INDIANAPOLIS — Jack Ramsay, the NBA's second-winningest coach, has become a master of making something from nothing on a basketball court.
In his 18 NBA seasons, more than any other active coach, Ramsay has turned weaklings into winners at Philadelphia, Buffalo and Portland. But this season, the 61-year-old fitness enthusiast takes on his greatest coaching challenge yet--the Indiana Pacers.
"It's rebuilding in a sense," Ramsay said of the franchise. "It needs to move forward, but it can be better than last year."
Ramsay has won 785 NBA games, trailing only former Boston Coach Red Auerbach's 938 victories on the all-time list. Ramsay left Portland this summer after 10 years with the Trail Blazers, including an NBA title season in 1977--his first year with the club.
"I had 10 terrific years in Portland, but there comes a time when everyone has to move along," Ramsay said. "I had not made up my mind to retire, but I had pretty much made up my mind not to coach this season."
Then along came Donnie Walsh, the newly appointed general manager of the lowly Pacers, who have managed just one winning season in a decade of NBA action. Walsh was looking for a replacement for George Irvine, who resigned as coach after a two-year record of 48-116.
"I really had no intention of getting back into coaching this year, but my conversations with Donnie revived those interests," Ramsay said. "He's the biggest reason I'm here."
Ramsay became the Pacers' third coach in four years, hoping to work his magic once more. His clubs have had losing seasons just four times and have missed the playoffs only three times. The mark for winning seasons includes 11 years at his alma mater, St. Joseph's, plus four years each at Philadelphia and Buffalo before moving to Portland.
"He has won quickly at organizations that had losing seasons previous to him coming," Walsh said. "For this team, he is the perfect coach. He is a teacher. He is a coach who will assume responsibility for the leadership of this team.
"He is the youngest 60-year-old man I've ever seen," Walsh said.
One of the things that keeps Ramsay young is a dedication to staying in shape, including daily runs and exercise sessions. He insists on the same exacting regimen for his players and has put more running than ever into Pacer practices.
"Any athlete can't possibly be satisfied with his performance if he's not physically fit," Ramsay said. "If the average person is physically fit, he is going to feel better, do his job better, communicate with people better. It's going to help in all ways. It's absolutely critical for an athlete."