Phil Martelli says he wants to coach again after St. Joe’s firing: ‘I won’t let it scar me’ | Mike Jensen
“I want, and in a way need, to be on a sideline. Not to justify my career at St. Joseph’s. To have an impact, on players, on a campus, on a student body.”
Phil Martelli said he has not read the three-paragraph statement that St. Joseph’s University put out Tuesday. announcing the end of his tenure as men’s basketball coach.
“I don’t really have an interest,’’ Martelli said over the phone Wednesday morning. “The pain is raw. It’s still here. … I haven’t seen it. Nor will I.”
He’s not being a smart aleck, Martelli added. Or words like that.
“I’m not walking forward yet, but I’m crawling,’’ he said.
Martelli was outspoken in his unhappiness over how Temple had handled the news of the departure of Fran Dunphy this time last year. He was incensed. I asked him a loaded question: How did St. Joseph’s handle the departure of Phil Martelli?
“Well, I always felt, in everything I did at St. Joseph’s, whether with basketball or for the university … what I attempted to be was a partner,’’ Martelli said. He listed all the various departments he interacted with, from development to the office of the president. “I wanted them to feel like they had a partner with a common vision. Retrospectively, I would ask, was I a partner? And was I a good partner?”
He pointed out he was at 54th and City Avenue more than half his life.
“The handling, I think you separate it two ways,’’ Martelli said. “They can pick who they want to coach their basketball team. I understand it. The numbers, over the X years. My supporters might say, or I might, two of the last five years, you won the Atlantic 10 … “
But he isn’t disputing the school’s right to decide.
“Some would say these jobs aren’t lifetime guarantees,’’ Martelli added. “I understand that.”
But the suddenness of how this came down, with a firm decision he couldn’t counter.
“It’s hard not to say with this handling, to not say, ‘You know what, I failed,’ ‘’ Martelli said. “That’s been the hardest part for me, to get beyond the fact that I failed.”
How should it have been handled?
“Wow,’’ Martelli said, pausing for a moment. However it was delivered, he said, “I internalized, and said, ‘This could be a scar. Whatever the scar would look like ― it was a tattoo that said ‘fired.’ ”
Martelli said he was given the choice, in a conversation earlier this week with St. Joseph’s president Mark C. Reed and athletic director Jill Bodensteiner, to announce he was resigning or retiring.
“It would not have been honorable — and it didn’t take me long to answer the question,” Martelli said, adding that he believed he had asked his players to commit not just to the school but also to him.
“If it [the announcement] went out that way, maybe the semantics would have been better. So it wouldn’t say fired. I couldn’t do that.”
He wants to return to the sideline somewhere.
“I do know this, 40 hours later,’’ Martelli said. “I do have the juice. I do want to coach again. I won’t let it scar me.”
He will have his St. Joseph’s experience, Martelli said — “including this. … The end had to come. The end certainly had to come. If you live in my mind, the end would have come with me walking out and not having to see my family and friends go through the pain that I feel responsible for.”
The average person might be surprised that Martelli, who will turn 65 in August, said he wants to coach more. Not television, where most of us feel he’d be a natural?
“I want, and in a way need, to be on a sideline,’’ Martelli said. “Not to justify my career at St. Joseph’s. To have an impact, on players, on a campus, on a student body.”
Being on an NBA bench doesn’t interest him? Martelli said confidants have told him he should be an observer of the NBA as that season winds down before he rules out such things. He’s not ruling out anything, since he doesn’t know what the possibilities actually are.
An editorial note: A three-paragraph farewell announcement, which included a clumsy reference about the intent “to develop a sustained culture of excellence" — that was a shot, beyond unnecessary, straight to insulting. Maybe Martelli didn’t read it, but it’s hard to read it any other way. St. Joe’s had three straight losing seasons. But such a phrase seemed to miss the bigger picture of all Martelli had achieved.
He’s been touched by so much this week, he said. He doesn’t know who bought space on electronic billboards saying “Thank You Coach Phil,” but he was touched. He was really touched by the parents of a couple of past Hawks recruits who reached out describing such a positive recruiting experience, because those recruits didn’t end up choosing St. Joe’s. It was tough to leave Dunphy alone, since he was coaching Temple on Tuesday night, so Dunphy called him. Martelli felt bad about that.
“I’ve probably had a thousand texts or phone calls,’’ Martelli said, noting that he’s heard from so many coaches that “you could field an NCAA Tournament.”
Maybe there was no way to do this without taking Martelli down. He’s a prideful guy. After 24 seasons, he wasn’t ready to go. But he knows he’s gone.
“I’m not off the mat,’’ Martelli said. “I’m slowly rising.”