We keep waiting for an easy list to do. Now three weeks in, it seems they only get harder.
Today we’re doing the top 10 boys basketball coaches, and when you look at the success Northeast Philadelphia has had over the years in this sport, it’s almost impossible to break it down.
In this sport, more than any other maybe, you see coaches who haven’t won championships turn in great performances year in and year out.
It’s also a tough list to do because it’s a sport we’ve been good at in the past and are still very good at it today. And there’s little reason to think that if two of the men who have enjoyed so much success recently won’t be at the top of this list the next time we do it.
Our teams are always among the best in the Public League, it’s why we’ve had so much success in the postseason over the years.
And don’t forget how competitive the Catholic League Northern Division was. The playoffs were usually a four team party that included six teams – Father Judge, Archbishop Ryan, Cardinal Dougherty, North Catholic, La Salle and Archbishop Wood – battling it out for the four spots. And while the coaches had great athletes to work with, a lot of the success, year in and year out, came from the guy sitting on the bench.
So let’s break it down, these are the top 10 boys basketball coaches over the past 25 years. Again, as long as you coached a team since 1997, you get credit for everything your teams did during your career.
1. Mark Heimerdinger
The demonstrative coach put on a show wherever he went, and he did so by turning average basketball players into good ones and great ones into superstars.
Heimerdinger four times led Cardinal Dougherty to the Catholic League championship game, then after spending years at the Catholic school, he moved on to be the coach and athletic director at Fels, where he guided them to some memorable seasons.
Retired from coaching and teaching in 2020, but not before winning 546 games, which ranks sixth all time in city history.
Two of his prodigies were Kyle Lowry and Cuttino Mobley, who both went on to NBA fame. Might have the largest coaching tree of anyone out there, as many of his former players have stayed in the game and followed in his footsteps.
2. Bill Fox
Remember how tough it was for us to decide between soccer coaches George Todt and Jerry Brindisi? This one might have been even closer.
The second legendary coach on the list was the face of Father Judge basketball and nobody had his team more prepared to play.
Fox led the Crusaders to three Catholic League championships during his career, and he also racked up the wins, coming in one spot behind Heimerdinger in wins in city history.
A classy coach who also taught accounting. The gym at Judge was named in his honor.
Sadly passed away last year after a long battle with ALS.
3. Joe Zeglinski
The Raiders have been arguably one of the best and most consistent teams in the city since Zeglinski took over the program prior to the 2015 season. Every year it seems his squad gets better, and if he quit today, he’d have quite the resume.
He’s led his team to the Catholic League semifinals five times during his seven years. This year was the first time he guided the Raiders to the Catholic League championship game.
Zeglinski has also had success at the state level, leading Ryan to the state championship game a year ago, and three times advanced to the state quarterfinals.
Despite the incredibly tough league, Ryan should be one of the top teams in the years to come.
Was one of the top players during his days at Ryan, and went on to star at Hartford.
4. Jamel Lindsey
If you haven’t paid attention, you might not know this, but Lincoln is consistently one of the best teams in the Public League, and just like Zeglinski does with Ryan, Lindsey has a lot to do with the Railsplitters’ success.
Lincoln has been to three straight Public League championships. They’ve lost to Imhotep Charter, which is one of the top teams in the state, every year.
Lincoln produces top basketball players, and the reason the Railsplitters have found so much success recently is because of their defense. That is Lindsey’s forte.
While he wasn’t the head coach, he was the lead assistant in 2018 when Lincoln made the 6A state championship against Roman Catholic, a team the Railsplitters beat for the city championship. Roman won the rematch.
5. Vince Miller
While he hasn’t coached since 1998, it’s impossible to leave Miller off this list because he was the best basketball coach in Frankford history, winning 351 games and two Public League championships during his coaching career.
Three times Miller, who was teammates with Wilt Chamberlain at Overbrook High School, guided the Pioneers to the Public League championship game, and twice his teams emerged victorious. Two other times his team made the Public League semifinals. His Pioneers made the quarterfinals five other times.
Spent 27 years as Frankford’s coach. Like Judge did with Fox, the gym at Frankford is named after Miller.
6. Bernie Rogers
It didn’t matter who was on his team, you didn’t want to play the Raiders when Rogers was on the bench. He won 212 games over 15 seasons while twice leading Ryan to the Catholic League championship game.
Rogers’ teams rarely had the talent to compete with the top teams in the Catholic League, but that didn’t stop him from giving top teams fits, both during the regular season and especially during the postseason.
Ran the Princeton-style offense. His best players during his 15 years were current coach Zeglinski and Rogers’ younger brother, Andrew, who is now coaching at Council Rock South.
Since leaving Ryan, he’s found success coaching Haverford School in the Inter-Ac.
7. Mike McCarron
Shortly before North Catholic closed, the school had a very successful basketball team and that was thanks to McCarron, who guided the Falcons to a 105-77 record over seven seasons. He stepped down to deal with an ill family member before the final year of North Catholic basketball.
Before he stepped down, he guided North to a Catholic League championship, besting Rogers and Archbishop Ryan in the championship game.
Ended up being the second-winningest coach in North history.
A North grad who was a star point guard before graduating. Later went on to play at Eastern, where he was an NAIA all-American.
8. Ben Dubin
He wasn’t head coach long, but after being an assistant to Bernie Handler and helping Frankford reach a Public League championship game, Dubin was even more successful as a head coach.
He spent five years at the helm, going 96-32 from 2006 to 2010, including an incredible 63-7 in Public League play.
Dubin went 8-5 in the postseason, and led the Pioneers to a state playoff win.
Had a less successful stint as the head coach at Fels earlier in the decade.
Serves as the athletic director at Frankford, and is the Public League boys basketball moderator.
9. Sean Tait
The two things that made Tait such a great coach were his ability to teach and his undying love for Father Judge.
Tait didn’t have the best record, but it’s hard to say there were many better coaches during his days at Judge. Despite having less talent than many of its foes, Judge was a hard out for every team it played during Tait’s tenure.
When he did have talent, like sharpshooter Marc Rodriguez, he finished fifth in the Catholic League and was selected as coach of the year.
Prior to going to his alma mater, he had success coaching Archbishop Wood. Since his baffling dismissal, he’s served as an assistant coach at Delaware Valley University.
10. Elsa Cohen
In 2022, it might not be uncommon to see a woman coach a boys team, but Cohen took over the Vikings in 1994 and did a fine job for 10 years, winning 89 games and once leading Northeast to the Public League championship game. That year, 2002, Northeast fell to all-time Public League leading scorer Maureece Rice in the title game.
Had many star players during her days, including Kyle Lowry, Steve Smith, Troy Roundtree and Chaz Crawford.
A former basketball star, Cohen was also the athletic director at Northeast.
If JV coaches counted, Bill Koch would be on here. Koch always had the young Crusaders ready to rock.
There’s been a lot of turnover over the years in boys basketball, but the number of legendary figures are plentiful.
Doing this list also got me thinking, which is the best venue to watch basketball? The two that immediately come to mind are “the Pit,” where North played its home games, and “The Looney Bin,” the student section at Cardinal Dougherty. Both gyms offered great atmospheres, but the same could be said for the two other Catholic schools, Judge and Ryan, especially if you’re lucky enough to get tickets to a game involving both schools.
The Public League has great gyms, too. Lincoln hosts a lot of the state games, and Northeast and Frankford are great gyms, especially when packed.