Mullins returns to coach Kearny boys’ hoops

When Bill Mullins stepped away from coaching the boys’ basketball program at Harrison High School at the end of last season, he knew in his heart that he was not retiring from coaching. Mullins just needed the right opportunity at the right place.

“I still liked coaching and knew that I wanted to coach again,” said Mullins, who has been a coaching lifer in basketball and volleyball for the better part of almost four decades – even on two totally different continents. “I was thinking about volunteering with a friend of mine. I always hoped that I would get the right chance, because I was still interested in coaching if something opened up.”

Little did Mullins know that the opportunity would sure enough arise – albeit unexpectedly — in a very familiar setting.

When Bob McDonnell abruptly resigned last month after six seasons because of his legal woes, Mullins threw his hat into the ring to show that he was interested in returning to become the head coach of the Kardinals once again.

Considering that Mullins is a teacher in the Kearny school district, is already the head boys’ volleyball coach in the spring and already had spent seven years as the head basketball coach from 2002 through 2008, it was a no-brainer for the Board of Education to select Mullins as the man to take over the vacant head coaching slot.

“When the job opened up, I thought it would be a good opportunity,” said Mullins, who was just approved by the Board of Education two weeks ago and was able to oversee tryouts last week. “It was a good chance for me to get right back into it.”

Mullins said that he has been coaching in the Kearny Recreation basketball program for the last few seasons, helping to coach his two sons, who are now in the eighth and seventh grades.

“I know the ins and outs of the program,” Mullins said. “I still live in Kearny. I teach here and still coach the volleyball team, so I know the kids.”

Mullins said that he stepped down as the head coach at Kearny in 2008 to focus on helping to raise his two sons. Now, the boys are older and don’t need the constant supervision that a father brings.

“It was a different situation then,” Mullins said. “I’ve always been involved in Kearny basketball. I’ve been around Kearny my whole life. I coached a lot of these kids in Kearny Recreation.”

Mullins said that he had a meeting with the players soon after getting hired.

“I’ve coached some of these kids’ brothers,” Mullins said. “I know the families. I see the kids around the school, in the hallways. I can sense that they’re interested and that they want to play.”

Mullins said that he was able to put together a coaching staff that features two of his former players when he coached basketball at Kearny the first time, namely standouts Sejdo Gurzakovic, who graduated in 2009, and Troy Blunt, who graduated in 2008. Both Gurzakovic and Blunt were teammates on Mullins’ Kearny team in 2008 that defeated Vernon in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV state playoffs.

“It feels good to have them both back in the program,” Mullins said. “It helps that they know me. They’re young guys and can relate to the players. I think having them is going to be a big help. I was fortunate to have my staff with two of my former players.”

Mullins said that he was excited to get going, as practices began Monday.

“I think the kids are anxious to see what’s going on and see what we have,” Mullins said. “They want to play basketball. I know most of the kids already from gym class, so it won’t be hard to pick things up. I know they’re excited, because any time there’s a new coach, there’s always excitement.”
Mullins said that he wasn’t sure how the players would respond to having a new coach in such a sudden fashion. The plan all along was to have McDonnell return, but the legal situation didn’t allow that to happen. McDonnell had to be replaced and Mullins was tabbed to be the one to replace him.

“It’s a little bit of a setback for sure,” Mullins said. “But the kids have all been very receptive to me. We’re starting from scratch here. It’s going to take some time.”

Mullins knows that facing the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League competition will not be easy. Teams like Hudson Catholic, St. Peter’s Prep, North Bergen, Snyder and Dickinson will all be strong contenders. There are no weak sisters among the group.

“I know a lot of those teams are tough,” Mullins said. “We have our work cut out for us.”

So Mullins doesn’t know what the future holds.

“I wasn’t expecting this, that’s for sure,” Mullins said. “I wasn’t looking for anything. I was just going to keep my eyes open and see if there was something that appealed to me. And then Kearny opened. I’m excited, because I’m a Kearny guy. My heart’s into it. I’ve always wanted to see Kearny to do well in all sports. I’m excited for this chance, because it’s my hometown. I’m proud to be from Kearny. We’re going to try to get better every day and see what happens. I’m looking forward to it.”

So Mullins is grateful to have the chance to coach the basketball program he once headed a decade ago.

“I feel very fortunate to get this opportunity,” Mullins said. “You don’t get these chances often. I feel very strongly about getting this chance.”

The Kardinals open the 2018-2019 season Dec. 14 when they play Dickinson.

In the sports pages of The Observer, there will be features on all the local boys’ and girls’ basketball teams in the coming weeks.




Veteran coach Bill Mullins has returned as the head coach of the Kearny High School boys’ basketball team. Mullins was the head coach of the Kardinals for seven seasons from 2002 through 2008 and returns this season. Photo by Jim Hague



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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”