With rift settled, Phelan readies for 39th season

November 18, 1992|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Staff Writer

When a basketball coach is entering his 39th season at the same school, a sense of normalcy would be all but taken for granted. But at Mount St. Mary's, the players consider the status quo to be a blessing after the events surrounding coach Jim Phelan two weeks ago.

"The first day of practice, it was like, 'Wow, what's going on here?' " senior guard Kevin Booth said of a disagreement between Phelan and school president Robert Wickenheiser over whether Phelan should step down after this season.

"Something had come up that we shouldn't have to concern ourselves with," Booth said. "But it's settled down now."

Wickenheiser settled the rift by giving in and pledging his support to Phelan through next season.

"It was just a misunderstanding, and it has been straightened out," Phelan said yesterday. "We're all going to get it behind us and move on. "I don't expect this to come up again now or later."

Phelan, 63, is under contract until age 70, but Wickenheiser exercised a clause in the agreement that said if either party felt the time was ripe for a move, it was a matter of informing the other.

"For some reason, somebody must think I don't know when enough is enough," Phelan said. "I will know when that time comes."

Phelan needs seven victories to become the eighth coach in the history of college basketball to win 700 games. He ranks third among active coaches, behind Clarence "Big House" Gaines and Dean Smith.

The players were caught off guard by the controversy as they began preparations to try to turn around a program that has a combined 14-41 record the past two years, Phelan's worst in consecutive seasons.

They are well aware of the milestone that Phelan is approaching.

"Of course, we want to win for ourselves, but one of the top things on our list is to get that 700th for somebody like Coach," Booth said.

Phelan said he is upbeat about his new team, which has an influx of guards to help cure the ball-handling problems that undermined the Mount last season.

Phelan said: "I don't feel any undue pressure [to win]. Not at all. I don't think I have to win a specific number of games."

He said he expects the full-fledged support of the administration.

"It's been an interesting couple of weeks in which a few things had to be clarified," Phelan said. "I'm looking forward to this season and as many in the future as I'd like to keep coaching."

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