It's as if Tony Chapman never left Holy Ghost Prep.

After graduating from the Bucks County school in 1972, Chapman spent the next four years at La Salle University, only to return to Holy Ghost to teach after receiving his degree. He also became the freshman basketball coach.

After a year as freshman coach and two years directing the junior varsity, he was named the varsity coach. He's been in that post ever since. When the Firebirds open up tonight against Father Judge in a tournament at Council Rock South, it will mark the beginning of his 31st season with the varsity. And what a successful run it has been.

Chapman's teams have won a pair of PIAA championships, reached the state's final four eight times, won nine District 1 Class AAA championships and 17 Bicentennial League crowns, including last season.

"In college, I thought I'd like to get into coaching," recalled the 54-year-old Chapman, a baseball player when he was at La Salle. "I was asked to coach the freshman team, but the principal had to create a teaching position for me. In those days, you had to be a teacher to be a coach."

His first varsity team was 23-7. He has more than 400 victories to his credit and just three losing seasons. He has no plans of stepping down.

Chapman says he and the game have changed over his tenure, and he doesn't like the direction some basketball programs have gone.

"I like to think that as I get older, I've gotten smarter," he said. "I'm calmer and wiser. I do a lot less yelling.

"Unfortunately, in the last five years or so, I've seen some crazy attitudes in the game. Some people think they can use any means to get a player."

Although Holy Ghost is a private school, Chapman said the school does no recruiting to get athletes. Did he ever think of coaching at a higher level?

Chapman says he eventually came to the realization that that lifestyle wouldn't suit him. He enjoys not only coaching but teaching world history at Holy Ghost, where he also is the disciplinarian.

"Academically, this school doesn't take second place to anyone," he said. "I'll match our academics against any school.

"Then, there's the sense of community that we've established here. There is not an outside world for me. This is my world."

That sense of community is very evident on the basketball team. Jason Fisher and Gary Nolan, two of Chapman's former players, serve as his assistants.

Chapman has some strict rules regarding dress and behavior for the basketball team. They are posted on the school's Web site.

"He's probably a little more mellow now," noted Fisher, who played for Catholic University after graduating from Holy Ghost in 1995. "He's a humble man. Sometimes it's hard for players to get to know him, but he cares for everyone."

Fisher has been impressed by Chapman's ability to change his team's style of play to fit the personnel.

"He's very methodical," Fisher said. "Practices are always well planned. He's always going to coaching clinics to improve himself."

Current junior Mike Byrne, who figures to make the Firebirds a strong contender for another Bicentennial championship, can relate to all sides of Chapman.

"He's quiet generally, but he can get emotional," Byrne said.

"He can overwhelm some kids," said John Glenn, another member of the 2008-09 team, "but the players love him."

Contact staff writer Don Beideman at 610-696-2652 or dbeideman@phillynews.com.