Brendan Nolan had resigned himself to the fact that he probably wouldn't be coaching high school basketball again. With 15 years of coaching at the junior varsity level, 11 seasons with the Cheltenham boys and four with the girls, Nolan spent the 2011-12 season working the clock and the door on game days, deciding it was time to step down from a coaching role.
He had "made peace" with his decision, acknowledging that it was getting tougher as his children got older.
Then longtime girls' head coach Bob Schaefer retired after 750 wins and 31 seasons.
After the announcement, it only took Nolan a "day or two" to get his "fire back."
The self-described "Cheltenham guy," who himself played for the school, is confident that he is the "right guy for the job."
And what a job it is.
Nolan steps into a coaching position rife with tradition, as the Panthers have won two state titles, the most recent in 2007, and have 16 1,000-point scorers in the history of the program, including three in the last five years. The Panthers have won four District 1 championships and 24 Suburban One League American titles, including four in a row.
"Cheltenham holds a big legacy," senior Seraiah Robinson said. "Traditionally, we are a great team that has had a lot of great players, and we have to keep the tradition alive."
Beyond the retirement of Schaefer, the Panthers are also dealing with the graduation of Ciara Andrews, who averaged 22.6 points a game last season, the best of any player in the area.
This 2012-13 squad is young, with many players getting their first experience playing or starting varsity.
Sabrina Casseus, a senior who also played under Schaefer, described the way Nolan runs practice as "different" and a "change for the better," saying that a shake-up was needed because it's a new year with a very different group of personnel.
While the Panthers (1-3) have gone through some growing pains early this season, Casseus, Robinson, and Nolan have already seen significant improvement since their opening game.
"It's exciting," Robinson said. "I think we have a lot of potential.
"This isn't a throwaway season."
Using qualities Schaefer taught him, like working with his players to fill them in on their appropriate roles or knowing which kids to push and which kids to limit, Nolan knows what he wants this new era of Cheltenham basketball to look like.
"I know what I want it to look like on defense. I know what I want it to look like on offense," Nolan said. "My goal is to get to that point, and if that gets us to 15, 20, or eight wins, then it gets us what it gets us. When we are at that point, I know that we've done what I want. That is short term and long term."
Schaefer was in the stands last Friday at the Panthers' home opener, watching as they earned their first win of the season.
"Knowing Schaef, he'll just kind of sit back and let things happen," Nolan said. "He's not shouting at our defense telling us to slide, although I'm sure in his head that's what he's doing, because that's what I would be doing."
Nolan doesn't like doing the same routine during practice every day, even if that means just changing the order of the drills. But there's probably one piece of housekeeping that has become repetitive for the Panthers that Nolan wouldn't mind taking part in: adding another banner to the already crowded collection that hangs in the Cheltenham gym.
The Inquirer TOP 10
Last week's rankings in parentheses.
1. Spring-Ford (2) 3-1
2. Episcopal Acad. (NR) 6-0
3. Notre Dame (10) 4-0
4. North Penn (9) 3-0
5. Prep Charter (5) 2-0
6. Villa Maria Acad. (6) 2-1
7. Arch. Wood (8) 1-1
8. Arch. Carroll (1) 1-1
9. Cardinal O'Hara (3) 0-2
10. C.R. South (4) 2-2
Under consideration (listed alphabetically): Downingtown West (3-2), Methacton (4-1), Mount St. Joseph (3-1).
- Kate Harman