Beloved men’s basketball coach Fran O’Hanlon to retire after 27 years at Lafayette


Members of the men’s basketball team speak fondly of their time working with Head Coach O’Hanlon. (Photo courtesy of GoLeopards)

By Issy Bongiovanni, Staff writer

Fran O’Hanlon, head coach of the Lafayette men’s basketball team, announced his decision to retire at the close of the 2021-22 basketball season after coaching a Patriot League record 779 games and counting over 27 years.

O’Hanlon’s accolades include three Patriot League regular-season titles, conference Coach of the Year on four occasions and taking the Leopards to the NCAA Tournament three times.

Current student-athletes, coworkers, alumni and the Lafayette community as a whole attest that he left the basketball program better than he found it.

“I don’t think there’s a player through this whole system that hasn’t been better because he’s been our coach. Everybody grows and develops and when you grow and develop, the team gets better,” junior Neal Quinn said, who has been coached by O’Hanlon for the past three years.

O’Hanlon is an alumnus of Villanova University where he earned a bachelor of science degree in education and played basketball. As an athlete, O’Hanlon averaged 13.1 points per game and still holds the Villanova school record for assists in a game. O’Hanlon was team co-captain for the 1969-70 season, leading the squad to the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals and ending his collegiate career with 689 points. O’Hanlon was inducted into the Villanova Hall of Fame in 1992.

Post-graduation, O’Hanlon played with the Miami Floridians for a year before he went to Sweden to play for the Hageby Basketball Club for seven seasons, while simultaneously coaching its farm team. O’Hanlon then took over coaching duties for Panteras De Lara in Barquisimeto, Venezuela in 1982, where his squad captured the league title.

Because of basketball, O’Hanlon has traveled to Scandinavia, South America and the Middle East. During the 1983-84 and 1985-86 seasons, he served as head men’s coach of two entries in the Israel Professional League and received Coach of the Year laurels twice during his time there.

O’Hanlon served as an assistant coach under coach Fran Dunphy for six seasons at the University of Pennsylvania. With his assistance, the Quakers earned three consecutive NCAA Tournament berths while recording a perfect 42-0 record in Ivy League play from 1992-95.

In 1995, O’Hanlon took on the role as head coach of the Lafayette Leopards, a team that had won only two games the season prior. Three seasons later, O’Hanlan led the Leopards to the Patriot League Championship game.

“As a player, you think that you earn a master’s degree in basketball because he’s so deliberate and thorough. He knows the ins and outs better than any coach that I’ve been around,” senior guard Jay Vaughan said.

“The challenge is to make your team better every day. Everything counts,” O’Hanlon said.

In 1997-98, O’Hanlon won his first Patriot League Coach of the Year honor. His squad saw 19 wins and won a share of the regular-season title, ending the season just one game short of the NCAA Tournament.

O’Hanlon faced a variety of challenges during the 1998-99 season, allowing him to demonstrate his prowess as a coach. Despite losing preseason Player of the Year Stefan Ciosici for the entire season and the loss of 1997-98 Rookie of the Year Tyson Whitfield for seven games in the middle of the conference, O’Hanlon guided Lafayette to a berth into the NCAA Tournament, a 22-8 record, its second-straight Patriot League regular-season title and its first-ever Patriot League Tournament championship. O’Hanlon’s peers voted him Patriot League Coach of the Year for the second-straight season, the first-ever coach to be awarded the honor in consecutive seasons.

“He makes you a tougher individual. In games, certain things aren’t going to go your way, but when you play for Coach O, you learn how to have resilience. It’s not easy, but at the end of the day, you’re a better player for it,” Quinn said.

O’Hanlon guided Lafayette to 24 wins in 1999-2000, the most wins ever in the program’s history. The Leopards captured their third-straight Patriot League regular-season title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.

The Leopards were picked to finish seventh in the preseason poll but defied expectations and placed third in the conference in 2001-02 and advanced to the Patriot League Tournament semifinals. O’Hanlon also recorded his 100th career win this season. The Leopards made it to the Patriot League Tournament semifinals the following season as well and O’Hanlon was honored with the Patriot League’s Sportsmanship Award.

With the help of Coach O’Hanlon, Lafayette welcomed its first class of scholarship student-athletes in the 2006-07 season, placing O’Hanlon and the Leopard program amid a mission to take Lafayette to the next level in the Patriot League. From 2007-2010, O’Hanlon’s teams won three Patriot League titles and made two NCAA Tournament appearances while he earned two Patriot League Coach of the Year awards.

In 2010-11, O’Hanlon led his team to its second straight Patriot League Championship game. The Leopards reached 19 victories in 2012-13 and advanced to the Patriot League Championship Game for the third time in four years.

Vaughan said he would miss O’Hanlon’s, “witty jokes, his passion, and love for the game of basketball.”

“It’s amazing, at seventy-two years old, that he has so much energy,” Vaughan said. “I’ll miss his passion for the game and just his good humor. He’s nice to be around outside of practice.”

“He wasn’t easy on me,” Quinn said. “Every day, Coach O challenged me and pushed me to be my best and he was fair with his expectations. The ability to be able to grow as a player under him and him using my strengths and working on my weaknesses definitely made me a better basketball player.”

Lafayette made an unlikely run to the team’s fourth conference championship in 2014-15, winning the Patriot League Tournament as the four seed. The Leopards won on the road at Bucknell in a tournament game for the first time in program history and defeated sixth-seeded American University in the championship game for the league title. The Maroon and White moved on to the NCAA Tournament, eventually falling to top-seeded and O’Hanlon’s alma mater Villanova to end a historic season.

“I think that the future is really bright,” O’Hanlon said.

“I think that everybody will say that their Lafayette experience for the most part has been a really positive one,” O’Hanlon added. “One of the things that I say is we want to leave this better than we found it. I think, for the most part, everybody has gone out of here and left it better than they found it.”

On what he’d miss most, O’Hanlon said, “The everyday interaction with players, the relationships that I developed with the players and my former players as well.”