Q & A with Pat Deegan

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During Pat Deegan’s first year as the Fairfax High School girls’ basketball coach, the team has earned a place in the Washington Post Top 20, and was runner-up in the Westfield Bulldog Bash tournament. This season’s successes are only the most recent triumphs in a long career for Deegan. Deegan retired from coaching the Westfield Bulldogs in 2012, but came out of retirement this year to coach the Rebels, replacing Marcus Konde. Rebel Roar caught up with Deegan and talked about his career, this season’s success and what it was like coaching FHS director of student activities, Nancy Melnick.

Pat Deegan is in his first season as the Fairfax girls' basketball head coach. (Photo by Anushka Annonti)

Pat Deegan is in his first season as the Fairfax girls’ basketball head coach. (Photo by Anushka Annonti)

Q: What schools have you coached at other than FHS?

A: I started my career at Bishop O’Connell in Arlington, then moved over to James Madison, Westfield High School and now here. [In] the three previous schools I also taught social studies.

Q: How did you first get into coaching?

A: I was in college and a junior varsity boys’ team at O’Connell needed a couple of coaches,
and I’d actually graduated from there. I liked basketball and I just really enjoyed it a lot and got the bug and I’ve been coaching ever since.

Q: Did you play basketball?

A: I wasn’t the greatest, but I played it and loved playing.

Q: What levels did you play?

A: Just high school.

Q: Did you always want to be a basketball coach?

A: No, not at all. Like I said, I loved the game and I loved to play it but I never really gave it any thought until that year; it was 1973. After the season was over, all of a sudden the light bulb went on and I knew that was something I liked to do.

Q: What do you think is your greatest achievement as a coach?

A: I don’t really think of anything that occurred as being my achievement. I guess the thing I’m most pleased with is this is the 33rd year I’ve coached a varsity basketball team and I still enjoy going to practice. I have a lot of fun going to practice, so maybe that would be my greatest achievement, per se.

Q: What is your fondest memory of coaching?

A: Again, over 33 years, there’s a whole bunch of them. Maybe the 1993 season at James Madison. We lost a few kids from the previous year’s graduation. We stumbled in the state quarterfinals and we sort of turned things around and went 28-2 and won our second state championship over there. What was great about that season was that all the kids, more so than any other team that I’ve coached before or after, all sort of learned their role. They weren’t all necessarily the greatest of friends but they all learned to respect each other and learned that if, you know, I do my thing and trust the kid next to me to do her thing, we’ll have a pretty good team. By the end of the year they were all working like a finely tuned engine. They all knew where they were supposed to be. They all knew what they could and couldn’t do. It was just fun being on the bench and watching that happen.

Q: What do you feel is the most rewarding thing about coaching?

A: Every year, it’s pretty much the same thing: seeing kids start off at point A and, as the year goes on, progressing every month in terms of becoming a better team. That’s really rewarding. Probably equally as rewarding is running into kids years afterwards and reminiscing about what happened in their particular season. That’s really nice too.

Q: If you could be anything other than a coach, what would you be and why?

A: That’s a tough one because I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve done, teaching and coaching. I guess if I were to do something else, maybe running for political office. Just because I’m a big windbag. I know more than everyone else; at least I think I do (laughs). So that would be the perfect spot for me because of everyone else doing that. That’s their spot.

Q: You were retired before you came to Fairfax. What persuaded you to come out of retirement and come back to coaching at FHS?

A: The first year, I was pretty tired in retirement so I was just enjoying the things that I couldn’t do for the previous 32 years. Last year, I started going back to some basketball games. I started watching basketball games, started going to some games and sort of made a note in my head that if certain jobs opened up maybe I’d be interested in trying to apply for one. Fairfax happened to be on that short list. I’ve always sort of felt like Fairfax is a little bit like Madison or Herndon. Even though you have over 2,000 kids here, it sort of has a small school feel, which I also really enjoyed when I was at Madison. The other thing is the administrators in particular: your principal, Mr. Goldfarb, and your director of student activities (DSA), Nancy Melnick. I thought it would be great to work for them. In fact, Coach Melnick was on the first varsity basketball team I ever coached. [With] the opportunity to have the table turn, so to speak, and so far it has been that way, I thought it would be a lot of fun.

Q: Have you enjoyed your time here so far?

A: Oh, it’s been a blast. The kids have been great. They’ve worked really, really hard. They’ve been very patient with me. Coach Konde did great, great things but everyone is different. They have their own signatures so I’m tweaking and changing a little bit.
They’ve just been willing to move in a slightly different direction and work just as hard as they worked previously and so it’s been fun.

Q: Do you have any secret to success in coaching, from the championships at Madison and turning from being an average team last year into number 18 in the Post Top 20?

A: I think they were good last year, to be candid with you. There wasn’t anybody on that short list that I didn’t think was good. Whatever they’ve accomplished this year came about as a result of their previous years both in the wintertime, spring and the summer efforts. That doesn’t turn overnight; that takes a long time to build. The one thing I’ve always felt like is a strength of mine is that I always feel like every team that I’ve been associated with has had good athletes and if we could just find out what it was, the path that we’re supposed to follow, offense, defense, that best matches our abilities in that particular year, then we can win. That’s a strength and a curse. It’s a strength because I go into every game feeling like, and I prepare every practice feeling like, this will be the day that we’re going to turn the corner and we’re going to be a really good team. On the other side, every time we lose I’m crushed.

Melnick comes in the room and her and Deegan joke about old times, mentioning a game against Washington and Lee High School, which Deegan says was “pretty interesting.”

Q: How was Nancy Melnick as a player?

A: Very good. Just like she is as a [director of student activities] here. She’s a people person. She’s got unbridled enthusiasm. She’s a kindred spirit with me in that she never looks at a situation in a glass and sees it half-empty. She’s always half-full. In fact, for her it was three-quarters. That’s the way she was as a player. That’s why we’re laughing. She played for me for two years and we have a lifetime of stories to tell over those two years.

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