Franklin & Marshall men’s basketball coach Glenn Robinson announced his retirement from coaching this week. Robinson, the head coach of the Diplomats for 48 years and the NCAA Division III all-time wins leader, said in a college-issued news release, “I am retiring because I believe it is the right time.” He will take on other administrative duties within the athletic department and assist with basketball operations through the remainder of the academic year.
What life has in store for us can be pretty amazing.
More than five decades ago, when a 20-something Glenn Robinson was hired as an assistant men’s basketball coach at the Lancaster college, what were the chances he thought he’d end up as the winningest coach in NCAA Division III history — with every one of those 967 victories coming at Franklin & Marshall? Especially after going 7-14 in his initial season?
And he accomplished this feat at a private liberal arts college better known for its academics than its sports teams.
“Glenn is a legendary coach and a good friend,” F&M’s Director of Athletics & Recreation, Patricia S.W. Epps, said in the release. “He has been a tremendous mentor to countless student-athletes and colleagues and set a standard of excellence that will be difficult to match.”
“A standard of excellence that will be difficult to match” is an understatement.
Robinson’s win total ranks third all-time throughout all NCAA men’s college basketball divisions, behind only Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (1,132) and Herb Magee of Division II Jefferson (1,096).
He led the Diplomats to the NCAA Division III tournament 25 times. F&M advanced to the Sweet 16 on 17 occasions and the Elite Eight in 10 postseasons.
Robinson, soon to be 75, guided the Diplomats to the Division III Final Four in 1979, 1991, 1996, 2000 and 2009 and was named Basketball Times Division III Coach of the Year in 1991 and D3hoops.com Coach of the Year in 2009. He has earned NABC and conference Coach of the Year honors 12 times.
Under Robinson, Diplomat student-athletes earned 26 All-America honors, 93 All-Conference selections, 17 Conference Player of the Year Awards and five Academic All-America certificates.
During his long tenure, all but three players who earned a varsity letter also earned a degree.
“I have been truly blessed to be able to represent such a wonderful institution, deal with such a caring group of administrators and coach such a fantastic group of young men,” Robinson said in the release.
We congratulate Robinson on his incredibly successful coaching career and are proud that he is a significant part of Lancaster County’s college sports legacy.
“I always tried to hold my players to the standard of, ‘Go as hard as you can as long as you can,’ ’’ he told LNP’s Mike Gross on his decision to retire. “I just felt like the demands of the job are such that I couldn’t hold myself to that standard anymore.’’
Robinson’s top assistant for the past seven seasons, Nick Nichay, will be the interim head coach.
Nichay coached last year’s team for 12 games while Robinson was on medical leave. “It’s exciting, but I definitely have mixed emotions,’’ Nichay told Gross. “I’m going to be who I am, but the core principles of the program will stay the same.’’
Robinson is a native of Yeadon, Delaware County, who played basketball and baseball at West Chester University. He came to F&M as an assistant basketball coach and tenure-track physical education teacher in 1968.
Three years later, he took over a basketball program that had seven straight losing seasons and had gone 4-16 the previous year. By 1975, the Diplomats qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time under Robinson. Four years later, they made the Final Four.
Among Robinson’s ex-players are Chris Finch, an assistant with the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans; Matt Steinmetz, a member of the Golden State Warriors’ broadcast team; longtime Division I college coach Donnie Marsh; Milwaukee Bucks team president Pete Feigin; Lancaster Catholic girls basketball coach Charlie Detz; and Tom Feraco, who has won 719 games and three state championships as a New Jersey high school coach.
“We only ran three plays,” Finch told Gross about his time at F&M. “It was a kind of open offense that is really the essence of the game — moving the ball, sharing it.
“He was very demanding in his own way, but he was always so prepared,” added Finch, an All-American on the 1991 team. We learned that simple things, done well, work all the time.’’
“His ability to integrate the team game with individuals was what he was great at,’’ Steinmetz told Gross.
Steinmetz, who played for Robinson from 1982-86, walked away from the squad at one point. After missing a couple of practices, he realized “what an idiot I was being,’’ and went to Robinson.
“I told him I had made a mistake,’’ Steinmetz said. “Typical Glenn, he said, ‘I’d take you back in a second, but it’s not up to me.’ ’’
The team welcomed him back. After a series of wind sprints, so did Robinson.
“Over time, I’ve gained a greater appreciation and understanding of his greatness,” Steinmetz told LNP in 2015.
Robinson told Gross he never seriously considered leaving F&M.
“If North Carolina had called, it might have been different,” he joked, “but they never did, and I wasn’t looking.’’
Though he will be a resource to his successor and former assistant Nichay, it won’t be in the gym.
“That’s how (North Carolina’s) Dean Smith and (UCLA’s) John Wooden handled it,’’ Robinson told LNP. “That seems right. I’ll stay away until it seems like the time is right. Then I’ll go to games again.’’
We wish Robinson the best as he transitions to the next phase of his life, but not seeing him on the F&M bench — where he was a fixture for so many decades — will be jarring.
It will also make us reflect even more on what this coaching giant accomplished — all in our own backyard.