Former Portland Trail Blazers Head Coach Mike Schuler has passed away at the age of 81. Schuler coached the Blazers from 1986-1989, winning NBA Coach of the Year honors during the 1986-87 season, his first as head coach for any NBA franchise.
The Blazers released an article honoring Schuler, which included quotes from former Blazers player and NBA Head Coach Terry Porter:
“I had the pleasure of being both coached by Mike and coaching alongside him later in my career,” said Terry Porter, former Trail Blazers player and NBA coach. “Mike was a terrific coach and had a great intensity about his coaching style with a focus on bringing out the best in his players. From a colleague standpoint, I was extremely grateful to have him on my coaching staff to share his experience, knowledge and kindness with me”
Schuler came to the Blazers following six years as an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks and New Jersey Nets. He had formerly been head coach at Rice University.
Schuler inherited a team in which future NBA Hall-of-Famer Clyde Drexler was just coming into his prime. Along with high-scoring veteran forward Kiki Vandeweghe, Drexler helped lead the Blazers to 49 wins, 9 more than they had earned the prior season under Coach Jack Ramsay.
Schuler was tasked with the unenviable task of replacing Ramsay after a ten-year tenure which included the only World Championship in franchise history. The Coach of the Year award helped the transition, as did spectacular seasons from Vandeweghe and Drexler, the latter of whom had felt constrained in the waning years of Ramsay’s service.
The Blazers would soar even higher in their second year under Schuler, winning 53 in the regular season. In both instances, they fell in the first round of the playoffs, winning only a single postseason game each year.
Schuler was dismissed in his third season, having won 25 of 47 games that year. Reports of friction with players ran rampant. Schuler was replaced by assistant coach Rick Adelman, who would go on to lead Drexler and teammates to the NBA Finals twice.
In an apparent show of support, Schuler would attend Adelman’s first home game as a head coach—the game after Schuler was dismissed—as a spectator.
Schuler finished his Portland tour with a 127-84 record, a .603 winning percentage, good for third overall in franchise history. Only Adelman and Mike Dunleavy have exceeded that mark.
Schuler would serve as the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers from 1990-1992. He also served an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Bucks once more in his last tour of duty. In Milwaukee he coached under Porter, his former player. Schuler retired from the NBA in 2005.
Blazer’s Edge thanks the family of Mike Schuler for sharing him with the Blazers and their fans. Blessings and condolences to all who mourn him.