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January 22, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Northeast Conference Notebook

by Chris Roddy

Attics of His Life: A Look at the Career of Coach Jim Phelan

Mount St. Mary’s head coach Jim Phelan announced (as reported on Hoopville’s Morning Dish last week) he will retire at the end of the 2002-03 season. Phelan has coached for 49 straight seasons at the Mount and is third all-time on the NCAA Division I career win list. His current total, 824, is the most among active coaches and fourth on the career list behind Dean Smith (879), Adolph Rupp (876) and Clarence “Big House” Gaines (828). Phelan also has coached more games, 1,339, in more seasons (49) than anyone else in NCAA history.

Coach Phelan has never won the NCAA Championship, let alone an NIT tournament. But his stats are still a collection of incredible accomplishments:

&#8226 Led 16 teams to NCAA Division II tournament
&#8226 Reached the NCAA Division II Final Four 5 times
&#8226 Won the College Division National Championship (1962)
&#8226 19 teams posted a record with twenty or more wins
&#8226 Led 2 teams to the NCAA Division I tournament
&#8226 One National Invitation Tournament bid
&#8226 Northeast Conference champions twice (’95 and ’99)
&#8226 National Coach of the Year in 1962 and 1981

Phelan is indeed a consummate basketball man. He played at La Salle University only taking a break from hoops to serve in the Korean War. Upon his return, he played in the pros with the then Philadelphia Warriors as well as the Pottsdown Packers in the now defunct Eastern League.

Phelan moved from player to coach, spending a season at La Salle learning the ropes as an assistant. He landed his next gig (also his last) with Mount St. Mary’s; Phelan had no intention of staying with the Division II school for long. Yet, a fourth place showing in the National College Division Tournament in 1961 and the university’s first ever championship in 1962 would keep Phelan in Maryland for good.

Phelan would guide his team to a 28-3 record, only losing to Florida Southern in the NCAA Division II championship game, in 1981. Four years later, the Mount would go back to the Final Four with a 28-5 mark, ultimately finishing in third place. The winning ways of Phelan persisted in 1986-87 as his teams stymied opponents and winning 52 games in those two seasons. Phelan’s dominance at the Division II level led to Mount St. Mary’s move into Division I competition in 1988.

Phelan is the only college basketball coach with 800 wins and not in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He was selected as part of a pool of 15 nominees in the 1991 screening for the Hall of Fame, but was not admitted, yet.

He was a highly involved coach and often competed against his players in practice. Phelan, a hard-nosed, gruff speaking kind of guy, always wears a bow tie on game day. He instills smarts and life lessons into his players, knowing that they are men who need to not only understand a three-two defense but how to be mature and caring people.

His decision to leave the game was not complicated. It had nothing to do with his health (although he did beat prostate cancer in 2000) or age (73). He just wanted to stop. “The decision to step down was made much earlier,” said Phelan. “I had discussed it with several of my close friends and decided that the time was right.”

“Sometimes, it’s just time,” Phelan continued. “I’m not going for 50 years just for the sake of making 50. That’s just a number. It just means I’m terribly old.”

Milan Brown, the Associate Head Coach, will take over for Phelan next season. Brown has signed a three-year contract through 2006. “I see a bright future for the Mount men’s basketball program,” he said. “And I look forward to leading these young athletes while building a strong program that will carry on the legacy Jim Phelan has built the past 49 seasons.”

As for Coach Phelan, he will be taking a well-deserved rest from basketball. We’ll miss his familiar scowling face. We’ll miss his colorful bow ties. We’ll miss you, Jim Phelan. Thanks for an attic full of memories.

UMBC Head Coach Reaches 250 Victories

UMBC head coach Tom Sullivan registered his 250th victory of his coaching career on Saturday when the Retrievers beat St. Francis (NY), 73-58. Sullivan had endured a nine-game losing streak before notching the win, but ended the slide against their canine competitors, the Terriers. Sullivan has a 96-114 record in eight seasons at UMBC and is 250-239 overall. Prior to arriving at UMBC, Sullivan also had head coaching stints at New Hampshire (152-109 from 1976-85) and Manhattan (2-16 in 1985-86).

Not the Cow Udder Sucking Guy, A Different Tom Green

Tom Green became the first coach in NEC history to register 200 league victories. He set the record as Fairleigh Dickinson defeated Wagner, 83-79. Already the winningest coach against league competition, Green improved to 200-131 all-time in NEC regular season outings. FDU’s win over Wagner gave the Seahawks their first NEC conference loss of the season and propelled Green’s squad into a tie for third place.


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