After 44 years of coaching the men’s basketball team at Saint Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., Steve Konchalski has long been asked when he was going to stop coaching the team.
Now there’s an answer.
The university announced Thursday that the team has hired former X-Men player Tyrell Vernon to work as an associate coach for the next two seasons. The plan is for him to replace Konchalski, his former coach, in the 2021-2022 season.
“I’m going to max out those two years and enjoy every minute of it,” Konchalski said Friday.
Originally from New York, he came to Canada in 1962 to play basketball at Acadia University.
Konchalski is a coaching legend, having accumulated more than 900 career wins in pre-season, regular season, tournament and playoff games. No other Canadian university coach has ever came close to matching that feat.
Coaching longevity is something Konchalski was exposed to from his high school coach, Jack Curran, who had a strong influence on him. Curran coached for 55 years, until he was 82.
“I said there’s no way I’m going to try to match that, but at the same time, I know why he did it because he loved just working with young people just like I do,” said Konchalski.
For the past 60 years, St. FX has only had two coaches: Konchalski and John (Packy) McFarland, who coached the team for 16 years prior to Konchalski.
Konchalski said that while he’ll be retiring from St. FX, he isn’t going to stop working. He said he plans to continue working with Canada’s national basketball program, where he once was head coach of the men’s team, in an advisory capacity and is open to working with Nova Scotia’s provincial teams or coaching internationally.
He told his team this week about his decision. He said it wasn’t emotional, but he expects it to be once he finally does pass the torch in 2021.
What the coach sees in the next coach
As a coach, Konchalski is known as a player’s coach for the interest he takes in their lives, not just on the basketball court, but academically, socially and as they begin their careers. That’s why he thinks Vernon is a great fit to take over from him.
“He’s the type of person that cares about people, relates to people very, very well. You know, people of all backgrounds and I think that’s why I’m confident in his abilities,” said Konchalski.
Vernon played for St. FX for the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 seasons, and won a national bronze medal in his first season with the team. After university, he played in the National Basketball League of Canada and began coaching. Most recently, he was the head coach at a prep school in Brantford, Ont.
Vernon said one of the things he admired most about Konchalski was how he communicated with his players.
“He wanted to know what I thought about things on the court and I think that that was huge for my development,” he said.
“Even with me as a coach right now, having that relationship with my players to say, ‘Hey, what do you guys see? What do you guys think we need to change or what are your thoughts?’ It was very collaborative.”
Vernon said after every win and almost every practice, he and Konchalski would review tape.
St. FX is going to be the host for the national basketball championship tournament in 2021 and Konchalski hopes to lead his team to the title at the Scotiabank Centre. It’s also the venue where he previously won three national titles and it would make for a Cinderella story.
“I can’t think of a better scenario to finish my career,” he said.
Konchalski guided the X-Men to a national titles in 1993 and then back-to-back banners in 2000 and 2001.
His teams have won nine conference titles, including a run of six out of seven from 2000 to 2006. But the X-Men haven’t raised the banner since.