After 24 years, men’s basketball coach Phil Martelli out at St. Joe’s

In this March 10, 2018, file photo Saint Joseph's head coach Phil Martelli directs his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball semifinal game against Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament in Washington. Saint Joseph's fired Martelli on Tuesday, March 19, 2019, after 24 seasons. The 64-year-old Martelli became head coach in 1995 after 10 years as an assistant.  (Alex Brandon/AP Photo, File)

In this March 10, 2018, file photo Saint Joseph's head coach Phil Martelli directs his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball semifinal game against Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament in Washington. Saint Joseph's fired Martelli on Tuesday, March 19, 2019, after 24 seasons. The 64-year-old Martelli became head coach in 1995 after 10 years as an assistant. (Alex Brandon/AP Photo, File)

Updated 5:03 p.m.

They all had nicknames.

Chips. Goo. Hammer.

Bob Hughes was “Barney.”

That’s the moniker coach Phil Martelli bestowed upon Hughes at a practice in 1999, shortly after the freshman began at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Martelli said that Hughes looked like the cartoon character Barney Rubble. And that was that.

Two decades later, people in the basketball community still refer to Hughes as Barney. Heck, it’s even in his Twitter handle.

Nicknames flow like Gatorade in the clubby world of athletics, but Hughes wasn’t a player on the basketball team. Neither were Chips or Goo or Hammer. They were student managers.

Martelli gave them nicknames not to poke fun, but instead as a way to make them feel like they were part of the team.

“We’re there with them, not for them,” said Hughes, now the head coach at Rosemont College. “That always resonated with me because he always valued us and treated us like one of the players.”

Martelli coached the game well for many years, but his Hawks faltered in recent campaigns.

The West Philadelphia school announced the firing Tuesday. Athletics director Jill Bodensteiner — who took over for longtime AD Don DiJulia in 2018 — said it was the hardest decision she’s ever made.

“We’re moving toward excellence and maximizing every ounce of our student-athlete potential on and off the court,” Bodensteiner said. “I think we were there off the court. I’m looking to get a little bit better on the court.”

Martelli won more games over his 24 seasons as the head men’s basketball coach at St. Joseph’s University than any other person in school history. But he’ll be remembered for more than his on-court success.

The straight-shooting Martelli was a fixture in the local basketball community. Nationally he became a symbol of integrity in a sport too often defined by scandal and ruthlessness. He and departing Temple University coach Fran Dunphy were ferocious fundraisers for the Philadelphia chapter of the Coaches vs. Cancer organization.

“The fact that he has been able to have this unique position as a teller of truth in an untruthful world is because he never lost sight of what he’s really doing,” Hughes said. “He’s coaching a game.”

The 64-year-old Martelli became the head coach in 1995 after 10 years as an assistant.

In 2003-2004, he was named AP coach of the year after leading Jameer Nelson and the Hawks to an undefeated season. The Hawks reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2016 but have had three straight losing seasons since. They finished 14-19 this season.

St. Joseph’s said Martelli stood out among his peers for his long tenure and achievements, along with his community engagement.

The school said a search for a replacement would begin immediately.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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