Fagan Approved as Neptune Basketball Coach After O’Donnell is Not Rehired
In a surprising turn of events, long-time Neptune boys basketball coach Ken O'Donnell was not rehired by the Board of Education at Tuesday night's meeting and current Jackson Memorial head coach Joe Fagan was approved as his replacement.
Fagan, who has a 114-50 record in six seasons at Jackson, politely declined comment when reached by Shore Sports Network, saying he wanted to speak to members of the Neptune administration before speaking about the Board's decision. On Thursday, Fagan officially accepted the position to succeed O'Donnell at the helm for the Scarlet Fliers.
O'Donnell's return as coach was voted down 6-3 by the Board, which then went into a closed session. After returning to the meeting, the Board asked Neptune superintendent David Mooij if he had another candidate for approval as the head coach. Mooij then named Fagan, who was approved by a 7-0 vote with two abstentions.
Numerous supporters had rallied for the return of O'Donnell, one of the most successful coaches in Shore Conference history and the only coach in state history to lead boys and girls teams to NJSIAA Group titles. He has a career record of 570-189 between his stints with the boys and girls at Neptune and has led the boys team to four Shore Conference Tournament titles and two NJSIAA Group III titles. He is the only boys coach in Shore Conference history to lead a team to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final, which he did in 2002. Between division, holiday tournament, SCT and the state tournament, his teams have won 43 championships in his career. His four SCT titles in the last 15 years are only two less than every other public school in the Shore combined over that span.
Several people spoke on O'Donnell's behalf during the public comment part of the Board meeting, with a handful of others speaking out against him. O'Donnell, who also starred at Neptune as a point guard from 1964-68, was not present at the meeting. He had been the boys coaching for the past 23 seasons after coaching the girls from 1981-1990, winning 230 games and a Group IV title before transitioning to the boys job and winning 340 games.
O’Donnell also has served as the commissioner of the long-running Jersey Shore Basketball League and has run the high school summer league at Hoop Group Headquarters in Neptune and an outdoor summer league in Belmar.
"After hearing about everything that transpired tonight, I just want to thank all the people who supported me,'' O'Donnell said when reached afterward. "It's a tough day for the O'Donnell family because my kids grew up here and we gave everything to this school. The Board had a different agenda. It was just not the right way to be treated."
"What we hope is that people respect the decision of the Board and that we move forward as a community united," Board of Education president Jason Jones said.
The parents that spoke out against O'Donnell said their sons were not given proper playing time and assistance in securing college scholarships.
"If this is about playing time, it was always my job to play the best players in the interest of the school and the community, and that's always what I focused on doing,'' O'Donnell said.
Sources close to the situation had indicated leading up to the meeting that if O'Donnell was not re-approved, then either Keith Coleman, who was the freshman coach on O'Donnell's staff, or Neptune girls head coach John Brown would most likely then be put up for approval, making Fagan's candidacy somewhat of a surprise. Fagan has coached Jackson Memorial to three 20-win seasons and two Class A South titles and also led the Jaguars to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV final in 2012. He has presided over the best sustained stretch of success in program history.
He also helped develop multiple scholarship players, including Temple forward Jimmy McDonnell, Dartmouth forward Brandon McDonnell, Caldwell College guard Brian Kenny and Delaware-bound center Eric Carter.
Many of O'Donnell's supporters were disappointed in Tuesday's events.
"It's a ridiculous choice,'' said Randy Reynolds, a 1974 Neptune graduate, former BOE member and the president of the Red and Black booster club at Neptune. "You're going to take (Fagan) over Kenny O'Donnell, the winningest active coach in the Shore? I don't see how you can even think about doing something like that. I will be behind our sports teams, but when you've got the best, why do you go away from it? (O'Donnell) has given his life to Neptune Township."