Jason Guarente (@JasonGuarente)
John Allen wasn’t thrilled about the Instagram post that announced his return to Coatesville. The photo was from more than two decades ago and it was accompanied by two exciting words: “I’m back.”
Those were memorable days for Allen’s hometown. With a Division I prospect marching toward the school record for career points, the Red Raiders captured the PIAA championship in 2001.
As wonderful as that time was, it’s also ancient history. Today’s high school students weren’t even born yet.
Allen was named Coatesville’s varsity coach last Tuesday. He wants to turn the attention toward the great players of the future and hopefully the next championship.
“What we did as a team, what we did as a city, that was 20 years ago,” Allen said. “I want it to be about the kids. Their growth, their work and their experiences. I really don’t want it to be about me.”
Allen, nicknamed Tootie, casts a long shadow in the city where he became a household name. The 6-5 small forward scored 2,372 points at Coatesville, a record surpassed by Jhamir ‘Jig’ Brickus two years ago, before playing at Seton Hall and launching a seven-year pro career.
The task for Allen now, seven months short of his 40th birthday, is to restore Coatesville to its former glory.
Coatesville is regrouping from a trying season. Coach Marc Turner abruptly resigned in January and was replaced by Ryan Dunbar. The Red Raiders finished 12-8, ranked No. 25 in District 1 6A, one spot out of the district playoffs.
There has been a revolving door of head coaches in Caln Township recently. Former Millersville coach Fred Thompson was there for one season, leading Coatesville to a district championship and the PIAA semifinals in 2019. Turner followed for three seasons before he stepped down.
Allen understands the possibilities and the challenges that come with walking the sideline at his alma mater. There is talent and there are distractions.
“The basketball stuff is easy,” he said. “It’s everything else at Coatesville. We’ve got to have good people in place. It’s not just me. It’s going to take the entire community. If this is what the community wants, everybody’s got to step up. From what I’ve heard, everybody is willing to step up.”
Allen was a varsity assistant at Coatesville under Rick Nelms in 2012-13. Allen applied for the head job after Nelms resigned. Chuck Moore was hired instead.
Since then Allen has coached EYBL teams in New Jersey and served as athletic director at Collegium Charter, where he coached the middle school team.
Landing the Coatesville job this time, after being passed over before, caught Allen by surprise. He has worked as a referee for years and is familiar with players from across District 1. He wants to build the feeling of togetherness he sees at other schools. If he can, there’s no limit to what Coatesville can achieve.
“That’s the attraction,” Allen said. “This is my community. I’m just trying to play my part. It’s not a dream come true but it’s something I’ve always wanted. I think it’s my time to help our kids. To give them some of the experiences I’ve had in basketball.”
Allen was still playing in men’s leagues until last spring, when he suffered a torn Achilles. He has closed the door on that chapter of his life. He’s looking ahead.
No one understands Coatesville better. There’s hope Allen can revive the Red Raiders because of his ties to the area.
“Do I think it’s a requirement? I really don’t know,” he said. “I think if you look at other communities that are similar to Coatesville, they’ve been successful with this type of game plan. I think that’s how you have to look at it.”
Allen sees a path for Coatesville to get from No. 25 back to No. 1 in the district. That means cultivating the next generation. The mission starts in the winter.
“I’m not cocky; I’m confident in my ability to connect with the kids,” Allen said. “I’m confident in my basketball knowledge. Because I have experience with all of that, I think I’ll be just fine.”
One of Coatesville’s greats is back, just like the Instagram post said. Allen won’t be happy until the program can say the same.