Jack Rohan ’53, CU’s Winningest Men’s Basketball Coach
John P. “Jack” Rohan ’53, Columbia
winningest men’s basketball coach and a revered figure in
Lions athletics history, died on August 9. Rohan was 72 when he
passed away in a nursing home in South Yarmouth, Mass.; he had lived
on Cape Cod since retiring from Columbia in 1996 as chairman of
the University’s department of physical education, a post
he had held since 1974.
Rohan was born on August 25, 1931, in Floral Park, Queens, and
was raised in Bellerose. He was a key reserve on Columbia’s
1950–51 basketball team that went unbeaten (21–0) through
the regular season before losing to Illinois in the NCAA tournament,
and was a shortstop, third baseman and pitcher on the baseball team.
His B.A. was in history, and he earned a master’s from Teachers
College in 1957. From 1955–58, Rohan served variously as the
varsity golf and freshman basketball coach at Columbia and the freshman
basketball coach at NYU.
In 1961, when he was 29, Rohan became the Lions’ head men’s
basketball coach. He was selected National Coach of the Year for
the 1967–68 season after leading Columbia to the Ivy League
championship. That team, one of the best in Columbia history, had
a 23–5 record and finished the season ranked sixth in the
nation. It was led by Jim McMillian ’70 and
Dave Newmark ’69, both of whom played professional
basketball, and Heyward Dotson ’70, an NBA
and ABA draftee. Rohan’s teams won 20 games in each of the
next two seasons and were ranked in to nation’s top 20.
In 1974, when his wife became ill and his two small children had
to be cared for, Rohan left coaching to become the tenured chair
of the of physical education department. He became Columbia’s
golf coach in 1976 but remained active in basketball as a sought-after
basketball camp lecturer and clinician, broadcaster and writer.
His in-depth analyses of NCAA Final Fours appeared annually in The
New York Times.
In 1990, Rohan agreed to again coach the Lions. He coached for
five years, leading the team to a 43–87 record, including
a 16–10 mark and a second-place finish in the Ivy League in
1992–93. When he left the head coach’s position after
the 1995 season, his overall record was 198–247. His games
coached — 445 — and victories are Columbia career records.
In 1993, Rohan received a Great Teacher Award from the Society
of Columbia Graduates, the first member of the physical education
department to be so honored. The citation read, in part: “A
model of wit and erudition, a noted raconteur, you are renowned
as much for your scintillating lectures as for courtside strategems.
You know the secrets of bringing out each man’s aptitude and
confidence.” Spectator reported in Rohan’s obituary,
“Rohan’s impact stretched beyond the confines of the
basketball court. He was also well known for his friendly interactions
with the students.”
Despite his success, Rohan’s ego was always restrained.
As he said in 1964: “The worst thing you can do is think you’re
important. Outside of Casey Stengel, how many individuals are important
in this world?”
Rohan is survived by his wife, Barbara; children, Christopher
and Jennifer; and three grandchildren.