Dan Dougherty may have turned Villanova down, but he lived a wonderful life

Dan Dougherty may have turned Villanova down, but he lived a wonderful life
Dan Dougherty may have turned Villanova down, but he lived a wonderful life

The morning after legendary former Episcopal Academy coach Dan Dougherty died, a call came in. The ID said Speedy Morris.

You answer this call.

“Did you know Dan Doc turned down ‘Nova’s job?” Morris said immediately after the initial banter.

No no. Dan Dougherty, who died last week at 87, had served as Villanova’s assistant under Jack Kraft when the 1971 team reached the NCAA title game against UCLA. Dougherty, respected and perhaps revered by Nova players of that era, had served as Army head coach for four seasons.

It was while Dougherty was in the Army that Kraft left Villanova. Morris had the facts straight. Several people at Dougherty’s funeral service on Saturday had details of how there had been a verbal offer from Villanova in 1973 that Dougherty had been inclined to accept, but he returned to the military, got commitments from leaders and decided to stay. Villanova then turned to an assistant coach from Penn named Rollie Massimino.

Pause to imagine how different local basketball history might have been. Dougherty would have won many basketball games at Villanova, but with different Massimino players and different assistants.

Perhaps Tom Ingelsby, who played on that 1971 team, would have been on Dougherty Villanova’s staff and eventually ended up as head coach. Or maybe just-retired Lafayette coach Fran O’Hanlon, who had been on a Nova freshman team coached by Dougherty, would have coached his alma mater to a Final Four instead. that Georgia Tech got there in 2004 using much of O’Hanlon’s offense. .

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Perhaps a young Drexel assistant named Jay Wright would never have joined the Villanova team. So many local basketball stories could have been so different. Dougherty found some of those Army commitments slowing after a leadership change at the U.S. Military Academy, and was let go after a few tougher seasons. Imagine if he had never come home to coach the high school prom, for a year at Penncrest High, then moved to Episcopal Academy. Suppose Episcopal might have had good teams under another coach, but maybe not with the same players Dougherty coached. It’s crazy to think about all that, so many forks on so many roads.

To say it worked for Dougherty would be to drastically downplay this man’s accomplishments in homegrown basketball. I had once written that if you thought of Philadelphia basketball geographically, you would put Speedy Morris himself in the middle, right at Broad and Market. Well, put Dougherty on Ben Franklin Parkway, on those rocky steps. Dougherty was like the art museum, solid and consistent for decades.

Of course, Dougherty could have pursued other college jobs.

“He turned down the job in Iowa,” said one of the mourners on a pew at the funeral.

In fact, after checking with one of his sons, Mary Ellen Dougherty, Dan’s wife of 64 years, said the job offer came from Xavier. But moving across the country with four kids in pursuit of coaching glory, they decided it wasn’t worth it.

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But this job offer from Nova was different. One of their three sons joked that mum didn’t speak to dad ‘for a year’ after he refused.

“I was so overwhelmed,” Mary Ellen said over the phone this week. “You know what, I’m a girl from Philadelphia. I thought we were coming back. But Dan was a patriot. He loved the Academy, just loved standing on the parade ground.

Dan and Mary Ellen both grew up in the Olney area of ​​town, just around the corner from each other. “We met in the schoolyard playing basketball,” she said.

I can’t make it up, straight out of a movie. Mary Ellen thinks she was in seventh grade. She would see Dan, then a ninth grader at St. Joseph’s Prep, shoot there. She would sneak out of the house, it was a good time to get vaccinated.

“I played for Little Flower,” said Mary Ellen. “We only started dating when he was at St. Joseph’s.”

College, she meant. Dougherty had walked. Another great fork in the road story. Dougherty eventually started for Jack Ramsay, but Ramsay was not yet coaching when Dougherty showed up for a tryout. The story told by Ed Garrity’s sons – and by Dougherty himself, apparently – was that Garrity, who liked the look of this kid, told him, “You go left…I’ll go right.” Dougherty did as he was told and passed the starting leader. Then: “You go right… I go left.”

The coach was impressed, decided he had to take him on if his star goalkeeper couldn’t stay ahead of him. He turned out to be right for the wrong reasons, as Dougherty eventually started in the very first Big 5 game.

At his funeral, it was evident that Dougherty’s impact at Episcopal went far beyond his basketball practices, which often had no off-limits lines anyway.

Mary Ellen had her eye on all of her husband’s ex-players who approached her next to the coffin, nailing the names.

“Rainbow Johnson,” she immediately told O’Hanlon, using the nickname given to her while playing in the Baker League that summer.

Perhaps the ones who moved her the most on the viewing line weren’t all the basketball stars.

“Dan was in the counseling system, and he had more counselors than anyone at Episcopal,” Mary Ellen said on the phone this week. “So many kids, teenagers, who had boyfriend/girlfriend issues, home issues.”

A man approached Mary Ellen Dougherty at the service, knelt in front of her seat by the coffin, told how her husband had changed his life, that he was thinking of the end, of suicide, when Dougherty told him talked, and talked to his family.

“Others came up, said, ‘I never would have graduated,'” Mary Ellen said, remembering how much her husband loved teaching geometry, but also loved teaching “kids who had difficult to learn mathematics”.

Dan Leibovitz, now the Southeastern Conference associate commissioner for basketball, played for Dougherty at Episcopal and said he was “absolutely the reason I wanted to coach. I went through Penn planning to be a high school coach. It was my intention to go to Temple practice.

Thus, the path deviated, as Leibovitz became a longtime assistant to John Chaney at Temple. But at Penn, “I called [Dougherty] because I was drowning in the courses. I hated him. I felt out of place. I didn’t know what to specialize in.

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His former coach and math teacher told Leibovitz to major in Spanish, “because schools always need language teachers. And that’s what I did. I walked to the language department the next day.

Dougherty caught the attention of his teams by winning 13 Inter-Ac titles. But his life was clearly not just measured by banners on a wall. His wife attended all the games, knew all the players, baked all the cookies her husband felt they didn’t need.

“I kept a diary of naysayers,” said Mary Ellen Dougherty. “A little scouting report. What kind of defense they played. Who is Mr. Hustle. That sort of thing. We never did anything that wasn’t together.

So Dan Dougherty turned down the big job. He didn’t become bitter. He went to work, stayed in the same house in Roxborough where he had brought up his children. By all accounts, everything went well. The title is obvious: It was, in fact, a wonderful life.

. Dan Dougherty maybe denied Villanova but lived a life wonderful

. Dan Dougherty turned Villanova lived wonderful life

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