Hall of Fame boxing trainer Gil Clancy, who took Emile Griffith out of a factory and turned him into the world welterweight and middleweight champion, died at 88 on Thursday following a lengthy illness.
Clancy was one of the pivotal figures in boxing in the second part of the 20th century, training and managing dozens of elite fighters, running the boxing program at New York's Madison Square Garden and working as an expert television analyst on boxing broadcasts on CBS and HBO.
Among the heavyweights champions he worked with during his career were George Foreman, Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. He came out of retirement in 1997 and served as Oscar De La Hoya's co-trainer for several years, working primarily as a strategist and making observations.
He had a close relationship with one-time heavyweight contender Gerry Cooney, who was 18 and a top amateur when he met Clancy for the first time. Clancy only trained Cooney for one fight, the final fight of his career in 1990, when he was stopped by Foreman.
But they had struck up a close friendship in 1974 and remained close until the end.
"We've lost one of the giants today," Cooney said. "I loved the man. He was a great trainer and he did so much for boxers as a trainer, but the thing I remember most about him is what a great, great guy he was. He loved to joke around and laugh and he was always fun to be around. They don't make too many like Gil, and they never have."
Clancy was named Manager of the Year in 1967 and 1973 by the Boxing Writers Association of America and in 1983 was given its Sam Taub Award for Excellence in Boxing Broadcasting.
Clancy began to train Foreman in 1975, after Foreman had been knocked out the previous year by Ali. Foreman said Clancy helped him adjust to and become a better broadcaster when Foreman was hired as HBO's boxing analyst.
"Gil Clancy was an all-time great boxing man and a great all-time friend," Foreman said. "I was lucky to have him as a part of my life. The daily workouts were never boring with Gil. He always had something new and different to say and to teach."
Clancy, who had a Master's degree in education and was a former teacher, also became close with De La Hoya. He had been retired when De La Hoya hired him in 1997, but he stuck with De La Hoya for two years and developed a fast friendship.
De La Hoya said Thursday that he was amazed by Clancy's knowledge of the sport and the ease with which he delivered it. He said Clancy was always joking and made boxing fun. "He made me want to go to the gym and train, particularly for the [Felix] Trinidad fight," De La Hoya said. "He brought a great deal of energy to the gym, or wherever we were, and was a pleasure to be around.
"The knowledge he had, you can't buy it. He had these stories he would tell of fighters he had trained, and he knew so many little details. I'd be shadow boxing and he would make these comments about things like my footwork, or where to position my left hook, or how to jab better. I had a pretty good jab, but he definitely made it better."
Marc Ratner, the former executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission, said Clancy was one of the elite trainers of his era. Ratner said Clancy was "sort of a Damon Runyan character" and was one of the sport's leading historians.
Top Rank chairman Bob Arum, a longtime friend of Clancy's, was emotional upon learning the news.
Arum, who once was partners in a thoroughbred race horse with Clancy, said he'll remember Clancy as more than a boxing figure.
"Gil was one of my best friends and when I reflect upon his death, I'm flooded with many wonderful memories of him," Arum said. "We spent considerable time together, when he was a trainer and a commentator. He was a big part of my life, and I remember cavorting around at some of Europe's finest watering holes having a lot of fun together as we were doing fights. He really brightened my life and, even though he's gone, I'm left with all these memories. I'll never forget him."
Clancy is survived by five children, 18 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren.