When it came to legendary Bob Leckie, it took Ed Gonzalez less than the time he needs to draw up a play during a 30−second timeout to decide on an assistant.
“It was pretty much a no−brainer,” the new Bishop Loughlin boys’ basketball coach said. “I thought about it, but he’s a guy who coached in the league, coached at Loughlin. He was very successful and well liked. When someone like that comes knocking, you don’t have to give it much thought.”
Leckie, who had a 241−92 record in 13 years as Bishop Loughlin head coach, is back at the Fort Greene school nine years after leaving to coach at his alma mater, Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City.
“In actuality I though they needed some help easing the transition for a new coach at Loughlin,” Leckie said. “I was still familiar with a lot of the administration and teachers and I thought I could be of help. I hope to be. I’ll do the best I can anyway. I don’t know if I can swallow being an assistant coach, but I’m going to have to learn.”
While Leckie has been retired from basketball, spending much of his time at the Wharf, a Rockaway bar he’s owned since 1979, he hasn’t been able to shake the hoops bug.
“Whether I like it or not, it’s in my blood,” he said. “I really tormented over the decision to retire from basketball, but I really didn’t have the energy to do what I needed to do on the college level and also maintain my business. Saint Peter’s wasn’t paying me enough to just have one job. I needed both. I’m 62 years old and I’m not as young as I used to be.”
And then there were outside factors – his wife Denise was diagnosed with breast cancer and one of his players, former Automotive HS star George Jefferson, died of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic heart disease, in his dorm room in 2005.
“That all played a factor in me deciding to leave basketball,” he said. “But it never really left me.”
After six years as a head coach at Saint Peter’s and serving as the coordinator of basketball operations at Manhattan College last year, Leckie returns to the high−school game and the program he helped build to a perennial powerhouse during his tenure. At Bishop Loughlin, Leckie led the Lions to three Brooklyn⁄Queens Diocesan titles and the Class AA intersectional title and New York State Federation crown in 1991−92.
“I think now that I see myself, I’m most suited for the high−school game,” Leckie said. “I think I can be impressionable to younger men and hopefully they can learn some lessons of life through basketball and move on to wherever they’re going.”
So why didn’t Leckie return as head coach?
“I truly believe it’s important to have an in−house person,” Leckie said. “Edwin is also going to be the admissions director, be in the school full−time and that’s invaluable. When I was the head coach there, I tried my best to get there as early as I could, but I would only be able to get there at 1 p.m. It’s not like being in school and having a pulse on what the kids are doing, and knowing where the problems are.”
Leckie said he’s been in contact with Bishop Loughlin athletic director Angela Proce about a possible return. That became a reality not long after Gonzalez, the former All Hallows coach, was named head coach.
“To have someone of his caliber, someone who has coached in the league before, someone who has coached at Loughlin and someone who has coached at the collegiate level, it’s a plus to have him want to come back and do work with me,” Gonzalez said. “It’s great to have him.”
Gonzalez and Leckie share similar philosophies – they’re both disciplinarians – both on the court and off. They also said it is important to reach out to Bishop Loughlin’s alumni base, many of whom, Leckie said, asked him to come back.
Leckie is also excited to reacquaint himself with many of the league’s coaches, although that feeling won’t be the same on game day.
“I’m not sure I want to see them as much,” Leckie said. “When we have to go and play Rice away, I’m sure Maurice (Hicks) and I will be happy to see each other for about five seconds until the game begins and then the war starts.”
But first, Leckie said, it is important to establish a relationship with the Loughlin players and their parents, to explain to them what he and Gonzalez are about and what they expect of them.
As for the incessant rumors about mass transfers out of Loughlin, Leckie doesn’t think that will be the case.
“We have been spending some time with these young men, with their transcripts and with their parents,” Leckie said. “It seems to be that everybody seems to want to stay. Word on the street was different than what I’m hearing at Loughlin. The parents are saying that the kids seem to like us and they want to stay.”