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Penn legend Mike Jordan taking over at Lafayette

04/01/2022, 1:30pm EDT
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

Matt Langel admits he’s a little concerned about what’s going to happen when Mike Jordan takes the sidelines for the first time as Lafayette’s head men’s basketball coach. The two former Penn backcourt mates have been close friends for a quarter-century, working alongside one another for nine of the last 10 seasons, Jordan one of Langel’s assistants during a successful run at Colgate.

But going out on his own means making some changes, and Langel’s just not sure how Jordan’s going to respond — to one critical aspect in particular.

“I’m curious as a head coach how he’s going to eat candy on the sidelines,” Langel said. “He stacks a whole cup of gummies and sour worms on the sideline during the games, but he (was) an assistant coach. 

“I’m anxious to see how he’s going to do that as a head coach. I’ve never seen another coach eat candy all game long.”

Asked about the practice, Jordan burst out laughing.

“Yes I do, yes I do,” he said. “Yes. I. Do.

“I have a mean sweet tooth, and I do eat candy. During every game. I first started out eating Lemonheads and Friends, but they kinda stopped selling them in Hamilton. So I switched to Mike & Ike’s, and then I went to Sour Patch Kids — the strawberry and the peach ones are excellent. 

“They honestly should sponsor me, now that I’m a head coach,” he continued. “I’ve gotta call somebody over there, see if I can get a sponsorship, I eat so much of that candy during games.”

Whether or not Jordan gets his mid-game sugar fix, the former Abington Friends standout-turned-Quaker legend is sure to bring plenty of energy to the Lafayette sidelines this fall. Jordan was introduced as Lafayette’s new men’s boss Wednesday up in Easton, replacing Fran O’Hanlon, who stepped aside this spring after 27 years guiding the Patriot League program.

But he’s definitely not giving up his Sour Patch Kids.

“Does the fact that I got a head coaching job mean that I’m not allowed to eat candy?” he joked. “I’m still going to eat my candy. That’s part of what I do.”

(L to R): Lafayette Director of Athletics Sherryta Freeman, head coach Mike Jordan and college president Dr. Nicole Herd at Jordan's formal announcement ceremony on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy Lafayette College/Adam Atkinson)

Another part of what Jordan does is win, which is why Lafayette brought him on board.

It’s something he did at Abington Friends, leading the Kangaroos to four straight Friends Schools League championships. Something he did at Penn, scoring 1,600 points and — along with Langel — leading the Quakers to Ivy League titles as a junior and senior, winning Ivy League Player of the Year along the way. Something he did during an 11-year professional career in Europe, winning a couple German Bundesliga titles. 

And it’s something he’s done as a college coach, helping turn around a Colgate program used to being at the bottom of the Patriot League into one that’s won 20+ games three of the last four years while going to the NCAA Tournament all three times.

Makes sense, coming from a guy who describes himself as “overly competitive,” a Germantown native and oldest child of a single mother who helped raise seven siblings, who brings that Philly toughness to everything he does.

“I’m a competitor first, I love competition, I love to compete,” he said. “The guy between the lines is not the coach. The guy between the lines who plays…as a coach I’m still super-competitive, but when I step on the court to play, it’s a different animal.”

Jordan graduated from Abington Friends in 1996, from Penn four years later, his exploits with the Quakers earning him an entrance into the Big 5 Hall of Fame and next month into the Penn Athletics Hall of Fame. He then played in nine different countries before ending his playing career in 2011, joining the Colgate staff a year later. He spent eight seasons with the Raiders, then spent one at Drexel, helping the Dragons break a 25-year spell without an NCAA Tournament appearance, before returning to Colgate for one final season, where he again went dancing.

The Lafayette job was the first where Jordan got an interview, moving into the final group of applicants and then finding out he got the job earlier this week. Though his days with Langel and fellow Colgate assistant Dave Klatsky go back to their days as Quakers, it wasn’t a difficult call to let them know he would be competing against them from now on.”

“Matt’s my brother and he wants the best for me and my family, and he always said, ‘you’re going to be a really good head coach someday,’” Jordan said. “This is something that he helped me prepare for, that he wanted for me. 

“That phone call to those guys, I think it was pretty easy because we all want the best for each other. And that’s why it was great to work with those guys, because each of us wanted the best for the other person, and we all strive to be head coaches.”

At Lafayette, Jordan inherits a program that’s only posted one winning season in the last seven, never quite able to reach the heights it did in 1998-00, when O’Hanlon’s Leopards won 46 games in two years and a pair of Patriot League titles. They made a third NCAA trip in 2014-15 thanks to an underdog run through the league tournament, but O’Hanlon’s noted offensive system wasn’t enough to save teams that were too often a sieve defensively.

Jordan’s learned from plenty of well-recognized coaches in his own basketball path, from AFS legend Steve Chadwin through Big 5 Hall of Famer Fran Dunphy at Penn, to numerous high-level European coaches and finally through Langel and Zach Spiker, Drexel’s head coach

What he wants to bring is a mix of what he’s learned and his own Philly flair.

“I’ve played in a lot of different places, so I want to model my program after my experiences, and you learn from every experience,” he said. “The one thing that has been consistent everywhere I’ve gone is hard work and dedication. Those are the commitments, competition, integrity, that I will hope to instill in our program at Lafayette.

“I steal stuff from everybody, and I think that’s what makes me a good coach — I don’t know everything, I don’t claim to know everything, I don’t think I know everything, and I’m always willing to focus on others.”

Jordan said he typically goes through about three boxes of candy each game, but he’s not responsible for eating all of it.

“Everybody sneaks their hands in there and grabs a couple,” he said. During timeouts, [Colgate assistant] Pat Moore will be like ‘yo, let me get some candy’ and [Director of Basketball Operations] Sean O’Brien will be like ‘slide me some, too.’ Our strength and condition coach, who sits on the bench, goes ‘let me get a couple of those.’

“I don’t know if Langel knows this, but the guys that don’t get in, they’re like ‘let me get some of those jawns, too.’ It’s a community, a group thing, to finish them. I don’t eat all three [boxes] by myself. I’m not going to get any of the players in trouble, but there are a lot of people that join in on the festivities.”

So the snacking will continue at Lafayette, that’s for sure. Whether or not Jordan is the only one or a trend-setter remains to be seen.

“That’s the question,” Jordan said. “Are my assistants going to join in and start eating candy, too?”

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