[3] a fact that Larry Bird credited in his book Drive: The Story of My Life as an important reason for Bird's own strong work ethic. Bill Fitch was elected to the National Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019.

College coaching career[edit]

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 an 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.[4]

Pro coaching career[edit]

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. 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.[5]

Cleveland Cavaliers[edit]

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 (1974–75) resulted in marked improvement as the Cavs won 40 games while finishing third, their first season without a last place finish. By this point, the team had 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. The team, now fabled as "The Miracle of Richfield", was 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 13 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.[6] The Cavaliers did not win another playoff series until 1992. Fitch was awarded the NBA Coach of the Year Award at the end of the season.

Fitch led the team to two more playoff berths, although they did not win either series. After a 30–52 record for the 1978–79 season, he resigned on May 21, 1979.

Boston Celtics[edit]

On May 23, 1979, he was hired by the Boston Celtics, taking over for Dave Cowens, who had coached them to a 29–53 record as a player-coach the previous season.

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 drafted Kevin McHale and acquired Robert Parish, both 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 in 1981–82 while winning 63 games, although the team lost in the Conference Finals to the 76ers in seven games. The 1982–83 team dropped in wins (from 63 to 56) while finishing second in the Atlantic Division, and were defeated by the Milwaukee Bucks in four games. On May 27, 1983, he resigned from the Celtics.[7] 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.

Houston Rockets[edit]

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.

New Jersey Nets[edit]

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. The team went to the playoffs with a losing record of 40–42, sixth-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.

Los Angeles Clippers[edit]

On July 28, 1994, Fitch was hired by the Los Angeles Clippers, replacing Bob Weiss, who had gone 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. 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.

Head coaching record[edit]


Regular season G Games coached W Games won L Games lost W–L % Win–loss %
Playoffs PG Playoff games PW Playoff wins PL Playoff losses PW–L % Playoff win–loss %
Team Year G W L W–L% Finish PG PW PL PW–L% Result
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
Career 2,050 944 1,106 .460 109 55 54 .505


  1. ^
  2. ^ Bill Fitch wins Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award
  3. ^ Charley Rosen. "True tales from the camp fires". Archived from the original on 20 December 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-22.
  4. ^
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