PHILADELPHIA - Dick Harter, whose 57-year coaching career included leading one of the best teams in Big 5 history at the University of Pennsylvania, died March 12 of cancer at his home in Hilton Head, S.C. He was 81.
A 1953 graduate of Penn, where he was a reserve guard for the Quakers, Harter returned to his alma mater and served as the men's basketball program's head coach from 1966-67 to 1970-71. He accumulated an 88-44 overall record during that time, going 49-21 in the Ivy League and 10-10 in Philadelphia Big 5 play.
His final two teams at Penn are arguably two of the greatest of all-time. The 1969-70 team went 25-1 during the regular season, losing only to Purdue, 88-85, in the Holiday Festival in New York City. The Quakers were a perfect 14-0 in Ivy League play and swept the Big 5 series, before losing in the NCAA Tournament first round to Niagara.
That set the table for 1970-71, arguably the greatest season in Penn history. The Quakers went a perfect 26-0, again sweeping the Ivy League and Big 5 tables, and earned as high as a No. 3 national ranking. Penn defeated Duquesne and South Carolina in the NCAA Tournament to reach the East Regional final, but with a Final Four berth on the line the Quakers were defeated by Villanova. (That Villanova team would later vacate its victories due to the use of an ineligible player, thus giving Penn a 28-0 final record in the eyes of the NCAA.) Overall, Penn won its last 44 regular-season games under Harter.
"I was shocked to learn of the passing of Coach Harter," said Penn's Director of Athletics, Steve Bilsky, who started at guard on those two great Penn teams. "More than anyone else, he is the person most responsible for creating the great legacy of Penn basketball. He will be greatly missed. Our condolences go out to Mary and Coach Harter's children."
Born in Pottstown, Pa., Harter was inducted into the Philadelphia Big 5 Hall of Fame in 1993. Three years later, he was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the Penn Athletics Hall of Fame.
Harter left Penn after that season to take over as head coach at the University of Oregon. Harter was legendary for his defensive-minded Ducks, who became known as the "Kamikaze Kids," and led Oregon to three NIT berths during his time at the helm (1971-78). His Ducks went 113-81, and Harter was named Pac-8 coach of the year in 1977. The "Kamikaze Kids" are perhaps most famous for ending UCLA's 98-game home winning streak at Pauley Pavilion.
Harter returned to the East Coast in 1978 and coached Penn State through 1983, compiling a 79-61 record and an NIT berth in 1980. His overall college coaching record is 295-196 in 18 seasons.
Harter spent many years in the NBA, beginning in 1982 when he joined the coaching staff of Chuck Daly with the Detroit Pistons. (It was Daly who replaced Harter as head coach at Penn following the 1970-71 season.) Harter also was the first head coach of the expansion Charlotte Hornets and spent more than two years there. His NBA assistant duties would take him to Indiana, New York, Portland and Boston as well as the Philadelphia 76ers.