Behind the Scenes: Jim Deegan, coach Just a half century later, his career is complete

Posted: April 24, 2006

Like any college student preparing to graduate, Jim Deegan was looking for a job. The year was 1956, and he figured to become a math or history teacher and do some coaching.

Walking down a hall at West Chester State Teachers College one day with soccer teammate Jim Oliver, Deegan was told that Mount St. Mary's College was looking for someone to fill two coaching spots, one in soccer and the other in track.

Deegan had one advantage over Oliver in that he had participated in both sports at West Chester. Oliver didn't feel qualified for the track post and decided not to apply to the college.

Deegan figured he'd give it a shot.

"I went back to my room and borrowed a car for the interview and off I went," Deegan said. Mount St. Mary's is in Emmitsburg, Md.

That was the beginning of a 50-year career with Mount St. Mary's that will officially end June 30, when Deegan retires.

His successes on the track over those 50 years have also earned Deegan a special honor from the Penn Relays, which open Thursday at Franklin Field.

Deegan has been named honorary college referee for the Relays.

Deegan got both coaching posts at Mount St. Mary's and taught physical education as well.

"At first, every [meet] was on the road in track," said Deegan, whose team later benefited from one of the first all-weather college tracks in the nation.

Over the years, Deegan, 72, has coached 100 all-Americans and 26 national champions at the NCAA Division I and II levels. Among the athletes were 11 Olympic competitors, including 1988 1,500-meter Olympic gold medalist Peter Rono.

Rono was one of five Mount athletes who competed in the Games that year in Seoul, South Korea.

The year before, Deegan's team produced 16 NCAA all-Americans and five national champions. That spring, a distance-medley relay team of Dave Lishebo, Rono, and brothers Kip and Charles Cheruiyot bettered the world record at the Penn Relays but still finished third.

"That was a great race, even though we lost," Deegan said. "There was six-tenths of a second between Villanova, Georgetown and us."

Whether it was getting a standout runner from Norway, France, Kenya, or just around the corner to go to Mount St. Mary's, Deegan seemed to have a knack. And it was all without the scholarship money that big-time track schools offered.

"We had one kid, Bill Motti, from France, who we were interested in," Deegan said. "My brother was living in Paris at the time, and I asked him to call him. His mother invited me for lunch."

So Deegan flew to France for the lunch, and the visit paid off.

Asked what he planned to do in retirement, Deegan said he's going to ski and play golf.

"There's a ski resort on my way home with a golf course behind it," said Deegan, who lives in Carroll Valley, Pa. "I make a right-hand turn about halfway home and I'm at the ski lift. From the lift, I can almost tee it up on the 18th."

Contact suburban staff writer Don Beideman at 610-701-7613 or dbeideman@phillynews.com.

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