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Thursday, February 19, 2009
Updated: March 3, 9:41 PM ET
X's and O's with Jack Curran

By Jared Zwerling
Special to

In his 51 years at the helm of Archbishop Molloy High School (Queens, N.Y.), coach Jack Curran has won more than 900 games (a New York state record), captured five Catholic League city titles, been inducted into nine Hall of Fames and, best yet, helped 475 young men receive athletic scholarships -- including eight All-Americans such as Kenny Smith, Kenny Anderson and Kevin Joyce. During his run, Scholastic Coach Magazine named Curran coach of the year 22 times and coach of the century. He also owns a treasure chest full of accolades as the school's baseball coach, amassing more than 1,600 wins and 17 city championships.

Jack Curran
Legendary coach Jack Curran started his career as a salesman.

An All Hallows High School (Bronx, N.Y.) graduate and former professional baseball player, Curran came to Molloy in 1958 after reading in a local newspaper that the school's coach, Lou Carnesecca, was headed to St. John's University. Since following in the footsteps of the celebrated Carnesecca, Curran has inspired roughly 40 of his former players to join the sideline profession.

Still fit and healthy like the teenagers he coaches, one thing you'll never hear him preach about is pension benefits.

"If you ask me, we're not going to allow him to retire. No way," says Molloy's athletic director, Michael McCleary. "When he wants to retire, we'll figure out a way to make him come in every day." sat down with Curran. Prepare to get schooled.

RISE: What do you credit your success and longevity to, being in the game for 51 years? When you look back on it, what has helped you get to the next step every year and keep going?
Curran: Doing what you enjoy doing. I've always enjoyed working with young people, teaching them basketball or baseball -- two sports that I love. We had good stability in our program here. I just think our success has been based mostly on the type of players we've had over the years. We had a run of 30 years or so where we had outstanding players. They were very willing to work hard and do what they had to do to become successful. It makes the job a lot easier. It's not really a tough job -- it's fun.

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RISE: It also keeps you young, too, when you're coaching teenagers.
Curran: Yeah, as long as you have good rapport with them, which we've always had. We've had good relationships with our players. We're not as overbearing as we were 30 years ago because now the kids are a little more -- you don't like to say softer, but they're almost treated with "chick love" since they were born. They get everything they want. So to get them to do everything you want them to do, you have to be tactful about it, you know.

RISE: When you were transitioning into coaching, who were some of your influences in the coaching world?
Curran: Well, at that time, I had to take a big cut in pay, but it didn't matter because this is what I wanted to do. I felt I would be happier doing this. The guys that I used to go and watch included Frank McGuire. He was my coach at St. John's. I always admired him and my high school coach, Dick King. I kind of respected a lot of the high school coaches who were in the business for a long time. The college coaches at the time who I admired were guys like Adolph Rupp, Kenny Loeffler, Joe Lapchick. I mean, those guys were icons.

RISE: When you started coaching, did you pattern your style after any of your role models, whether it be X's and O's strategies or off-the-court mental preparation tactics?
Curran: Most of the stuff I was interested in was how they worked with their teams, not so much their plays or their offenses or their defenses -- just how they related to their teams and the system that they used, what they required of their team, the sayings they used sometimes -- just how they formed a good program and how they ran them. As far as the X's and O's, the only ones of those that I really talked about were with Lou because he had just left here.

I went out to see him and I said, "Lou, what are they doing down here that's so and so, what are they doing against the press, what are they doing against man-to-man -- stuff like that." Lou would grab out his pad and diagram stuff. I still have some of the stuff here.

He was a great student of the game because he worked Clair Bee's camp for three summers -- like eight weeks every summer he'd spend the whole time up there. Clair Bee always had guest coaches come in from all over the country -- the top coaches like Press Maravich and Loeffler. They'd come in and lecture, and Lou would take notes. He taught himself everything about the game. He was probably the greatest student of the game I ever met. I think Bobby Knight is probably right up there now.

