“Get the fuck outta here…”
“Naah man… real shit… They banged Phil.”
I didn’t believe it… I really could not wrap my head around what I was hearing… After 24 years as head coach of Hawks, Phil Martelli was pushed out of the door.
Martelli was a good coach… A damn good basketball coach… He led SJU to an Elite 8 in 2004. He made it to the Sweet 16 in 1997 and 2004. He made the NCAA tournament seven (7) times and participated in the NIT on six (6) other occasions. On four occasions (1997, 2001, 2004, 2005) Martelli led the Hawks to regular season A10 Championships. Three times (1997, 2014, 2016) he cut down the nets after capturing the A10 tournament. He was the consensus National Coach of the Year in 2004 and named A10 Coach of the year on 4 different occasions.
“Get the fuck outta here… They didn’t bang Phil…”
“Yo man… it’s all over the internet.”
“Imma hit you back… Let me read this shit…”
There it was… SJU athletic director Jill Bodensteiner said she made the decision mutually with St. Joseph’s president Mark C. Reed. “Recommended by me, approved by him,” Bodensteiner said. “This was anguishing, unequivocally the hardest decision I’ve made in my life. But I’m owning it.”
I respected the fact that Bodensteiner owned her decision.
With that… Martelli was done at St. Joseph’s… He was 444-328 (.575) overall and 218-176 (.553) in the A10. When his 13 post-season appearances in 24 years are taken into account, one can argue that Martelli did a helluva job at Saint Joseph’s.
The Philadelphia basketball community took a deep breath, looked directly into Bodensteiner’s eyes and like Andy Reid on a Monday morning press conference sighed, “Time is yours…”
Bodensteiner was on the clock… She was at bat and needed to hit a home run. To many, Saint Joseph’s is and always has been a solid basketball club that offers classes when practice is not in session. The SJU job was sure to attract a bevy of highly qualified candidates. Bodensteiner noted at the time “I think this is an incredible job, in large part thanks to Phil.”
After considering the likes Bruiser Flint, Jameer Nelson, John Thompson, III, Geoffrey Arnold and several other candidates, Bodensteiner and President Reed handed the keys to the Hawk program to Sixer’s Assistant Coach Billy Lange.
Lange came to St. Joseph’s with a 93-114 (.449) overall record as a D1 head coach at Navy. He was 42-56 (.429) in Patriot League games.
Three years later… Lange is 22-60 (.268) overall and 10-38 (.208) in the A10 at St. Joseph’s.
St. Joseph’s was just defeated by La Salle in the 12/13 play in game for the A10 tournament. The loss was the third to the Explorers this season. St. Joseph’s has finished 13th or T13th in each of the past 3 seasons.
Perhaps, it would be unfair to compare Lange’s record to Martelli’s over a full 24 years. But it seems more than fair to compare Martelli’s last 3 years with Lange’s first three seasons.
Phil went 41-55 (.427) overall and 20-34 (.370) in the A10.
Lange has gone 22-60 (.268) and 10-38 (.208) in the A10.
I get it… It’s hard as shit to win A10 games… It took time… sometime 2 or 3 years… but Phil would always figure it out. He was positioned to ascend the A10 mountain again…
The day he was let go, Martelli’s roster featured Jameer Nelson, Jr (2nd team All-CAA), Jared Bynum (2nd team All-Big East), Hakim Hart (2 yr Big 10 starter), Bones Hyland (Denver Nuggets), Charlie Brown (Sixers 2-way deal), Ryan Daly (G-League) and Taylor Funk.
It’s safe to say, with that core group of players, Martelli would have made a run and gotten to an NCAA tournament or two. But, the SJU brain trust lost faith in Martelli and pulled the trigger.
Some will contend that I give Martelli the benefit of the doubt because he is my “guy”. They would not be entirely wrong. I will be the first to admit, I am able to make that assertion because Phil is my “guy.”
Because he is my “guy”, I got to see how he won games and built teams. I was at every game within driving distance… I was at practices… I was in meetings with kids… I saw the prospects in high school and on AAU circuits… I was able to tell Phil, “Philly Pride is gonna look out for you…” and watch Chris Clover, Charlie Brown and Hakim Hart subsequently sign LOIs with the Hawks…
Because Phil is my “guy” I got to see the sausage being made… Then every 3 or 4 years we had a helluva meal…
I was with the team in Brooklyn when they found out who they were playing in the NCAA tournament in 2014… I was there again who they did it in 2016.
I expected to be there in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
St. Joseph’s basketball, however, has taken another direction.
I think their GPS might be broken… I’m hungry…