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Coaches mourn the death of Dan Dougherty, a Philadelphia basketball heavyweight

The legendary Episcopal Academy and Malvern Prep coach died Monday at age 87. He coached many who went into coaching themselves.

Episcopal Academy coach Dan Dougherty talks strategy with his team during a timeout.
Episcopal Academy coach Dan Dougherty talks strategy with his team during a timeout.Read moreJOSEPH KACZMAREK/For the Daily News

Several years back, Dan Dougherty was sitting in the back of the room at a basketball luncheon. He had a story to tell about one of the coaches on the dais.

When Dan Dougherty wanted to tell a tale, you stopped in your tracks, forgot where you thought you were heading.

This was a man who had played for Jack Ramsay at St. Joseph’s in the very first Big 5 basketball game. Dougherty was the answer to another great hoops trivia question: Who was Army’s head coach in between Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski? Before Army, Dougherty had been an assistant coach on the 1971 Villanova team that reached the NCAA title game. Between his time coaching Malvern Prep and Episcopal Academy, Dougherty had coached, among others, Fran Dunphy, Bruiser Flint, Jerome Allen, Eugene Burroughs, Patrick Chambers, Gerald Henderson, and Wayne Ellington.

That day, Dougherty wanted to relate the tale of how Dunphy, now La Salle’s coach, at his third Big 5 head-coaching spot, got his own coaching start.

“Not to get emotional about it, but I’ve thought about it a lot,” Dunphy said Monday morning when that tale came up again. “All these years, I don’t know where I’d be without his intervention.”

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Talking on the phone, Dunphy had just left where Dougherty had been living with his wife before he died Monday morning after a long illness, age 87.

In local basketball circles, Dougherty wasn’t just a heavyweight, but a heavyweight champ. There’s simply no Mount Rushmore of Philadelphia high school basketball coaching without Dougherty. He personally provided maybe the strongest branch of the vast Ramsay coaching tree.

That Dunphy tale …

Dougherty explained how Dunphy came to be his graduate assistant when Dougherty was the head coach at Army, five decades back.

Dougherty noted that Dunphy, just out of La Salle, was in the Army, at the Presidio in San Francisco, next stop Vietnam, when a call came in. Dunphy had been reassigned to West Point, still enlisted, but he was to be an assistant men’s basketball coach.

There was a knock on Dougherty’s door in the middle of a snowstorm.

“My mother thanks you,” said the familiar man at the door. “My father thanks you.”

One of a million stories. Episcopal’s basketball practices under Dougherty were kind of legendary, with no out of bounds and few fouls called. Forget any thought of how life playing in the Inter-Ac must be a touch easier. The list of Episcopal graduates who moved into coaching goes on and on.

Bruiser Flint used to kid Dougherty about Jerome Allen’s choosing Penn over UMass, where Flint was an assistant under John Calipari at the time.

“Now I know you love Dunph better than me,” Flint would tell him.

“I’ve known him longer,” Dougherty would shoot back.

“I had him in class twice,” Dunphy said of his days at Malvern Prep. “He taught me math. He made me serviceable in math.”

Dougherty had walked on at Hawk Hill out of St. Joseph’s Prep and started in that first Big Five game on Dec. 14, 1955, at the Palestra. He had guarded the great Guy Rodgers in early City Series battles. He’d lived in the same house in Roxborough for over six decades, although in more of an assisted living place on Ridge Avenue since 2020.

“He’s a special dude,” Flint once said about Dougherty back when Flint was head coach at Drexel. Flint is back coaching on Calipari’s staff again, now at Kentucky. He had gone into coaching after playing point guard at St. Joe’s. “I think he put a lot of stuff in us that we actually put in our teams.”

After he retired, I once asked Dougherty about Ramsay’s influence on him.

“You were going to concentrate on defense — two-thirds of your practice was on defense,” Dougherty said. “You had to be in shape to play defense. Jack Ramsay had us doing a lot of pressing. As a young coach, that was my main thing. If you played good, pressing man-to-man defense with a little zone, you created maybe a third of your offense.”

And when Gerald Henderson and then Wayne Ellington showed up in your gym, some magic was created.

“One says, ‘I can stop that move,’” Dougherty said after coaching the pair, talking on the phone after Henderson had moved on to Duke and Ellington to North Carolina. “In the classroom, same thing: ‘The only reason you got an A-minus and I got a B-plus is I made a stupid mistake that I’m not going to make again.’”

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The themes always seemed the same, whatever the generation. You were there to compete. (Just between Malvern and Episcopal, Dougherty’s teams won 621 games and 13 Inter-Ac titles.)

“Meticulous,” Flint said Monday when asked what words came to mind when he thought of a Dan Dougherty practice.

Dougherty didn’t just demand discipline from his players, Flint added. The coach did everything himself with great discipline.

“He kept things very simple,” said Dougherty’s son Mike. “Everything was very clear and very understandable and everybody did their part.”

Simple, but all those coaches never forgot any of it.

“A pretty incredible web he put out there,” Mike Dougherty said. “They learned a lot about basketball, but they also learned about being a communicator, and everything else that goes with being a basketball coach.”

Dougherty is survived by his wife, Mary Ellen, daughter Kathleen Marshall and sons Dan Jr., Mike, and Brian, in addition to eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Services will be held Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Andorra, 819 Cathedral Road, preceded by a viewing at 9 a.m.

“He touched so many,” said Dunphy, who considers himself right near the top of that list.