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Wake Forest basketball coach Carl Tacy with his players during a March 1976 game against N.C. State. 

Carl Tacy, who was maybe one of the most underrated coaches in Wake Forest basketball history, has died at age 87.

Tacy, who lived in Winston-Salem along with his wife, Donnie, for the last 15 years or so, coached Wake from the 1972-73 season through 1984-85. Wake Forest played in regional championship games in 1977, losing 82-68 to eventual national champion Marquette, and in 1984, losing 68-63 to Houston.

Tacy's Wake Forest teams went 222-149, playing in four NCAA Tournaments and two NITs. The Deacons reached the NIT semifinals in 1983.

Carl Tacy Jr., who works in real estate in Winston-Salem, says his father had battled leukemia for the last few months and was admitted to hospice care last week. 

Ernie Nestor, an assistant coach on the current Wake Forest basketball team, worked for Tacy for six seasons.

"Carl made his mark at Wake," said Nestor, who was an assistant for Tacy from 1979 through 1985. "His kids played hard, and they loved playing for him. He was certainly somebody that shaped my coaching career."

Tacy coached some of the greatest players in school history, including Rod Griffin, Skip Brown, Frank Johnson, Jerry Schellenberg, Kenny Green, Delaney Rudd, Anthony Teachey and Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues. Jerseys for Brown, Griffin and Bogues are retired at Joel Coliseum.

One of Tacy's thrills as a coach was winning the old Big Four Tournament, which was a yearly battle among North Carolina's four ACC schools in Greensboro. Tacy won four of the 11 tournaments, which ended with the 1980-81 season, including three in a row in the 1975-77 seasons.

"He just thought it was always important in the recruiting battles to try and win the Big Four, so he pushed his teams hard," Nestor said.

Maybe Tacy's best team was the 1976-77 squad that made it to the Midwest Region finals. The Deacons, which were led by Brown, Griffin, Schellenberg and Johnson, went 22-8 but lost in the Elite Eight to Marquette.

In 1984 the Deacons beat DePaul in the NCAA Tournament in overtime in the final game of Coach Ray Meyer's career to reach the Elite Eight. The Deacons lost to Houston, the eventual national runner-up, in the regional final.

After the next season, however, Tacy abruptly resigned and never coached again. Nestor said that Tacy went into the yogurt business but eventually moved to Advance and then back to Winston-Salem for the last two years.

"It was certainly a shock," said John Justus, who was the Wake Forest sports information director at the time of Tacy's resignation. "It was in the middle of the summer."

Justus arrived at Wake Forest during the last year and half of Tacy's coaching career.

"His era was very good, and you look at his record and you see he was very consistent," Justus said.

Skip Brown said that Tacy and his wife, Donnie, who have been married for 64 years, were role models. Brown said he and Larry Williams, a former assistant coach at Wake Forest, would get together frequently for lunch.

“He was a very matter-of-fact coach, but probably the thing that I think makes him the greatest coach in Wake Forest history was how simple he made things,” Brown said. “He would simplify things to a degree to where it was fun. He just had a way of making it easy to play for him.”

Brown said one reason Tacy wasn’t as popular was his low-key approach that earned him the nickname "Gentleman Carl."

“He wasn’t flamboyant or exuberant maybe as other coaches,” Brown said. “He was a great teacher and a student of the game. I always kidded him that way before Nike had that ‘Just Do It’ slogan, Coach Tacy was telling us that in the 1970s. He should have trademarked that slogan because he had it long before Nike had it.”

Brown, who has been a successful bank owner in Winston-Salem for the last 20 years, said Tacy supported him long after Brown’s basketball career was over.

“He was just an incredible man of character, and we are all better off to have known him,” Brown said.

Tacy and fellow coaches Bones McKinney, Dave Odom and Murray Greason are all in the Wake Forest Sports Hall of Fame.

Tacy was a native of Huttonsville, W.Va., and graduated from Davis & Elkins before coaching 10 years in high school and then for three seasons at Ferrum Junior College in Virginia.

He spent one season as an assistant at Marshall and then one season as the head coach, taking Marshall to the NCAA Tournament. He was then hired at Wake Forest in 1972 to replace Jack McCloskey by Dr. Gene Hooks, Wake Forest's athletics director.

“Carl was a great coach and an even better person," Hooks said in a statement released by Wake Forest. "I trusted him completely as he always valued the integrity of Wake Forest and his student-athletes over everything else."

Carl Tacy Jr. said his father displayed loyalty through the years to his players.

"In February Rod Griffin, who played in Italy and now lives there, was coming to the United States and had heard about Dad not doing so well," Tacy Jr. said. "So Rod stopped by and they got to visit, and I know that meant a lot to him. But really, a lot of his former players have been reaching out in recent months, and that shows you what he meant to them."

Tacy Jr. said that a service would be just for immediate family because of the COVID-19 pandemic but that a memorial service will be planned later. Tacy is also survived by his two daughters, Carla and Andrea.

"Right now we just have to wait with what's going on in the world before we can think about a memorial service," Tacy Jr. said. "But we want to do something."

jdell@wsjournal.com

(336) 727-4081

@johndellWSJ

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