R.C. Kehoe texted that he would call back as soon as he got off the phone with his uncle, who happens to be Phil Martelli.
It was no surprise they were talking. Right now, the former Holy Family coach and former St. Joseph’s coach share more common ground than they would like to.
“He was the first one I called when I got the news,’’ Kehoe said.
The news delivered Thursday was that after eight seasons as men’s basketball coach at Division II Holy Family, Kehoe was out, effectively immediately. Holy Family’s women’s coach Melissa Dunne got the same news Thursday morning, that she was out.
In one sense, Kehoe saw it coming. He realized, he said, that his salary to be a full-time hoops coach was higher than going rates for his level.
“I’m not sure when it started,’’ Kehoe said of the history of making a salary not far from six figures. “I told my uncle, my wife … it’s going to come. They can’t keep going at this rate. We just don’t have the student body. I know [my salary] was more than some of my colleagues who were emptying their trash cans, setting up volleyball nets. For eight years, I coached basketball.”
What hurts him, Kehoe said, was the manner.
“Why is a security guard necessary for someone who did nothing wrong, who was getting fired without cause?” Kehoe said of his exit. “You want to embarrass somebody who you can’t pay anymore? How does that align with the university’s mission? You don’t have the money anymore. I understand.
"It was very bizarre. I was really devastated.”
Kehoe said he received an email Wednesday at 4 p.m. from interim athletic director Tim Hamill with a Google notice for a meeting at 9:30 the next morning. Hamill responded to an interview request Friday by asking that questions or inquiries be sent to Debbie Albert of Albert Communications, a private firm that handles public relations for Holy Family.
“The scope of their jobs changed, and the compensation for the new job changed,’’ Albert said Friday. “As a result, we made a difficult decision to sever our relationships with the head coaches.”
Let’s stop to point out that the responsibilities apparently were going to increase and the compensation would decrease. For Kehoe, alarm bells were sounding even before he found himself in a meeting with the AD and a vice president for student affairs and the head of the university’s human resources department.
“I sat in the chair. My feet weren’t settled in the ground. My butt wasn’t settled in the seat,’’ Kehoe said, when one of the administrators told him, “We’re terminating your contract.”
Kehoe remembers saying, “Hold on, you have cause?”
“No, no, we are changing the scope, the duties, the responsibilities of the position.”
There was no specific talk about the change in compensation, Kehoe said.
“They just said compensation would be much less,’’ he said.
He was told, he said, that he could apply for the position. He won’t, Kehoe added.
His educated guess, he said, is that they’ll take his salary and that of the women’s coach — “let’s call it $85,000 [for each]” — and cut it in half.
Had any of this come up in previous conversations?
“Zero,’’ Kehoe said.
He hopes the next men’s coach will be his assistant, Ryan Haigh. He knew the two head-coaching salaries were not in line with other coaching salaries at Holy Family.
“We’re the only two full-time coaches in the athletic department,’’ Kehoe said.
It wasn’t as if the coaches demanded the salaries. But it certainly spoke to the attractiveness of the job. Kehoe had been a Delaware assistant. Dunne, a former Temple player under Dawn Staley, had been an assistant at Division I Loyola-Maryland. (Dunne declined an interview request.)
Kehoe, 41, points out that he took over a program that had won nine games in two seasons, then went 12-14, 18-10, 21-10 and 22-8 before a big breakthrough, 26-6, in 2015-16, a championship in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference, hosting an NCAA Tournament regional.
That was the high point. Holy Family went 11-17 the next season, then a big fall to 4-23 in 2017-18, which Kehoe puts on himself, for recruiting mistakes made.
This past season was a rebound to 14-13, and Kehoe said he believed he had a recruiting class coming in that would have made Holy Family a league contender again.
Instead, there’s bitterness. He’s not done coaching, Kehoe said. He’d like to stay in the area. His wife has a good job as a school principal. His family is rooted here. “I have a pretty good record,’’ Kehoe said. “But I have a better resume.”
He knows Holy Family isn’t the only college around struggling with bottom lines. That makes him prouder of the job they’d done.