RISE: Who was the best player you coached and why?
Curran: The most dominant player we ever had was Kevin Joyce. He was fabulous. He was great in practice every day. Probably the most exciting was Kenny Anderson. He could do anything with a basketball. Probably the most skilled was Billy Lawrence. He played in 1961. He's retired and lives in Florida now. I think if you picked one game, the guy who could control the game more was Kevin. We've had a lot of great players. It's hard to pick one.

Jack Curran
Curran has coached Molloy's basketball team to more than 900 wins and the baseball team to more than 1,600 wins.

RISE: How about the best player you coached against?
Curran: The guy who could control the game the most was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar [at New York City's Power Memorial High School]. I mean, it was impossible to get a shot off inside the foul line against him. He totally changed the game. You had to play a totally different game against him. So it would have to be him. In this gym here, the best performance I saw offensively put on was in a scrimmage game by Roger Brown [at Brooklyn's Wingate High School] who later played for the Pacers.

RISE: Obviously kids now are much more technologically driven. They are so adept at getting information at their fingertips and the athletes, especially during the recruiting process, are able to interact more with other players, coaches, etc. electronically. How do you, as an older coach, stay close to your kids, keep them grounded and maintain a relationship with them?
Curran: Well, it's tougher. At one time, you were the main guy. At that time, I was here from 7 in the morning until 7 at night teaching classes all day, so you had them in class and they related to you a little better than they do now. Now, I'm just in coaching and they're on two or three teams in the summer, travel teams with different coaches and they get influenced by a lot of different people.

So the kids are listening to a lot of voices. A lot of times even their parents are more involved. Naturally parents are going to be more involved with their own children and concerned about them, whereas we try to blend their child in with 11 or 12 other guys on the team. It makes it more difficult. I think the kids are a little more self-concerned than they used to be. At one time, it was more of a team concept. You still get it, but it's not as natural or as easy.

RISE: How much, in your mind, has the business of high school basketball changed? There are more tournaments, there are more AAU teams, there are more sneaker contracts.
Curran: There's too much of that stuff. I think it's overdone. I think they do too much traveling when they can play against good competition just around here. There are too many AAU guys out there who want to latch onto the kids and get them to do everything they want them to do, and tell them where they should go to college. I think it's a little more difficult for the kid to figure out who's in their best interest because they're young. Eventually they see the light. Most of them know I'm in their corner completely and I will help them. As long as you're out there trying to help them, I think you can get anything out of them.

RISE: How have you seen the game itself change through the years?
Curran: It's less team-oriented and has more athleticism, more individual skill. It's a little more difficult to get them to pass the ball. Passing is kind of a lost art. When you see somebody who can pass, you get pretty excited because they're all looking to be this high scorer and things like that. Not all, but a lot of them. The game has changed. Mainly you see it more on the varsity levels when they get a lot of good physical athletes. They're amazingly talented. It's hard to say they shouldn't look to score because they're so athletic. But there has to be a team concept where they trust each other, have faith in each other and play with one goal in mind, which is to try and play better than the other team. We keep working on it and trying to drill it into them.

RISE: When your kids are getting noticed by colleges for their talents, is there any part of the recruiting process that you prefer not to deal with?
Curran: Well, there are so many guys now -- we were talking about computers before -- with these online services, putting kids' names on the computers as the best sixth grader or best seventh grader in the country, or the world. They list players from all over the place as the best. I mean, it's kind of crazy. They should just leave the kids alone and let them grow into their own games and go to the schools they want to go to. I think there should be no recruiting on this level and the kids who want to come to your school should be the ones that you coach. I think it would be a much better game.

RISE: What were some of the reasons you continued coaching on the high school level for so long, rather than jumping to college or the pros?
Curran: Oh, I watch these great college coaches now, like Norm Roberts, Mike Krzyzewski, Jay Wright and Bobby Knight when he was coaching. You wonder how they do it. I don't know how they do it. It's a difficult job. I don't think people realize how tough it is. The coaching itself is enough. But the recruiting has got to be unbelievable. The travel they have to do, the things they have to do. And then they have to promote the game in their communities. I mean, it's a very difficult job these guys have and I don't think I'd want any part of it.

