“There will be no peace once the kids see him,” says EA secretary Sharon Passarella of Dougherty, a school legend in the classroom and on the basketball court.
“Do you miss my tenacity on the court?” asks one former student athlete helping with the move.
“No, I just plain missed it,” Dougherty shoots back.
“Come on,” the former student says. “I played that first year, scored two points for my career, then you made me the quickest cut ever the year after.”
The 73-year-old Dougherty nearly cut out, too. Sort of. He retired from the classroom at the end of last school year. “I’ve graduated,” he says.
But he’s continued coaching, and EA talked him into tutoring struggling math students three days a week in a student resources program. “With the move, I thought I could cut it off completely and retire,” says Dougherty, who lives in Roxborough. “But the problem is, I’ve never minded any job I ever had.”
Teaching math and coaching basketball have amounted to parallel careers for Dougherty, both beginning almost 50 years ago at St. Pius X High School in Pottstown. Since arriving at EA in 1977, his basketball squads have won 12 Inter-Academic League titles. In his two stints with the Churchmen (1977-97 and 2001-08), Dougherty’s teams are 525-226 overall. Add in a 74-31 mark in five seasons (1962-66) at Malvern Prep, plus his early Pius X and Penncrest High School years (58-37), and he’s gone an astonishing 657-294 over 38 scholastic seasons. Figure in his collegiate coaching tenures at Villanova University and West Point, and he has well over 700 wins.
All told, Dougherty is the winningest coach in the history of Philadelphia city-leagues basketball. When he surpassed Charles “Obie” O’Brien, the longtime La Salle High School coach who won 541 games over 34 seasons, Dougherty had his granddaughter, Erin O’Brien Dugery, in class. She’s now director of alumni at EA.
At Villanova, Dougherty coached the freshman to a 36-18 mark for three years. Then, in 1971, his players lost by just six points to UCLA in the NCAA championship game. That success led him to Army, where he succeeded Bobby Knight, who left for Indiana University. Dougherty was one of 97 candidates, but the only one offered the job.
In four seasons, Dougherty’s West Point teams went 31-66. He gave legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski his start, hiring him as an assistant for two years at a feeder prep school in Virginia. A West Point alum, Krzyzewski was then tapped for the head job after Dougherty was let go.
Today, Dougherty has outlasted many others in a generation of basketball coaches that emerged from their Philadelphia playing days in the ’50s and ’60s. “It’s such a parochial business,” he says. “Rarely was a coach hired from outside the city, and rarely did one leave. Other cities look at that and wonder how five collegiate city teams could produce so many college and professional coaches.”
A St. Joe’s Prep alum, Dougherty never intended to teach math or coach basketball. After graduating from Saint Joseph’s University, he was working as a financial analyst when his former coach, eventual NBA Hall of Famer Jack Ramsay, asked if he was interested in a job at St. Pius X.
Ramsay’s first season (1955-56) with the Hawks was also the first for the Big Five. With Dougherty as a starting guard, the team won the first city-series title. Dougherty has been a longtime inductee into the university’s athletic hall of fame—and the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame, too.
“As guards, it was expected that we knew the game—and so we could coach,” Dougherty says.
As he’s joined in the EA lobby by assistant coach Tom Kossuth, Dougherty admits he’s fired and rehired Kossuth about 20 times. Once, in announcing the winner of an award in Dougherty’s name, Kossuth called it a memorial award. “I fired him in public that time,” Dougherty says. “But I rehired him 24 hours later.”
It’s been an all-around good day for “Doc.” His youngest son, Brian, called to say the University of Maryland, where he was a four-year starting lacrosse goalie, was inducting him into its athletic hall of fame. And word has arrived of Brian’s impending first born, Dougherty’s seventh grandchild.
In eight seasons of summer Major League Lacrosse, Brian has been named goalie of the year three times and won three championships with two-time defending champions, the Philadelphia Barrage. He’s also one of his father’s basketball assistants. “He’s been fired a couple times, too,” Dougherty jokes.
“There’s not an assistant alive he hasn’t fired,” Kossuth adds.
“No,” Dougherty says. “This is the best staff I’ve ever had, and there are certainly an awful lot of fond memories here. It’s another chapter of my life that’s closing. I’ve come full circle, and that’s why I thought I would end it [at Merion]. But the new place will be a magnificent facility.”
Several of Dougherty’s EA teams have been memorable. Most recently, his 2005-06 team went 27-4, including a perfect 10-0 in the Inter-Ac. From that team came two Division I college stars and future pros: Gerald Henderson, now at Duke University, and Wayne Ellington, of the University of North Carolina. Dougherty won the FedEx National Coach of the Year Award for his efforts with that team.
Well before that, when Bruiser Flint (now the head coach at Drexel) played at EA, Dougherty’s teams went 110-8. Another run before that produced a 115-7 record over a five-year span.
“Give me two guys with talent, and I can get them to blend in,” Dougherty says. “[Henderson and Ellington] were two of the most unselfish players we ever had. Everyone says how they both know how to play the game, and that’s our objective as coaches. To me, satisfaction—whether in a classroom or on the court—has been a measure of whether or not they’ve learned the subject and learned how to apply it to their lives.”
Former EA athletic director Dick Borkowski views Dougherty as the consummate teacher/coach/counselor. “Doc is our Gene Hackman of the motion picture Hoosiers—except Hackman had more hair. You only have to talk to his players to understand his influence. He’s won lots of games, but it pales in terms of the number of kids he’s won over.”
After Friday-night home wins, a little-known two-man tradition endured at the Merion campus. “Doc would win,” Borkowski recounts. “I’d spend the next 30 minutes kicking people out of the gym by flicking the lights or whatever. Then, when the place was empty—except for Doc, Mrs. Doc (Mary Ellen) and me—I’d put on the PA system and start up, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, at 6-foot-9, 220 pounds’ … and Doc would run into the gym in a shirt and tie with a basketball. Of course, then he announced me.”
Back in November, Dougherty was inducted into EA’s athletic hall of fame. “That shouldn’t happen [now]; it should happen after you’re done,” he says. “Eventually, I know I have to walk away. I just need other people here to understand that.”
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