It's a bittersweet feeling for Tom Lonergan, one of the winningest high school girls' basketball coaches in Southeastern Pennsylvania, as he watches his son leave his side for a head coaching job.
Tom Lonergan Jr., known as TJ, had been his father's assistant coach for the last six years, first at Central Bucks East and most recently at Gwynedd Mercy Academy. But even before that, TJ Lonergan spent countless hours tracking stats and watching film with his father while in high school.
Now, Lonergan will try to replicate the success of his mentor and father as he takes over as the girls' basketball program at Pope John Paul II.
The elder Lonergan has run up an impressive 680-262 overall record with Bishop McDevitt (1984-1999), Central Bucks East (1999-2013), and Gwynedd Mercy (2013-present). His resume includes 21 20-win seasons, four Philadelphia Catholic League championships, 11 Suburban One League titles, and one Athletic Association of Catholic Academies tournament championship.
"One thing I will miss is that we were in constant communication with each other not only throughout the seasons but also in the offseasons about basketball and non-basketball related issues," said the elder Lonergan. "This has surely helped to keep us close. I do not know of a parent that would not be proud to have this type of relationship."
Before joining his father as an assistant coach, TJ Lonergan graduated from Central Bucks South in 2009 and continued his education at the University of Pittsburgh. He graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in political science and history with a minor in economics.
"I've had so much fun coaching with my dad," Lonergan said. "It's something that's incredibly rare that you get to do. Some people like to go fishing. Some people like to go hunting, but I had this with my dad. We worked so well together."
Just like his father has done over the years, Lonergan looks to bring stability to a Pope John Paul II program that has never won a PAC-10 championship, District 1 title, or state playoff game.
"The coaching staff for Pope John Paul has kind of gone through some ups and downs," Lonergan said. "They've had a bunch of different new coaches come through. I'm hoping to lend some stability to the program."
Lonergan's coaching philosophy is one of hard work, attention to detail, and maintaining a high level of energy and enthusiasm both on and off of the court. He also plans to use the "respect all, fear none" mentality that his father used when preparing for opponents.
"He respects everybody he plays, and everybody respects him," Lonergan said of his father. "But he doesn't back down from anybody. That's something I learned from him very early on, that I need to have that drive because it pushes yourself, the players, the team, and the program to keep trying to be as best as you can."
The elder Lonergan has always been impressed with his son's keen insight into the game.
"He always loved the game and was always around the game from the very beginning," said the Gwynedd Mercy coach. "He loves the tactical side of the game and is very good at it and is constantly striving to getting even better at it. His rapport with his players is exceptional."
Pope John Paul II went 13-11 last year and lost to Radnor in the first round of the District 1 Class 5A playoffs. The Golden Panthers lost Kayla Mesaros, Grace Cobaugh, Monica Rapchinski, Julia Owens, Maria Cotellese, Colleen Morton, and Jana Cainglet to graduation.
This year's team will feature seniors Elise Sylvester and Lauren Ciuba and sophomore Kallan Bustynowitz.