RISE: How much education do you involve in your coaching, like making them aware of other career opportunities in sports?
Curran: Oh, we get involved with a lot of that. Actually, after the kids get out of here, I kind of redirect them to people. The networking is so important. I have a lot of friends involved in a lot of different businesses and kind of direct them to the right guy who might help them out. Like Joe Brown who's been with the NFL since he got out of college. He played here. He's an [executive vice president of communications and public affairs] there. He's been there his whole life. Matt Bourne is a public relations [vice president] with Major League Baseball. He was with the NBA and he left there for the MLB last spring. We have guys in a lot of fields like that who are willing to talk to any of the kids we send them.

RISE: The New York Catholic High School Athletic Association is considered the top league nationally in high school basketball. Why do you think that is?
Curran: Early on, when I first came here, I think the public school league had the better athletes overall. They had some tremendous athletes. I would say it just kept gradually growing where a lot of those youngsters who normally would have played in the public school league started coming to the Catholic schools, because their opportunities seemed better out of these schools. Educationally, their opportunities were better because there was no danger of them being harassed in any way. The environment was a lot better for them, so the people involved with them wanted them to come to these types of private schools where they could be playing their game and getting a good formal education at the same time, with people being totally interested in them. The benefit of one of these schools is you can totally get involved with the youngster overall.

Jack Curran Court
Curran was honored with a permanent place at Molloy.

I think gradually a lot of those youngsters have drifted into our programs where now it's kind of balanced out, even though the public schools are still very good. I think it's a much more difficult job coaching in the public schools than it is in our schools because there are too many distractions. In these schools, there are no distractions, there are no disciplinary problems.

RISE: Do you enjoy watching playground basketball in the city?
Curran: School yard stuff? No, I wouldn't go. I remember I went up to Clair Bee's sports camp and the pros used to put on a game for that fella, Maurice Stokes, who played for St. Francis College who died [from a brain injury after hitting his head on the court during a game]. Jack Twyman kind of adopted him and used to raise money for him.

Then the camp had a high school all-star game. I remember I was in Clair Bee's office, because I was going to watch that game, and I said to him, "Coach, aren't you going to come down and watch the game? It's right down the hill on your own property here." He said, "Nah, that's just another pickup game" [laughs]. So basically that's what they are -- just pickup games, like at West 4th St. and Rucker Park. They're just showboating games. People like to watch them. The kid on the Knicks would like them -- the little guy, Nate Robinson. He's terrific. He would love those games. I watched him hang on the rim last night and I said, "He would love the Rucker."

RISE: The fashion styles have changed so much in basketball. Do the players ever get on you and say, "Hey, Jack, you should put on a chain or some baggy shorts?" Do the players have fun with you with that kind of stuff?
Curran: If I did anything different, they would like that [laughs]. Like if I came out with a diamond earring on, they would go crazy. Because I always ask them about that stuff.

RISE: Have you picked up any slang lingo from the kids?
Curran: I have my own lingo. I don't know if the kids understand half of it [laughs].

RISE: Do you have a motto or catch phrase you like to use with the kids?
Curran: No, I just have different sayings I come up with. I write a lot of stuff down. I sometimes give them a little saying for the day. I do like "those that matter don't mind, and those that mind don't matter." So you can't worry about others.

RISE: Through the years, your name has graced many awards and honors. What's been one of the most unique ones you've received that made you say, "Wow, I didn't see that coming"?
Curran: The box of clementines that came in today for me [laughs].

RISE: [laughs] You should sign each one and give them to your kids. So, last question, how much longer do you see yourself coaching?
Curran: I don't know. Depends on my legs. My friend Dave Slattery was a bartender and he told me, "I'm retiring." I said, "What are you retiring for?" He said, "My legs are gone and I can't do it anymore." I thought it was strange. He was like 60 years old. He was too young to retire, but he said he couldn't do that running up and down the bar anymore. It depends on my health.

Jared Zwerling covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.