Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Martelli On Ellen Ryan's Retirement At St. Joe's: "It's Like The Hawk Died"

(Guru's note. This post is some reaction on St. Joseph's associate athletic director Ellen Ryan's decision to retire next month after a career that started on Hawk will with her being the first women's coach. The announcement from the university is on the post below this, which occurred Tuesday and the Guru was in a courtroom waiting to see if he would be picked for jury duty -- din't happen again but thanks to the wonders of iPad technology.. And several posts down are some statistics the Guru derived from the summer league. Directly above is your nightly WNBA roundup. More reaction on Ryan to come as we go along the next several weeks.)

By Mel Greenberg

Theresa Grentz. Rene Portland. Jim Foster. Geno Auriemma. Muffet McGraw. Patty Coyle. Stephanie V. Gaitley. Cindy Griffin.

Some of them have become Women’s Basketball and/or Naismith Basketball Hall of Famers, while others still have that accolade potentially ahead in their careers.

But there are two things the aforementioned group all have in common – their coaching backgrounds are traced to St. Joseph’s University and associate athletic director Ellen Ryan, who was the very first women’s basketball coach on Hawk Hill

Ryan will be retiring next month after a long career as the university campus grew from a tiny space to a sprawling metropolis off City Ave. on the border with Montgomery County.

Ryan had the sign off on all of them as hires and in the case of Auriemma, the coach of the powerful UConn women, and McGraw, who now coaches Notre Dame and was a recent Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer inductee, as well as Coyle, a former WNBA coach now an assistant at Pittsburgh, all got their starts as assistants on Hawk Hill.

Gaitley, who now coaches Fordham, was also an assistant and a head coach for St. Joseph’s. Portland went on to a long career of success at Colorado and Penn State, while Grentz moved on to Rutgers and Illinois before retiring and taking a position at Immaculata, her alma mater.

Foster went on after Hawk Hill to long stints first at Vanderbilt and currently at Ohio State.

McGraw was also on the team that Ryan coach.

St. Joseph’s made Ryan’s retirement official in an announcement Tuesday, which is posted on the Guru’s blog below this.

But upon learning the news of the then-impending announcement a few weeks ago the Guru ventured out to St. Joseph’s to capture some reaction from those who know her best. More reaction will be posted as it arrives the next several weeks.

Hawks men’s coach Phil Martelli offered some perspective in his own humorous way while also being serious.

“This is a city that treasures it’s traditions, whether it’s soft pretzels, water ice, or the Mummers,” Martelli said.

“Ellen Ryan is synonymous with St. Joseph’s University, and the day she told me she was retiring, I almost felt like the Hawk had died. And you know that’s sacrilegious around here.

“But she has seen the growth of this university; She’s seen the growth of women’s basketball at this university; and she has been a great Hawk and she will always be a great Hawk and I am sure she will not fly far from the nest.”

Women’s basketball operations director and former player Katie (nee Curry) Gardler spoke of the emotions she felt hearing the news of Ryan’s intentions:

“When I found out almost a week ago I was so shocked that my eyes kind of teared up because she’s been here since the beginning of our whole tradition. She is the epitome of what we are doing here,” said Gardler, who played for Foster in the late 1980s and early 1990s, plus one year under Gaitley.

“She was here when we were with (Jim) Foster and she was here those years when we went on to make a run in he NCAAs – Jim started it all and she was right by our side and as I grew up I found out, wow, she was the first coach, she was the first coach who ever stood on that floor. And to see her go, I don’t have words. It’s actually gut wrenching.

“I don’t want to see her go. I wish I hope there is something I don’t know about that she is going to come back and still be around the program because we need her.”

Cindy Griffin, a former player who is the current women’s basketball coach, noted, “I’ve been around St. Joe’s for a long time but Ellen’s been here since the start. Women’s athletics – first coach – she’s an icon, she really is. She was able to hire the next generation of coaches, she’s picked some really good ones and got the program off the ground and kind of kept it as her baby.

“She’s going to be greatly missed. You could always count on her to be around and give you some sound advice. She’s seen the growth of this university the last 37-38 years. It’s been enormous and she’s had a lot to do with that growth.”

Athletic director Don DiJulia has been on Hawk Hill almost as long as Ryan and spoke of her longtime in the department over the years.

“I first met Ellen Ryan when I arrived on the job as a new athletic director at St. Joe’s in 1976,” he said. “Ellen had started three years previous as the first women’s administrator and coach in the department after we went co-ed.

“So we’ve had a long professional relationship and have become close friends over the years,” DiJulia continued.

“My first remembering stories on Ellen is about who’s this new staff member I was going to be working with – I didn’t know her even though I knew her brother Joe, being a basketball legend.

“They said she was really a great basketball player back in the half-court days; accomplished tennis player and her favorite tennis partner is Mattie Goukas (former St. Joseph’s men’s star and former NBA 76ers coach).

“And I said, `Oh, I know Matt and we have something in common, then.’

“And she’s since played tennis with Chris Evert and Charles Barkley during the days, so she certainly had a storied athletic career.

“But certainly I couldn’t have found a better person to begin breaking me into the St. Joe culture because the people here got to know her and respect her in a short period of time, so that was easy for me to transition in.

“And that was back in the day when I think there were four of us in the dept. who were non-coaches Andy Doc (the late sports information director the legendary Andy Dougherty, the father of Temple’s Larry Dougherty), Mike Conway (Equipment manager), Ellen and myself and that was it.

“So it was a nice quiet place and a lot has changed since over the years. Hopefully in retirement she’ll get over the fear of flying. And yet it never stopped her from going to a key major women’s event.

“She always made the commitment to support the team and support the kids.

“And she made that sacrifice of wanting to fly because that was the only way to get there and she put being there for the kids and coaches ahead of her fear of flying.

“And that kind of categorized the way she was always ready to help anybody. She has a keen sense of humor. And in her first big game against Immaculata – we were 9-2 that first year and we got smashed by Immaculata.

“But then she was our key in hiring our second sport coach in field hockey then tennis. So we’ve been together for some 37 years and she’s going to be missed because she made her mark.

“Certainly she’s been in a sports family. And they’ve always given her credit for being the best athlete in the family and from that time on when women didn’t compete regularly back in the day she was ahead of her time.

“So now she’s no more playing tennis and aiming to be an accomplished golf player. But I’m sure she could write a book, some of which can’t be written. But she’s been a key part of a storied history of St. Joseph’s sports.”

-- Mel


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