Mount Saint Mary's coach candidate for hall of fame

February 02, 1997


Staff Writer

EMMITSBURG, Md. - The last place Jim Phelan plans to be today is at home sitting by his telephone.

If the Basketball Hall of Fame elects him as part of its 1997 induction class today, it knows where to find him - coaching at Mount Saint Mary's, the same place he's been for the last 43 years.

A year ago, the veteran coach - one of 22 coaches and former players who are candidates for induction - patiently waited for word. The phone never rang.

"I've been here before," Phelan said Sunday, in anticipation of today's announcement. "They didn't call to tell me if I had made it and they didn't call to tell me I didn't. They must only call those are inducted."


Phelan isn't bitter, he has just become a realist. He doesn't think his phone will ring this time either.

"It's kind of easy (waiting)," Phelan said. "It's not a time to recognize small-college coaches. For example, (Sunday) during the Illinois-Indiana game on TV, they showed a list of the all-time winningest college coaches. My wife started screaming because I wasn't on the list. I keep telling her don't worry, they don't pay our rent."

Phelan, recognized by his trademark bow ties, has earned his rent with his 767-410 career coaching record, all at Mount Saint Mary's.

He is tied with Henry Iba for fourth on the all-time wins list, trailing only Kentucky's Adolph Rupp, North Carolina's Dean Smith and Winston-Salem's Clarence "Big House" Gaines.

Phelan has guided the Mountaineers to 15 NCAA tournaments, including five Division II Final Fours and the College Division Championship in 1962.

But college coaches have been overlooked when it comes to Hall of Fame inductions. In fact, in two of the last three years, no college coaches have been inducted.

That fact helps Phelan downplay the waiting game. Still, the nomination and possible induction is important to those around Phelan.

Family and friends have been calling for updates, and Mount Saint Mary's has a 4 p.m. press conference scheduled for today in case Phelan is elected.

"I'd love to have this all over with. I wish it could have been over yesterday," Phelan said. "I know it's on the minds of the players. I want to end it so we can think about (tonight's) game. Truly, I don't give it any thought - my wife and family has been doing all that."

Phelan's nonchalant attitude stems from the unknown.

"If I don't make it, it won't be anything new," he said. "If you never had something, you don't miss it. I've never been inducted to a Hall of Fame. It would be nice, but if I don't make it, I'll understand."

But it doesn't mean that Phelan wouldn't accept the call.

"It would be nice to be honored," he said. "After laboring in the vineyard this long, it would be nice to get recognized. It means that I would be recognized in the world of basketball and it would be big for the school and my family. But if I don't make it, I'll coach the game tomorrow, and Saturday and the rest of the season and next year. It won't matter... I'll still be there."

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