Of course John Gallagher remembers where he was, what he was doing, when the world stopped. Of course he can call up and deliver every detail. Have you met John Gallagher?

Anyway, this was a year ago, and Gallagher was walking from his office at the University of Hartford, where he’s the men’s basketball coach, to his car, to get a folder that was on the front seat. In a few days, his team was supposed to play in the championship game of the America East Conference tournament, a berth in the NCAAs on the line. Gallagher, a Broomall native, was in his 10th season as Hartford’s coach. He’d never led the Hawks to the NCAA Tournament before. In Hartford’s 36 years as a Division I program, no coach had.

Anyway, Gallagher opened the car door and grabbed the folder. His phone buzzed. It was Maria Feeley, the university’s interim athletic director.

“Where are you?” she said.

“I’m walking up the steps.”

“I need you to come to my office.”

“No, just tell me.”

“The season’s canceled.”

A dream in jeopardy

Seriously, have you met John Gallagher? If you’ve spent any time around Philadelphia basketball, the odds are good that you have. Youngest of four siblings and 50-some cousins in a hoops-mad Irish Catholic family from Delaware County. Has three older sisters, two of whom played Division I ball. Can talk and tell stories like no one else. Had to talk and tell stories like no one else just to be heard and noticed in a family that big. Can talk and tell stories in a way that, when you first meet him, makes you wonder if he thinks you’re an Eskimo and he can get you a great deal on an air conditioner.

“He’s got so much energy and love,” said his friend Billy Lange, the head coach at St. Joseph’s, “that you don’t think he’s real.”

» READ MORE: A new chapter in John Gallagher’s history with Villanova | Mike Jensen

Anyway, he was a point guard at Cardinal O’Hara, then a walk-on at St. Joe’s, then an assistant coach at three Big Five teams — La Salle, St. Joe’s, Penn — before getting his shot at his lifelong dream, as a head coach, at Hartford in 2010. He was 33. Thought he knew everything. Didn’t.

The Hawks had two losing seasons, then two winning seasons, and Gallagher knew, just knew, that they would have their best team yet in 2014-15. Nope. They were on their way to a 14-16 season when, on a recruiting trip to his old haunts, he was driving through Delco one afternoon, south in the left lane of Route 476. He turned and saw Lange, an assistant coach with the Sixers then, driving south in the right lane, heading to the Wells Fargo Center for a game. They put their windows down and tried not to crash their cars into each other, or anyone else.

“How are you doing?” Lange shouted.

“Not good!” Gallagher shouted back.

“Call me about it.”

Anyway, they talked pretty much every day for the next two years, and Gallagher needed the outlet. Hartford won 19 games, total, over those two seasons, and he was getting the strong sense that the school’s administration at the time didn’t want him there anymore, and that sense was confirmed when he met with the university president before the 2017-18 season.

Look, you’ve got to win next year, he was told, or you’re getting fired. You’ve got to get to 15 wins.

It didn’t look like he would get there. The Hawks lost seven of their first 10 games, and that seventh loss was a bad one, by 11 points at Portland. “We should have beaten them; they were terrible,” he said. “But we were terrible.” They took a red-eye from Oregon to Miami for their next game, against Florida International two days later, and Gallagher was on the 11th floor of the team hotel, coming off the elevator, a guy with a wife and four kids, with the pressure of a tenuous future bearing down on him like a train, when Lange called him.

“What are you gonna do?” Lange asked.

“I’m gonna kill ‘em,” Gallagher said. “I’m gonna run ‘em ragged at practice ...”

The cell service was spotty.

“Billy, can you hear me?”

“Yeah, I can hear you,” Lange said. “You’re going to get fired.”

Anyway, Lange told him straight out: You’re not angry about your team’s performance. You’re angry about how your team’s performance looked to an unsupportive administration. You’re angry about you. “Those kids don’t care about your administration,” he told Gallagher. “They just want you to love them and lead them. They want you to coach them.”

So Gallagher gathered his players on a South Florida beach. “I said, ‘Guys, listen, I’m getting fired at the end of the year,’ ” he said. “‘I need to take this off your shoulders. My career is over. But here’s what’s important to me: that I’m at your wedding in 10 years. You’ve got to play free. We are the best team that’s not winning in America right now, and it’s because you feel the pressure.’”

They beat FIU, then Rutgers, then Albany, all on the road. They finished 19-14, went 18-15 each of the next two years, and advanced to the 2020 AEC title game, not long after COVID-19 reached America’s shores.

‘It took a memory away’

Seriously, have you met John Gallagher? Did you catch him on TV? Go back a year. He was the coach talking on ESPN when the world stopped. Hartford is just 19 miles from Bristol, and there was Gallagher in the studio, before everyone started masking up, describing how he ended an afternoon film session with his players, asked them to shut off their phones, and paced around the room as he told them their season was over.

» READ MORE: We’ll never know what we’re going to miss from the NCAA Tournament | Mike Jensen

For six months, he woke up in the middle of the night three times a week. He started seeing a sports psychologist to deal with the disappointment and misplaced guilt over something he couldn’t control. “It just took a memory away,” he said, “whether we won or lost.”

He bolts out of bed in the dark just once a month now. The Hawks went 14-8 — their fourth straight winning season, the best stretch in their history. They will play UMass-Lowell on Saturday morning at 11 for a second chance at the NCAA Tournament, a second chance that is both too late and right on time. For Gallagher, it took 11 years, the last of them the longest of all.

“If my first job was a Big Five job, no shot — I would have been fired,” he said. “This place let me grow and grow and grow. I could stay here forever for what this place has done for me.”

Anyway, if his team wins Saturday, it’ll be a hell of a story to tell.