The NCAA basketball tournament came to a close this week. The University of Virginia took home the trophy, and with it, the accolades of a champion.
March Madness captures our attention every year at this time. Thrilling finishes and Cinderella stories keep us glued to our screens. It’s easy for universities to be swept up in this race to the Final Four. Institutions with little name recognition outside their region can find themselves thrust onto the national stage. Over the years, many of us basked in the glory of improbable tourney runs.
Securing that elusive invite to the dance can often become the sole scorecard for a head basketball coach. Each passing year without a bid brings more questions and demands for change from the bleachers.
St. Joseph’s University capitulated to that pressure when it let go of Phil Martelli last month. My alma mater fell victim to the call of the “sirens on the rocks,” beckoning with dreams of NCAA tournament berths and national television appearances.
Phil dedicated his life to St. Joseph’s — not just his players and his team, all of us. Every student and alum reaped the rewards of having Martelli walk the sideline of Hagan Arena and the sidewalks of Hawk Hill.
At St. Joseph’s University, “Live Greater” is more than a slogan. It’s a philosophy for living a purpose-driven life in service to others. From the classroom to the court, every aspect of the educational experience at our institution is infused with this concept.
Phil Martelli showed us the spirit of the Magis. And all we did is unceremoniously show him the door.
Thirty-plus years as a coach is more than a career. It’s a legacy.
That’s what Phil Martelli gave St. Joseph’s University.
On behalf of so many loyal Hawks, in addition to expressing my sincerest gratitude, I want to give Phil my deepest apologies.
We all make mistakes. What defines us is how we make amends. Admitting when we’ve screwed up and taking steps to right our wrongs. That’s the value of a Jesuit education where we seek the chance to do right by others. Regardless of your religious beliefs, these are the lessons that extend beyond the college campus.
This is what awaits our students when they graduate. Real-world situations where decisions are accompanied by consequences. This is what we are supposed to be preparing them for.
More than any buzzer beater or net getting cut down, these are the moments people remember. Unfortunately, up until this point, St. Joseph’s has received an F for its handling of Phil’s departure.
We failed the test. What’s worse, we failed Phil Martelli.
Basketball is a zero-sum game. You either win or you lose. Coaches deserve to be judged based on their record. Phil is not immune to that standard.
But what transpired last month was a different kind of March madness than many of us expected. For a school that prides itself on living its truth, the orchestration of Phil’s departure fell terribly short of our Ignatian ideals. Phil Martelli deserved a farewell befitting of the championship coach that he is.
To my fellow Hawks, let’s publicly own our mistake, ask for forgiveness, and, in the spirit of our Jesuit training, move forward with the hope of being better today, tomorrow, and beyond. Our dynamic and forward-thinking president, Mark Reed, needs our support. Our new coach, Billy Lange, deserves our heartfelt encouragement.
The Hawk will never die!