Coach Jim Fegan is an American legend.
He spent 36 seasons as the Head Coach of the Georgetown Prep Football team, racking up an eye-popping 236 wins and capturing 14 League Championships. His 1970 football team was ranked #1 in the Washington, DC area amidst a 36-game winning streak. In addition, Coach Fegan had 9 unbeaten seasons and sixteen Top 10 finishes. He was inducted into the Maryland High School Football Hall of Fame and the DC Touchdown Club “Circle of Legends”.
Yet the impact Coach Fegan brings to his corner of the world has less to do with his wins and losses and more to do with his sterling character.
He influenced thousands of young men with his impeccable reputation and consistently classy approach. He provided a role model of stability and respect during the fragile adolescent years. And he never once trampled on his own standard of excellence.
Coach Fegan built a dynasty over the course of 36 football seasons. But far more importantly, he built a foundation of character and class for an entire generation of players and students to carry into their adult lives.
Now that is the stuff of legends!
Building the Foundation
Mr. Jim Fegan grew up in Northwest Washington, DC with two loving parents and his brother and sister. He attended Blessed Sacrament School for 8 years and gained a reputation as one of the toughest kids in the school. He went on to attend Gonzaga High School where he starred as an offensive guard on the storied 1949 City Championship Team.
He was a talented and fierce competitor on the playing field. But it was clear from an early age that his true talent and passion resided in coaching.
From 1954 to 1960, Mr. Jim Fegan held a few jobs working in television repair and selling insurance. But mostly he spent time coaching his youth teams to victory at Blessed Sacrament. Football, basketball, baseball. He never stopped. And his passion and gentlemanly reputation quickly spread in the Washington Metropolitan area.
In the winter of 1960, Coach Fegan was preparing his hoops team to play in the CYO Tournament at Georgetown Prep. That previous Fall, the Georgetown Prep football team had not won a single game or even scored a single touchdown in league play. Things were about to change.
Georgetown Prep’s President, Father Michael Maher, approached Coach Fegan right before tipoff. He had heard about the coach’s devout faith and impeccable track record. He wanted to reverse the fortune of Georgetown Prep athletics. Father Maher made him an offer right on the court. Coach Fegan immediately accepted.
The rest is history.
Changing The Culture
In the Fall of 1961, Coach Fegan arrived on campus with the monumental task of changing the football culture at Georgetown Prep. Derisively referred to for the previous few years as “Peter Pan” Prep, there was a tall mountain to climb.
The transformation started with physical conditioning. Coach Fegan’s players now ran grueling sprints before and after practice. They constantly drilled and hit more in the first few practices than during the entire previous season. The intensity level was beyond anything the current players had ever seen.
And their new coach smiled little and did not tolerate the slightest bit of horseplay. Clearly, things had changed.
But at the same time, Coach Fegan was enormously fair. He was consistent in his approach with the players and treated the boys like he would want his own children to be treated. Instead of creating a rebellion, Coach Fegan earned the respect and admiration of his players. In his first season, Coach Fegan went 3-3-2.
In his second season, only 19 players returned to endure the rigorous new regimen of Varsity Football. But they were 19 resilient kids who would run through a brick wall for their new coach. The team miraculously marched on to an undefeated season!
And in the next seven seasons, Georgetown Prep won 56 of its 62 games. “Peter Pan” Prep no more!
Letting Go In Order To Hold On
Coach Fegan continued his trademark brand of coaching. His football teams were never the most athletic or the most talented. But they were the most disciplined and the most prepared teams in the area. And execution and preparation trumps talent every time.
Coach Fegan also held onto his rigid regiments and continued to run his practices with military precision. All the players had to wear black cleats and flashy accessories and extraneous pads were discouraged. At least until the season of 1977.
The 1976 Football Team, featuring senior standouts Kip Jawish, Kurt Pierce, and Mike Ridgway, was built in the mold of a typical Fegan-coached team. Tough. Serious. Disciplined.
But the junior class was a different story. Rowdy. Respectfully cocky. Mavericks. Coach Fegan knew that without the seniors to keep them in check, the status quo was not going to work the following year.
He had spent 15 years changing the culture. But now it was Coach Fegan who vowed to change.
He never tolerated disrespect. He never allowed the inmates to run the asylum. But Coach Fegan did relax his stringent rules to allow for some creativity.
Led by their free-spirited quarterback, Jimmy Corcoran, the 1977 team rolled into their first practice with sparkling white cleats and shiny wristbands. They mercilessly teased each other and approached the game with brashness and swagger. “Loose” would be an understatement.
Coach Fegan held his breath and prayed he had made the right decision.
The team reacted by banding together to capture a league title and finish in the Top 10 in the Washington, DC area. The mavericks had maximized their potential.
And Coach Fegan learned a powerful lesson along the way. Sometimes you have to let go in order to hold on!
It’s All About Family
While Coach Fegan considered his teams to be an extension of his family, there was no substitute for his actual family. 3 daughters. 2 sons. And Bunny Fegan, his dedicated, loving wife who would always be his biggest cheerleader.
Football and Family would forever be intertwined. His two sons, Gary and Mike, each attended Georgetown Prep and played for their father. All three daughters, Linda, Sandy and Sharon spent their Saturdays as cheerleaders. And Bunny belted out the National Anthem before every football game.
Rain or shine, the Fegan Family would support their father. And he would do the same in return. To a point.
When his daughter Linda proposed an October Saturday date for her wedding, Coach Fegan looked at her and deadpanned:
“Who will give you away on the altar? We have St. Albans that Saturday.”
Family is family. But football is football. She changed her date to August.
“I Don’t Compare Old Friends”
Coach Fegan refuses to rank teams or name favorite players. He has certainly had his fair share of stars over the years, but he will never “compare old friends”.
But his coaching peers and coaching family is a different story. Coach Fegan is the first to extend the credit for his success to his longtime assistants Frank Gilmore, Franny Gleason and the rest of his staff. Team Chaplains Father Dugan and later Father Galvin provided legendary inspiration and support for the teams and channeled Coach Fegan’s devout faith. And longtime Team Doctor Charlie Keegan kept the players safe and cared for their various wounds and injuries.
It takes a village.
And while Coach Fegan respected all his opposing coaches, one stood out above the rest. Maus Collins, fabled coach of Carroll High School and, later, Gonzaga High School, was his best friend, equal in class and character, and most worthy adversary. These legends faced each other 4 times and split the contests two games a piece. Their 5th game against each other ended in a tie.
When they met at midfield to shake hands, each said at the same time: “Never again”.
And so it was. 2-2-1.
In 1997 Coach Jim Fegan decided to walk away from the sport he loved. In 36 seasons, Coach Fegan had never missed a single game. But now it was time to say goodbye.
How did he know it was time? As with any long career, his body was getting tired. It took more energy to prepare for each game. And he wanted to give 100 percent every day for his players.
But the biggest reason for his retirement was his steadfast belief in the future of Georgetown Prep football and Coach Dan Paro. Coach Paro had been on his staff for many years. He was a creative and talented coach. He deserved a chance to lead his own teams to glory. It was, quite simply, his time.
Sometimes, you have to dim your own light in order to help others shine.
Now that is a man for others!
Making A Difference
Coach Fegan took a year off to spend time with friends and family. But the following season he came back to Georgetown Prep as an assistant coach. He has not missed a game since.
He is now in his 58th year at Georgetown Prep. He no longer actively coaches. But he is on the sidelines every Saturday as Georgetown Prep’s number one cheerleader. It is the circle of life.
And so, how does one of the longest-tenured and most successful high school coaches in the country want to view his legacy?
“I hope I made a difference.”
Coach Fegan was a devoted husband to wife Bunny for 59 years before her passing in 2016. He is a dedicated father to 5 children. He is a proud grandfather to 24 children and a noble great-grandfather to 5 more children.
And over the last 58 years, he has provided paternal guidance and mentorship to generations of students and players. Former players, some well into their 60s, still refer to him as “Mr.” Fegan out of respect. He has earned the admiration of an entire community and risen to the highest ranks of his profession.
Through it all, Coach Fegan has always done things the right way. He remains devout and dedicated. He gives everything he has to his family. He loses with grace.
And he still wins with class.
Yes, coach. I’d say you have made a difference!