By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
In his heart of hearts, Bob McDonnell never wanted to be anywhere else than coaching the kids of Kearny.
After all, being a Kearny guy is what Mc- Donnell has been for the last 30 years. He’s lived here, raised his family here. He served as a police officer in Kearny for 15 years, as a patrolman, as a DARE officer.
And McDonnell was a youth coach, volunteering his time coaching wrestling and basketball in Kearny. He spent seven years coaching the freshman, junior varsity and assistant on the varsity basketball teams at Kearny High.
For nine years, Mc- Donnell was involved with the Kearny AAU basketball program and served on the town’s basketball committee, organizing and supervising clinics and leagues for the youngsters of the town.
But four years ago, after failing to secure the head coaching position at Kearny, a slot he coveted so much, McDonnell moved outside the town. McDonnell took a job as an assistant coach at Berkeley College in Newark.
“I actually became more of a student of the game,” McDonnell said. “I learned more about fundamentals, learned about the quickness of the game, the difference between high school and college. I saw different coaching styles and it really opened my eyes up.”
McDonnell kept himself busy as the assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Berkeley.
“I saw over 600 high school games over the last few years,” McDonnell said. “So I know what’s going on, especially in Hudson County.”
So when Bill Schoener left Kearny after one season to take a new position at Saddle River Day School, it left the position open that McDonnell always coveted.
Last week, the Board of Education officially appointed McDonnell as the new head coach at Kearny High.
“I’m extremely excited,” McDonnell said. “I think the program can work. I’m willing to work to make it better.”
It’s not going to be an easy task. Ever since Kearny has joined the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League five years ago, the Kardinals have not been at all competitive. Last season, the Kardinals posted a 5-22 record. It’s an uphill climb toward respectability for McDonnell and the program.
But McDonnell is not a complete newcomer to the returning players. The kids know him from the different youth teams – AAU, PAL – that McDonnell has coached, recognize him from the camps and clinics. He’s not an outsider.
“I think it helps me greatly,” McDonnell said. “I have a good rapport with the kids. A lot of them went to my camps or played for me. Most of the juniors and sophomores were on my PAL team when we won the state championship when they were in seventh and eighth grade. I believe that’s a great start. They know my coaching style and know what to expect. They know what to expect when it comes to discipline, both on and off the court. They know what’s expected of them athletically.”
McDonnell was asked if he has changed over the last four years that he was away from high school basketball and coaching on the collegiate level.
“What’s different about it is that I know that there’s more of a teaching aspect on the high school level,” McDonnell said. “On the college level, the players already have their own style of play. On the high school level, you’re teaching the finer points of basketball.”
McDonnell has modest goals with the program.
“We definitely want to be more competitive,” McDonnell said. “We definitely have enough talent to be competitive. The talents just need to be brought to fruition. We definitely have a lot of kids in town that want to play.”
One thing is for sure: Mc- Donnell is going nowhere. He’s in this for the long haul.
“Coaching will be my full-time attention,” said McDonnell, who retired from the police department three years ago. “It’s a point of fact. This is my last coaching stint. I have a good relationship with the teachers and administrators. I also have a good relationship with the business leaders in the town who will be willing to help the program. By being here in Kearny for so long and working with the kids, I have a lot invested in this.”
McDonnell wants to see if he can implement a traveling team comprised of seventh and eighth graders and perhaps add more teams at the AAU level.
“Without a doubt, we can be competitive,” McDonnell said. “I have seen numerous games in the area and I know what’s coming back. We can be competitive. I’m out for the kids first. I have their best interests in mind.”
So what does it mean for McDonnell to finally get the chance to have the one coaching job he always wanted?
“I think I have a lot of perseverance,” McDonnell said. “I think by me waiting a long time is giving me the incentive to want to do this and want to run the program the right way. It’s going to take some time, maybe a few years, but I have that time.”
And Kearny has a true Kearny guy as its new head boys’ basketball coach.