Former Nittany Lion Head Coach John Bach Passes Away

John Bach, former Penn State men’s basketball head coach and NBA coaching veteran, died Monday. He was 91.

Bach led the Nittany Lions to a 122-121 record over 10 seasons, from 1969-78. His PSU teams were renowned for their pressure man-to-man defense with four squads ranked in the nation’s top 20 in scoring defense. His teams posted back-to-back records of 17-8 and 15-8 in 1972 and 1973 respectively, behind Brooklyn native Ron Brown.

A schoolboy star at St. John’s Prep in Brooklyn, New York, and a 1948 Fordham graduate, Bach was considered one of the giants in the coaching profession. He arrived at Penn State in 1968, after 18 seasons as head coach and 11 years as athletic director at his alma mater.

During his time with the Nittany Lions, Bach also served as Henry Iba’s assistant at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, when the U.S. lost the controversial title game to the Soviet Union.

Bach began his collegiate playing career at Fordham in 1942-43, helping the Rams to their first appearance in the NIT. His career with the Rams, however, was interrupted by years at the University of Rochester, Brown University, and with the U.S. Navy ROTC program. He was commissioned as an officer in the Navy and served during World War II until late 1947, at which point he returned to Fordham, earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and garnered team MVP honors for the 1947-1948 season.

During Bach’s one-year stint at Brown, he was the key figure on the 15-4 New England championship team of 1944-45, coached by Rip Engle, who also led the football program. Engle came to Penn State as the head football coach in 1950, bringing Joe Paterno, who played basketball and football at Brown, with him as an assistant. The group would all be reunited upon Bach’s hiring at Penn State in 1969.

Bach went on to play one season in the NBA with the Boston Celtics (1948-49) and one in the ABL in Hartford (1949-50) before returning to Fordham as one of the youngest head coaches in the country in 1950. Over 18 seasons, he guided the Rams to an overall mark of 292-193 and appearances in two NCAA Tournaments and five NITs, setting up his move to University Park.

Following a stint as head coach of the Golden State Warriors (1983-86), Bach served as an assistant coach for the Chicago Bulls under Doug Collins from 1986-89 and under Phil Jackson from 1989-94. During his time under Jackson, he was an intricate part of the Bulls, claiming three-consecutive NBA titles in 1991-93

Bach moved to assistant jobs with Charlotte, Detroit and Washington before returning to end his professional coaching career in the city where he found the greatest success, Chicago. In 2003, Bach returned to the Bulls as an assistant under Bill Cartwright (2003) and Scott Skiles (2003-06). After 56 years of coaching, 23 of those in the NBA, Bach officially retired from his coaching career in 2006.

Upon leaving the NBA, Bach spent the majority of this retirement as a volunteer coach and coaching consultant. In 2007, he volunteer coached a wheelchair team at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. He also spent time volunteering as a sophomore coach at St. Ignatius in Chicago from 2007 – 2011 and as a varsity coach volunteer at Fenwick High School (2012-13). He also has assisted many NBA coaches as a coaching consultant and mentor, most notably Doug Collins while at the 76ers and current Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg.

Bach has been inducted into the Halls of Fame at Fordham University and Brown University, in addition to the NIT and New York City Halls of Fame. Additionally, in 2012, Fordham began an annual Johnny Bach Award which is awarded to the individual who has had a substantial and lasting impact on the sport of basketball.

In addition to his volunteering and consulting, Bach was an avid painter in retirement and had 32 of his watercolor pieces on display at the Sevan Gallery in Skokie, IL in 2007.

Funeral services will be 11 a.m. Wednesday at Old St. Patrick’s Church, 700 W. Adams, Chicago. Visitation will be from 9-11 that morning also at the church.

Quotes on John Bach’s Legacy

Patrick Chambers, Nittany Lion head coach
“John Bach was a defensive mastermind who coached and inspired so many greats over his 56-year coaching career. His teams at Penn State in the 1970s were known for their toughness and attitude, traits that continue to define our team to this day. The entire Penn State program sends its thoughts and prayers to the Bach family, and to all those he touched throughout his career.”

Kevin Burke, Penn State letterwinner 1973-75
“Coach Bach was one of the great defensive teachers in the game. His preparation and discipline were lessons that served those of us who played for him long after our basketball careers ended. He had a passion for the game that spanned six decades and influenced hundreds of young men. He will be missed by many.”

Chuck Crist, Penn State letterwinner 1970-72
“He was very professional on the court, but he was a lot of fun to be around. He did a good job at Penn State and will be remembered fondly by his players.

“He was responsible for getting a tryout for me with the New York Giants and I very much appreciated that. He knew Wellington Mara from his Fordham days.”

Tom Doaty, Penn State letterwinner 1974-76
“Coach Bach knew basketball better than anybody and thrived on teaching basic, good basketball all day, every day. And everything he taught, you could see the next time the team took the court.

“But some of the most important lessons didn’t seek in until years later. Things like hard work and taking on tough situations little by little meant one thing at the time and so much more later in life.”

John Paxson , Chicago Bulls executive vice president
(via ESPN)
“Johnny was a true treasure in the world of basketball. He was the classic ‘old-school’ coach who came to work each and every day with energy and enthusiasm for the game he loved. His zest for life and basketball were unparalleled. He will be greatly missed by everyone in the Bulls family as well as everyone he connected with during his long tenure in both college and professional basketball.”

Tagged with: