Ron Powell was perfectly content to be an ex-coach. He had enjoyed tremendous success as a boys’ basketball coach first at Rancocas Valley and then at Cherokee.
The itch rarely leaves coaches totally, but Powell found he could live without coaching. Of course, there were some signs of withdrawal but none that had him wanting to rush back to the pressure cooker. He didn’t attend many games, and the ones he saw came mainly while working security at Cherokee games.
All seemed well with one exception: His family wanted him back coaching. Nothing against Powell, but he was probably around the house too much for their liking. His wife, Joanne, and children, Lauren, 27, and Ryan, 21, weren’t too subtle when suggesting that he should resume coaching.
“They all basically told me that I can’t be sitting around and bothering them all the time,” Powell said with a laugh.
So, after five years on the sidelines, he returned to the game and became the girls’ basketball coach at Cherokee. Powell is in his third year, and the success he had guiding the boys’ programs has extended to his latest job.
The reason his coaching career is of particular interest is that Powell is on the verge of earning his 500th win.
According to South Jersey historian Chuck Langerman, Powell would become only the second South Jersey coach to reach 500 combined wins while guiding boys’ and girls’ programs.
His career record is 495-249. He was 437-240 as a boys’ coach and is 58-9 in his latest stint at Cherokee entering the weekend.
According to Langerman, the only South Jersey coach with 500 wins coaching boys’ and girls’ basketball is Bill Ulrich, who played at Audubon and Duke University.
Ulrich won 504 games coaching the girls at Sterling and another 146 with the boys at Sterling. For good measure, he won 55 more outside of the seven-county South Jersey area while coaching the boys at Asbury Park.
So Powell is ready to join some select company.
Yet the record doesn’t begin to show all of his accomplishments, although it gives a pretty good indicator that Powell knows his way around a gym.
Powell has won three state titles as a coach, two with Rancocas Valley in 1996 and 1998 and one with Cherokee in 2010.
According to Langerman, Powell is the only coach in state history to take two different schools to the Tournament of Champions, the event at which all state champions compete.
After winning the South Jersey Group 4 title last season and earning the title as the Inquirer’s South Jersey girls’ basketball team of the year, Cherokee was supposed to taper off since Inquirer South Jersey player of the year Isabella Therien graduated. (It helps that there are two more Theriens — Ava, a junior, and freshman Alexa, who have been vital contributors.)
Powell, 58, who was a talented point guard at Burlington Township, says earning 500 wins is about being around long enough.
That’s a humble way to look at it, and it isn’t all that accurate. Lots of coaches are around for a long time and don’t find themselves close to a milestone like this.
“I’ve had great assistant coaches and great players,” he said.
One assistant coach Powell appreciated is the late Jeff Coney, who was with him for 15 of the 16 seasons at Rancocas Valley and then succeeded him in that job.
“He’s a person who meant so much to me,” Powell said.
Powell said he hasn’t changed his style between coaching girls and boys.
“I am tough and demanding and hold the players accountable” he said.
What he quickly discovered was that driven players want to be coached, regardless of gender.
So the style remains the same, and, as the current record suggests, the results have been as impressive in his third job as they were in the previous two.