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Dick Vitale ( 1939 - )  Category ( Sports_Coaches ) [suggest a correction]

Dick Vitale never wanted to leave basketball coaching -- but in 1979, it left him.

A highly successful coach on the high school and college levels, Vitale was never a good fit for the National Basketball Association. He was fire, his players were ice. He was Mr. Enthusiasm, they were working stiffs just trying to earn their millions and look good doing it.

Vitale had a 30-52 record with the Detroit Pistons. And in December of 1979, with the team just 4-8, the Detroit management pulled the plug on him.

Far too hyper to sit around, Vitale took a temporary job with a new network called ESPN until he could find another coaching job. That never happened.

"Just go on TV and have some fun," his wife told him.

As it turned out, he had too much fun to quit. Over the next three decades, Vitale has become not only a high-profile announcer but a pop culture icon. He was not only immediately at home with the language of basketball, but managed to enlarge it.

To Vitale, a freshman star is a "Diaper Dandy," a three-pointer is a "Trifacta," and the word "baby" is the postscript to every other sentence, followed by an exclamation point. "Awesome" is his favorite adjective.

He rubs some listeners the wrong way, barging into their ear canals at a high decibel level. He has its favorite teams and favorite players, and he's not shy about dishing out opinions (his affection for Duke has earned him the sardonic nickname "Duke Vitale"). Still, his detractors are outnumbered by his fans, and he has a contract with ESPN through 2012.  Over the course of his career, he has called nearly 1,000 games.

Vitale was born June 9,1939 in Passaic, NJ, the son of a security guard and a seamstress. He got a business degree from Seton Hall in 1963, but took a job coaching an elementary school basketball team. That led to subsequent coaching stints at Garfield High and East Rutherford High, and eventually to Rutgers University, where he became an assistant.

Short and scrawny as a youngster, Vitale was not gifted with a basketball body. He did, however,demonstrate a keen basketball mind. In 1973, he was hired by the University of Detroit, where he posted a 78-30 record. Four years after his arrival, he had the Titans in the NCAA tournament.

That got the attention of the Pistons, who put him in charge in 1978.

In December of 2007, Vitale's career was placed in jeopardy when lesions were discovered on his vocal chords -- the equivalent of a serious knee injury to a player. Surgery was successful, however, and Vitale returned to the microphone in two months, as loud as ever.

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