Harry "Bud" Gardler, once the winningest boys' basketball coach in Philadelphia Catholic League history, died Wednesday at Paoli Hospital after months of failing health. He was 72.

Viewed as a mentor and leader in city basketball circles as much as a successful coach, Mr. Gardler coached at Cardinal O'Hara High for 32 seasons (1977-2008) and at Bishop Kenrick for seven (1969-75). He was an assistant coach at American University in 1975-76.

As the Cardinal O'Hara girls' basketball coach, Linus McGinty shared the school's gymnasium with Mr. Gardler for more than a decade.

"Teams did not want to play against O'Hara when he was there," said McGinty, who coached the Lions for 24 seasons before retiring at the end of last season. "That's because his teams were so good at attacking, man-to-man defenses."

With a career record of 560-413, Mr. Gardler was the all-time winningest boys' basketball coach in Catholic League history until he was surpassed by Speedy Morris in 2011. Mr. Gardler was selected as an honorary member of the Cardinal O'Hara High School Hall of Fame in 2014.

"I always thought he was a good guy, one of the best," Morris said. "He was always a good friend. His teams were tough. He was a very good coach. He never won a championship, but he was an extremely good coach. His guys played together. They played hard. It was always tough to play them. They ran really good stuff."

McGinty, 71, coached Mr. Gardler's daughters, Meghan and Mary Kate, and granddaughter, Mackenzie. Mackenzie, a 2018 graduate  who is bound for Villanova, helped lead O'Hara to Catholic League titles the last two seasons.

McGinty said he and Mr. Gardler "would occasionally go out together for a beer or two.  He was a guy's guy, and he loved to play liar's poker."

Of Mr. Gardler's playing days at Monsignor Bonner High and St. Joseph's University, McGinty jokingly said, "He was a lefthanded shooter who didn't like to pass a lot."

One of the most emotional times of Mr. Gardler's life came when he confirmed in March 2008 that he would leave the O'Hara bench. Then 61, he continued to teach American literature and SAT preparatory courses at O'Hara.

"Last year was my 40th year in coaching," Mr. Gardler said then. "Not going into any detail, I just think the [Catholic League] has changed. I think O'Hara will be better having a younger guy doing it."

Bud Gardler as Cardinal O’Hara boys basketball coach in 1978.
Bud Gardler as Cardinal O’Hara boys basketball coach in 1978.

Mr. Gardler posted a 97-72 record at Norristown's Bishop Kenrick. He took over the Kenrick program when he was a senior at St. Joe's. At Kenrick, one of his players was legendary University of Connecticut women's coach Geno Auriemma.

"I didn't even know where Kenrick was," Mr. Gardler said in 2008. "When I got back from my interview, the subject of the salary came up, and I had to say, 'I didn't even think to ask.'

"The whole time I did this, it was never about dying to win championships. I mean, I cared about winning each game as we were playing them. But otherwise it was more about having a good time and enjoying what I was doing."

Mr. Gardler had a record of 463-341 in 32 seasons at O'Hara. The Lions finished 10-14 in his last season.

"I enjoyed coaching," he said in 2008. "I was influenced a lot by the guys."

Jack Concannon played at Bonner in the early 1980s and was Bonner's head coach from 1992 to 1996. Concannon's Friars and Mr. Gardler's Lions were Catholic League rivals.

"I always hated playing his teams," said Concannon, who recently stepped down as Bonner-Prendergast's coach after four seasons. "You just knew his team was going to be prepared, disciplined and hustle the entire game."

Concannon added that Mr. Gardler "enjoyed playing pickup basketball any time he got the chance."

St. Joseph's University coach Phil Martelli got his first coaching job from Mr. Gardler, then a junior varsity coach at O'Hara, when Martelli was right out of Widener, "Bud got me in the door," Martelli said.

His biggest X's and O's memory of Mr. Gardler?

"It was ridiculous how good he was in terms of offense," Martelli said. "Bud was meticulous about his half-court offense. It wasn't just calls — run the blue play. He had cues. If the ball entered to the wing, then the guard who entered did a certain thing. If the ball entered to the elbow, they did something else."

Other memories? "He was an unbelievable, ferocious reader," Martelli said.

As head coach at Bishop McDevitt from 1981-89 and Archbishop Wood from 1995-2008, both Catholic League members, Joe Sette often coached against Mr. Gardler and O'Hara in nondivision contests. McDevitt and Wood played in the North Division, and O'Hara was part of the South Division.

"I certainly had a great amount of respect for him as a person and coach," Sette said. "Buddy never got outcoached in a game."

On Feb. 7, 2011, Morris, then at St. Joseph's Prep, passed Mr. Gardler as the Catholic League's all-time winningest coach.

"To beat his record," Morris said then, "it's very meaningful."

Staff writer Mike Jensen contributed to this article.