City Six coaches show real staying power

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Saint Joseph's head coach Phil Martelli with his grandson. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)

When Phil Martelli got his job as head basketball coach at St. Joseph's, the men in charge of the city's pro outfits were named Ray Rhodes, Jim Fregosi, John Lucas, and Terry Murray.

It's been a while. The Sixers have had 11 coaches during Martelli's two-decade stint on Hawk Hill. (The Flyers a mere nine.)

It's not just Martelli. Philadelphia's Division I college basketball coaches are on an unprecedented run in terms of the combined longevity of their jobs. Even the least tenured among them is pretty much at the national average for a stay at a school.

Virtually all have had opportunities to leave. Many have survived slightly shaky footing, even gotten right to the edge of the cliff. As a group, however, they've woven themselves into the sports fabric of the city and average 11.3 years of experience at their schools.

"It's unbelievable," La Salle coach John Giannini said of the combined longevity.

The usual stay for men's coaches across Division I hoops is less than half what we see here. In Power 5 leagues, the average experience level is 6.3 seasons. In the Pac-12, it's just 3.7 years. The Southeastern Conference is at 4.6 years. And this isn't merely at the big-money levels. The average experience level in the Patriot League going into this season is 5.1 years. In the Colonial, it is 5.5 years.

Before Davidson came into the Atlantic 10 this season with Bob McKillop's 25 years of experience at the school, Martelli at St. Joseph's (19 years) and Giannini at La Salle (10 years) were first and second in the A-10 in experience at their current schools. Drexel's Bruiser Flint (13 years) is the dean in the Colonial, Villanova's Jay Wright (13 years) is dean in the new Big East. Temple's Fran Dunphy is tied for dean status in the American Athletic Conference even though his eight previous years on North Broad Street pales against his 17 prior at Penn.

Jerome Allen is the new guy, and he's still starting his sixth season. He's the norm nationally. (So is his need to win some games, sooner rather than later.)

So what's going on here?

"Consistent winning always helps," Flint said, adding a trademark chortle. "That's the most obvious thing. Guys have been able to win games and keep people happy."

Flint hasn't gotten Drexel to the NCAA tournament but he has a .569 winning percentage at Drexel and his two losing seasons were spread seven years apart, and he has had only one season under .500 in conference play. Flint was right at .500 the last two years in the Colonial but his track record hasn't been forgotten by his bosses when seasons have hit bumps.

"I think we're fortunate that in Philadelphia - the presidents, athletic directors, influential people - they recognize the people involved in this endeavor in college basketball," Martelli said. "They're not as quick - they recognize that there is a cyclical nature to what we do. They've allowed the coaches to build programs and not individual teams and worry about individual year results."

It doesn't hurt at all that four of the six coaches in the city still work for the athletic director who hired them, with Allen and Dunphy, the shortest tenured at their schools, being the exceptions.

"That definitely plays a part - not having people come in and want their own people," Flint said. "You get some continuity in a lot of ways."

When St. Joe's fans were on Martelli in recent years prior to reaching the 2014 NCAAs, athletic director Don DiJulia would call those calling for the coach's head "the 10 percent." Safe to say DiJulia didn't do a survey to come up with the percentage.

To most of the coaches, working in a pro town has tangible benefits. Martelli pointed out that the Eagles season stretches deep into college basketball season. Outside of their specific fan base, a bad season is ignored more than anything.

"It helps on a daily basis - we don't have to deal with talk radio," Martelli said. "The thing that has changed is the social media. Every day you have to win or lose. . . . But certainly with the emphasis in Philadelphia being so driven, particularly at our time of the year, on football, I do think it's a little bit more comfortable than other guys face."

They've had chances to go. For a while, Wright seemed to be on the wanted list for coveted Power 5 jobs every year. Even Allen in his shorter Quakers tenure had an interesting opportunity from Larry Brown to be the "coach in waiting" at SMU. Brown also wanted Flint for that post.

Why have they stayed? Dunphy pointed out that five of the six coaches grew up in the Philadelphia area. The one who didn't, Giannini, from Chicago, has spent 17 of the last 25 years living in South Jersey, between his Rowan and La Salle tenures. It's a good territory to recruit.

"If you draw a two- or four-hour circle around Philadelphia, there's probably more good players in that circle than there would be anywhere," Giannini said.

Dunphy had his chances to leave but suggests it's no coincidence that the job he finally left Penn for was across town. He ticked off various attributes of the city, saying, "I just think Philadelphia is what keeps us all here. We have everything."

While a bad season tends to be forgiven or ignored, Flint said the city also has more of an affinity for college hoops than in New England or even New York. That matters, he said. You feel relevant.

"The biggest factor would be the coaches and the institutions fit - there is a philosophical fit," DiJulia said of the longevity. "I think it's a compliment to both sides, the institutions and the individuals."

Maybe the only coach not impressed? Herb Magee over at Philadelphia University is starting his 48th season, still rolling.


mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus