New/Old Faces

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While there hasn’t been much action on the fields this summer, it has actually been a pretty busy last 6-8 weeks in terms of the amount of turnover for some pretty big head coaching and athletic director positions in the Lehigh Valley.

The area said goodbye to three head coaches, each with incredible longevity at their respective schools:

Mike Grasso at Bethlehem Catholic – 45 years

Doug Snyder at Allen HS – 24 years

Chad Landis at Liberty HS – 20 years (12 as a head coach, 8 more as an assistant)

All three were on our RCN SportsTalk show this spring (each one had their own show) and told stories of their careers, their programs’ highlights, lessons learned and the many student-athletes their teachings impacted. (RCN customers can see these exclusive interviews for free through RCN On Demand).

Likewise, over the last month, we’ve also talked to a number of new head coaches and athletic directors – some with some pretty big shoes to fill (their stories also were told on SportsTalk to hear them in their own words).

One person who I did want to focus on today was the new Hurricanes Boys Basketball Head Coach, Nigel Long.

Nigel was a great student and basketball player at Freedom High School. After one year playing college ball outside of the area, he transferred back to the Valley to have a very successful playing career at Muhlenberg College.

Since then he has been a great AAU head coach, an assistant coach at Bethlehem Catholic and a mentor to a lot of young people in Eastern Pennsylvania.

Nigel was on a Freedom team that wasn’t the tallest team, nor a squad with what the basketball experts would call a top-tier, talent-laden team “on paper.” However, his Patriots squads always battled hard and made for competitive games, even when being the underdog.  I believed his teams installed a work ethic that continued after Nigel’s graduation – one that culminated in his school’s first District XI championship in decades, this past winter.

I made a point of mentioning on our sports program that I believe Long may be the most significant hiring, in a summer in which so many great names and qualified basketball individuals were given new positions.  This includes Long’s mentor, Darnell Braswell, who takes over the William Allen basketball program.  The former Canary great  — another local product who had an outstanding playing career locally — took over the Allen head coaching position just a few days after Long was approved by the Bethlehem Area School District School Board to take over at Liberty.

The Hurricanes are no doubt a team in transition as they lost one of the most underrated and best all-around players to graduation.  Long will be responsible for cultivating a new leader after the departure of Will Harper, who played varsity basketball for his entire four-year career.

Likewise, Liberty has a number of freshmen and sophomores who will be responsible for stepping up their games and keeping the program playing at a high level.

Furthermore, I’ve heard from insiders in the Bethlehem community that there’s a number of very talented 7th and 8th graders coming into the program this year and Nigel will be responsible for implementing his hard-working and aggressive, defense-driven style of play that he was so well-known for during his playing days.

It should also be noted that with the hiring of Long, Braswell and Dieruff High School’s Marlon Randall, the Lehigh Valley tripled the number of African-American head basketball coaches within a 10-day span.  As far as I can remember, this number had never been more than one at any given time during the same calendar year.

Each of these head coaches discussed the cultural significance of this fact and other ways their hiring will positively impact their respective communities. I enjoyed my conversations with each of these men on our most recent shows.  I am very much looking forward to working with them and hope I have the opportunities to announce their games this winter.

Thanks to all of our local coaches and administrators for being on our show and best of luck on the new chapter in your careers!

Chris Michael About Chris Michael

Chris handles play-by-play for RCN sports events, including baseball, football & basketball games and produces/hosts the station’s 60-minute live call-in show. Among Chris’s other responsibilities include reporting on local news & sports stories, conducting “Take 5” interviews with community and political leaders, producing commercials, voiceovers and promos; and generating blog entries and videos on the internet. Click here to listen to the weekly Sports Talk podcast.

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