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Richie Regan

December 27, 2002 Columns No Comments

The Attributes of Richie Regan

by Adam Shandler

On Tuesday, December 24, Richie Regan, a former Seton Hall player, coach, athletic director and fundraiser died at the age of 72.

Mr. Regan isn’t just another old-school basketball name that laid low during retirement only to resurface decades later in the sports obituaries. He was an unselfish, under-publicized gentleman who was embraced by a school, then embraced it back.

Richie Regan’s resume is somewhat of an anomaly when considering the portability of today’s workforce — meaning, the national workforce at large, not just the realm of college basketball. He spent the greater part of fifty years associated with some facet of the Seton Hall athletic program.

Fifty years! Tell a person to commit to a job for five years and you’d think you’d just sentenced them to the gulag!

Regan began his marriage with “The Hall” in 1950 as a starter for John “Honey” Russell’s Pirates and helped guide the squad to an 80-12 record over three seasons (back then, freshman were prohibited from playing varsity ball). Also highlighting those three seasons were three NIT appearances (then, the more prestigious post-season tournament), and a Number 1 ranking in the 1952-53 campaign, which soon culminated in a 31-2 record and an NIT title.

As a player, Regan ‘cumed 1,167 points to finish 22nd on the Pirates’ all-time scoring list, and had 443 assists to finish fourth in that category. Again, not too shabby considering the Jersey shoreman only played three years.

Following short stints in the military and the NBA, his old friend, Seton Hall, beckoned once more. Regan answered the call, this time, taking over for his mentor, Honey Russell, in 1960, and coaching the Pirates for 10 seasons and 112 victories.

When his coaching reign ended, Regan cut his teeth as an assistant athletic director, a position in which he would serve for two years, before his anointment as athletic director in 1971. The Seton Hall athletic program truly came into its own under his guidance, as Regan helped turn this small, suburban, South Orange, NJ school, into an original member of the Big East conference, consistently one of the best leagues in college sports. In 1973, he worked closely with associate athletic director Sue Dilley to create a “Lady Pirate” program, and women’s athletics at Seton Hall was born.

After 35 years of commitment to one place, most employees would take a good look at their investment portfolio, call their accountants to move some money around and ride off into the retirement sunset. But not Richie Regan. His veins bled Pirate blue.

In 1985, the school appointed him Executive Director of the Pirate Blue Athletic Fund, and the timing couldn’t be better. Shortly after that appointment, a bearded coach from Wagner College named P.J. Carlesimo came to South Orange, and after a few seasons of single-digit wins, the men’s hoops program rebuilt — and reestablished — itself as one of the best in the nation. (The Pirates lost to Michigan by a single point in the 1989 NCAA final in Seattle.)

In 1998, Regan was offered the post of special assistant to the vice president of university affairs. You don’t say “no” to family, so Regan took the job without hesitation.

“I can think of no one person in Seton Hall’s history who has been so completely associated with the university his whole life, from the time he was a freshman until the day he died,” said university president Monsignor Robert Sheeran . “He was Mr. Seton Hall, as no one else has ever been.”

The word commitment is one that gets a lot of use when discussing certain cast members of the NCAA stage. In fact, it gets overused. The word has lost its value. The definition of commitment has been diluted by lower standards and an surrendering acceptance of the transience of the game.

Yes, the NCAA basketball world is not what it was back in the 1950’s and 60’s, that’s understood. Money talks and coaches and players walk. Scandals strike and coaches take a hike. Put together a winning tenure at one school, and offers start flooding in from another. And this is not a formula exclusive to sports. As a former headhunter, believe me, the concept runs rampant in the corporate and nonprofit sectors as well. Company loyalty is Number 2 and Number 1 is Number 1. And that’s not to say that this is a bad thing. Who wouldn’t want to make more money and garner more exposure for his or her efforts?

And commitment is a two-way street. The onus to stay, build and deliver is not just on the coaches and players. The school must also charge itself with the responsibility to provide the necessary resources to make that program grow.

There has to be an opposite to all these new trends. To the lip service. To the unfinished business. To the half-delivered promises. Richie Regan was that opposite. Seton Hall was committed to him, offering him an opportunity to shine in a great number of ways, and he returned the favor with loyalty and achievement.

With Regan’s passing, there may never be another who raises the bar of commitment that high.


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