Win or lose, Mount St. Mary's Coach Jim Phelan unfastens his bow tie for the final time tonight, but he will not be alone.
Colleagues from around the nation are planning to celebrate Phelan's final walk along the sideline by wearing Phelan's signature, the bow tie.
"It's very nice," said Phelan, who retires tonight after 49 years in Emmitsburg. "It's taken a life of its own. I'm honored by it, and even if I don't know exactly how it got started, I deeply appreciate it."
Phelan's record fell to 829-523 -- only Adolph Rupp and Dean Smith have more victories -- after a loss to Quinnipiac on Thursday. The loss eliminated the Mountaineers (10-16, 5-12) from the Northeast Conference tournament, making tonight's game with Central Connecticut State Phelan's last.
"It's sad," said Saint Joseph's Coach Phil Martelli, one of the coaches who plans to wear a bow tie. "It's the end of something we're never going to see again.
"He is truly a coach, I mean that in the highest compliment. There are a lot of guys who have the title and think it's all about them, the media attention, the endorsements. Here's a guy who knows what it's all about. He cares about the people involved, and all my life that I've known him, I think he's a better person than he is a coach, and that's a considerable accomplishment."
Martelli will be joined by Kansas's Roy Williams, Cincinnati's Bob Huggins, Texas's Rick Barnes, Oklahoma's Kelvin Sampson and South Florida's Seth Greenberg, among others.
"Some of these coaches I don't even know, and they are saying so many nice things," Phelan said. "I'm really not that nice a person."
Phelan began wearing the bow tie -- patterned after Ken Loeffler, his coach and later boss at La Salle -- at his first game ever at Mount St. Mary's, in 1954, and won. He kept wearing them, through a 1962 national title, five Division II Final Fours and two Division I NCAA tournaments and an NIT since the Mountaineers moved up in 1988.
"I get a lot of calls now," Phelan said. "They wonder if I'm looking good, feeling good, why would I leave now? I say that's exactly why. I'm going to be 74 on March 19. Why wait until I feel bad to take a break?"
As for his future plans, Phelan said he has not thought past a brunch tomorrow morning.
"I don't know what I'm going to do," Phelan said yesterday. "I can feel it coming, but I can't think about what it's going to be like. I can't believe today is my last practice, that it's going to be my last game.
"I know I'm not going to go out recruiting. But I'm probably going to go to some high school games. I mean, it's going to be the playoffs around here."
-- Steve Argeris