Former Bulls Assistant Coach Johnny Bach Dead at 91

Johnny Bach, the architect of the Chicago Bulls’ attacking and championship-winning “Doberman Defense” in the early 1990s, passed away Monday at the age of 91.

Bach’s 56-year coaching career included stops in Charlotte, Detroit and Washington before returning to The Windy City in 2003 for three more seasons.

The great Sam Smith penned a fantastic tribute to Bach over at the Bulls’ team website:

Johnny reached the apex of pretty much every profession and discipline he encountered. […] He was a military hero, a professional baseball and basketball player, a major college, professional and Olympic team coach, an artist who commanded his own show, a pilot and perhaps above all great American.


Not that many in our generation face combat like they did in Johnny’s, and certainly few of the basketball players Johnny taught for more than five decades. But Johnny’s message transcended the reality and brutality of war. It was a metaphor for life for his students. You may not face death on the battlefield like I did, like his twin brother did in World War II. But life is hard and you have to be tough, and you have to be strong and relentless in your vocation. Even if it is a game for there are no games. Excel in your arena. […] I remember traveling with the Bulls during the first Gulf War in 1990 and the teams were trying out all sorts of patriotic stunts. Bach always stood at attention, erect and rigid and in full salute for the national anthem, his thick, flowing gray hair almost at attention as well. Once a team had someone come out and whistle the anthem. The hairs on Johnny’s neck were becoming as stiff as the fury flashing in his eyes for the disrespect of the flag. “Are they going to have someone fart it next!” he spat.


Johnny was fond of splicing scenes from movies like Full Metal Jacket into the Bulls advance scouting tapes, a practice Phil Jackson popularized with those Bulls teams. There was no reveille, but he always was up at 5. He’d march into practice at the Deerfield Multiplex and later the Berto Center, back stiff and erect, and announce in his best drill sergeant’s voice, “Men, today’s a great day to die!”