As head coach of Temple University from 1947-1973, Harry was nicknamed the "Chief." Credited with the invention of the box-and-one defense, basketball historians say that Litwack achieved more success with less talent than any coach in history. He had the reputation of being a quiet, nondescript figure and noted with pride, "in 43 years of coaching and playing, I had only on technical foul called against me." Litwack is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, and the Pennsylvania Basketball Hall of Fame.
Birth and Death Dates:
b. Sept. 1907 - d. Aug. 7, 1999
Born in Austria, Litwack arrived in the United States at the age of five. Raised in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of South Philadelphia, Litwack and his family spoke only Yiddish at home. The son of a shoemaker, Litwack said that his childhood neighborhood, "...was known for basketball. That was the sport there. It was inhabited by a lot of people of the Jewish faith...every neighborhood had a team." Litwack played four seasons of basketball at Southern High School and then attended Temple University.
Harry enrolled in Teachers College at Temple, in the Physical and Health Education Department. He also played on the varsity basketball team and was the team captain in 1927-28 and 1928-29. The MVP of the squad both years, Litwack led the Owls to a record of 17-5 his junior season, and 16-4 as a senior. One of the top scorers in the East during his college career, he racked up 135 points for the Owls (the second most on the team and 34th in the East). As a senior, in his final varsity game, Litwack scored 17 points in a 58-34 victory over Bucknell.
After graduating from Temple in 1930, Litwack turned professional and joined the Philadelphia Sphas (the nickname stood for the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association), one of the top professional teams of the era. Coached by Eddie Gottlieb, the Sphas were a barnstorming team that traveled to remote towns and played over 100 games every year. From 1929-1933, the team also played in the Eastern Pro League and won three league titles during that time. In 1933, they joined the new ABL (American Basketball League) and won the league championships in 1933-34 and 1935-36. Litwack played with the Sphas until 1936 and then retired.
In 1931, while playing professional basketball, Litwack began to coach the Temple freshman team. He led them to a record of 181-32 over the next 16 years (with no losing seasons). During his tenure as freshman coach (and assistant coach of the Temple varsity), Litwack began to perfect a zone defense that revolutionized the college game. With tall players such as the 6'6" Mike Bloom, Litwack developed a 3-2 zone which evolved into a box-and-one defense. Litwack explained that if his tall frontcourt players were allowed to stretch their arms, it was tougher for the opponents to get to the basket.
In 1937-38, with Bloom as a senior, Litwack and the Owls employed his defensive strategy in the first-ever national postseason tournament, the NIT (National Invitational Tournament). In the semifinal game, Temple used their trademark defense against Oklahoma A&M and their Hall of Fame coach, Henry Iba. The Aggies were totally confounded by the defense, and Temple won 56-44. Temple then employed the defense in the NIT championship game against Colorado. The New York Times wrote, "...Colorado was helpless...zone defense was as a rock barrier...Mike Bloom and Don Henderson...were the "goaltenders" who batted away everything in sight and clamped down on the Buff shooters like a net..." Temple routed Colorado 60-36 to capture the first NIT championship.
After 16 years as Temple's freshman coach, and varsity assistant, Litwack became the Owls' head coach in 1947. He held the position until 1973, finishing with a record of 373-193, and had only one losing season. He led the Owls to 13 postseason tournaments, winning the NIT in 1969, and coming in third in the NCAA tournament in 1956 and 1958.
During his tenure, he produced four All-Americans at Temple, Guy Rodgers, Hal Lear, Bill Kennedy, and John Baum...
Litwack was voted Philadelphia Basketball Writers Association Coach of the Year in 1956, and the New York Basketball Writers Association Coach of the Year in 1958. Harry was also an assistant coach under Eddie Gottlieb for the Philadelphia Warriors of the BAA and the NBA from 1948-1951. He is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, and the Pennsylvania Basketball Hall of Fame.
Litwack played at Temple University, 1927-1929. He played for the Philadelphia Sphas, 1930-1936.
He coached at Temple University from 1931-1973 (freshman team, 1931-1947, and varsity, 1947-1973).
5'7", 160 pounds
Use links below to navigate through the basketball section of Jews In Sports.
Great Jews in Sports by Robert Slater (New York: Jonathan David Publishers, 2000)
encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)
New York Times, March 11, 1929
The Official NBA Encyclopedia: Third Edition, edited by Jan Hubbard (New York: Doubleday, 2000)
The Originals: The New York Celtics Invent Modern Basketball, by Murray Nelson (Bowling Green: Bowling Green University Press, 1999)
New York Times, March 11, 1929
New York Times, March 17, 1938