La Salle women’s basketball coach Mountain MacGillivray charted a unique path to 20th and Olney | Mike Jensen
And if you were wondering, Mountain is his given name, not a nickname.
It’s his given name, not a nickname. Mountain MacGillivray knows how many conversations will start there.
“You can imagine, every time I say my name,’’ La Salle’s first-year women’s basketball coach said.
He’s making a hotel reservation. It’s Mountain. M-O-U ....
You expect maybe a guy wearing overalls — not someone who grew up in Overbrook, Columbia by 64th, “right behind the 7-Eleven.”
Back to the name. We’re not done there.
“He’ll tell you: He’s got his repertoire of stories of where he got the name,’’ said Mountain’s former boss, Tricia Fabbri, the head women’s coach at Quinnipiac. “Feel out the person, tell the story.”
“I have like five go-to stories,’’ Mountain said. “You call them stories. But they’re lies.”
Some more plausible than others.
“I’ve never walked away with someone believing my mother was the second woman to climb Mount Everest,’’ he said.
But second woman is a nice touch.
“First would never work, and it’s more verifiable,’’ Mountain said.
He’ll also say his mom went into labor while flying over the Rocky Mountains.
“That’s not true,’’ Mountain added.
Or he might say his father was a big baseball fan and he is named for Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner of baseball.
“I would like that one to be true,’’ Mountain said, since he played baseball at Archbishop Carroll High and for a time at Temple.
The real story? His old boss knows it.
“His mom and dad were hippies,’’ Fabbri said.
“It was 1973,’’ Mountain said. “My dad was 20; my mom, 19. They wanted to name me something different. If I was a girl, it would have been Sunshine.”
“It fits him,’’ Fabbri said. “There’s only one Mountain.”
Which gets to his path to being a Big 5 head coach. Which also sounds fictional. Not how he got this La Salle job. Quinnipiac’s big-time success made this move make sense. You don’t get to the NCAA Sweet 16 out of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference without all sorts of things hitting on all cylinders.
It was the path to Quinnipiac, to coaching at all, that is, well … Mountainous.
“I know a ton of women’s basketball coaches,’’ said Bobbi Morgan, head coach at Haverford College. “He’s probably had the most interesting path.”
She’s had an interesting one herself, since it was always a dual one: sports journalism and coaching. Morgan used to be sports editor of the Main Line Times.
“Mountain was an Archbishop Carroll student when he started writing for me,’’ said Morgan, whose own Haverford team just won the Centennial Conference to qualify for the NCAA Division III tournament. “Then he went to Temple. I think he majored in journalism.”
Mountain was a baseball player at Carroll, an optimistic one. There was a conversation with his coach when he was a junior, how he was going to be all-Catholic the next year.
“Mountain, you have to play to be all-Catholic,’’ the coach told him. (Postscript: He played, was all-Catholic.)
While Mountain was at Carroll, he got cut from the hoops team, and ended up being a manager for the girls’ team. (Not unique; his assistant coach, Chris Day, was a two-sport athlete at Carroll, but also managed the girls’ hoops team, their friendship cemented.)
That began when his old CYO coach saw Mountain at the 7-11 near his house. Mountain didn’t know this coach was also the junior varsity girls’ coach at Carroll, and was surprised when the coach asked him if he wanted to help out.
“I didn’t even know girls played basketball,’’ Mountain said.
It turned out his cousin Nancy ["like third cousin, once removed”] was one of the better players at Carroll. And the head varsity coach at the time, Linus McGinty, asked Mountain to do play-by-play for the game film, since McGinty was practically falling asleep watching it. So that was fun right off the bat.
“They were a really good team,’’ Mountain said. “Like top 15 in the country. They played Dawn Staley and Dobbins Tech at St. Joe’s. I started to see I could pick up ‘Hey, when you missed a shot, you did this. When you made a shot, you did this.’ I wasn’t very good as a player. I had a decent eye for mechanics.”
Mountain also helped Morgan coach a Narberth League team. He stopped baseball while at Temple, as McGinty asked him to go on Carroll’s staff.
“I was really excited,’’ Mountain said. “Then he takes the job at O’Hara. I was crushed. I was so upset. I wouldn’t have gone to O’Hara for a million dollars — maybe a million dollars.”
He hadn’t really overlapped with the new Carroll coach, Barry Kirsch, an assistant, but Kirsch kept the offer out there, and Mountain ended up being on his staff for 13 years.
“He really taught me everything I know,’’ Mountain said. “I learned the game at his hand.”
He also began coaching with the Comets AAU program. The Gallagher family, who had started that Delaware County-based program — “they had a full half-court in the backyard, with a light. Every night in the summer, there would be three-on-three games, for five, six hours.” A who’s who’s of Delaware County hoops rolled through. (John Gallagher left those games in his backyard to become Hartford’s head men’s coach.)
Joan Gallagher knew Mountain’s cousin, and her college assistant coach became the head coach at Vermont and offered Mountain a part-time, $5,000-a-year job. He took it, working breakfast at the Sheraton in the mornings.
The money just wasn’t survivable, though, since he was planning to get married. When Cathy Rush offered him a job running her camp, he grabbed it. “Working for Cathy Rush gives you an air of legitimacy,’’ Mountain said of the former Immaculata coaching legend.
At Carroll, he remembers not getting a guard the staff had wanted, losing her to O’Hara, but that same player, Kara Cassidy, ended up going to Quinnipiac as an assistant years later, then left for Penn and recommended that Mountain replace her. It didn’t hurt that she knew his third cousin once removed.
“It’s so amazing how intertwined Philadelphia basketball is,’’ Mountain said.
He knows La Salle doesn’t have the same facilities as Quinnipiac had. He had expected to be there, he said, as long as Fabbri was there. But being a Big 5 head coach? He had to go for that opening.
He was talking on the phone, on a recruiting trip in Florida, just beating last week’s snow out of town, explaining how he could sell La Salle’s tradition and the opportunity for playing time and specific majors.
“It’s a big deal to young women to have a degree that fits what they’re looking for,’’ he said.
Most of all, he can sell himself.
“They’re Philly people,’’ Morgan said of his whole family. “I forget what parish.”
And if he tells you it’s easier to climb Mount Everest than to take his particular path to a head-coaching job, you might have to believe Mountain on that.