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Sean Tait back in the Catholic League as Egan's new head coach

05/06/2024, 1:00pm EDT
By Rich Flanagan

Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)

Sean Tait is a Philadelphia Catholic League lifer.

He was one of the two best players in the league in 1995, winning Northern Division MVP at Father Judge while the late Lari Ketner secured Southern Division honors. Tait averaged 16.8 points per game in leading Father Judge to the league semifinals at the Palestra. His first coaching job in the league was as junior varsity head coach at Archbishop Wood in 2006; two years later, he took the varsity job. A year after that, he took over at his alma mater and continued much of what his mentor, the late Bill Fox, accomplished during his 12-year tenure.

Sean Tait (above, in February 2017) was Judge's head coach for 12 years. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Tait has spent the last three years as an assistant at Delaware Valley University under Muhamadou Kaba, but as a social studies teacher – a position he has worked in several years - at Father Judge, the pull and allure of returning to the Philadelphia Catholic League was always palpable.

“I played for one of the best coaches to walk the sidelines in Bill Fox and I’m sad that he won’t be able to watch me get back into this,” Tait said. “As a player, I did pretty well in the league and had some success which I really enjoyed. Then, coming back to the league, which is arguably one of the top in the country, why wouldn’t I want to be a part of that?”

Tait will make his return to the Philadelphia Catholic League sidelines this winter as head coach at Conwell-Egan. The school announced the hiring on May 2 after it parted ways with Tyrone Lewis, who finished 13-31 in two seasons. As an employee of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Tait saw an email that the position had become available and after discussing things with his family and current coworkers like Kaba, he decided to throw his name into the hat.

“I thought I had a good opportunity to get the job and applied,” Tait said. “Nothing was etched in stone as I had to interview like everybody else and there was that unknown if I was going to get the call. Graciously enough, the administration liked my experience and what I brought to the table and liked the direction of the program I have.”

What Tait brings compared to other recent coaches at Conwell-Egan is a track record as a head coach in the league. Prior to his arrival at Archbishop Wood, the Vikings finished 2-12 in the league but in his lone season, he turned a team led by Brian O'Grady, Fran Dougherty and Joey Getz into one that finished 10-6 and made the postseason. When he made the jump to the sideline of Father Judge, the Crusaders were coming off a 4-10 league record and two years later Tait had his alma mater hosting a quarterfinal game against Roman Catholic.

Tait’s shown a knack for turning around struggling programs and returning them to prominence. He’s hoping to do the same at Conwell-Egan.

“Turning around programs that may have been struggling, I’ve been there and done that,” Tait said. “There are things that have changed, but I’m ready to get back in and be a part of that. The draw to the league is my blood. I coached in it and played in it. I think we can do some good things at Egan.”

In an age where the best players in southeastern Pa. (and in some cases abroad) have made their way into the Philadelphia Catholic League for increased exposure and competition, Tait flourished at Father Judge with homegrown players like Reggie Charles, Seamus Radtke, Brian Hennessey, Sean Hanna – now an assistant at East Stroudsburg - Will Brazukas, Justin Fleming, Marc Rodriguez, Matt O'Connor, Tom Quarry, Justin Blythe and Nahseer Johnson. 

Rodriguez became the first 1,000-point scorer in program history and remains the all-time leading scorer (1,260), and Johnson surpassed the 1K mark in his final high school game, Tait’s last game as head coach. Tait finished 132-133 at Father Judge and made the playoffs in nine of his 12 years at the helm.  

Tait (above) last coached in the PCL during the COVID-shortened 2021 season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

He arrived at Delaware Valley University just as the transfer portal was beginning to take off in the spring of 2021 and while his attention was fixed on building a collegiate program, he has always understood that the best players want to play in this league and that he might have to utilize some transfers to build the Eagles back up.

“It’s a place where basketball is good, as lower Bucks County has some players and has proximity to Trenton and Ewing, N.J.,” Tait said. “Obviously, it has changed a bit with recruiting, which was always a thing, but it has become even more of a thing. Plus, social media is a huge thing and four years ago, it wasn’t as big of a thing as it is now.

“I don’t think it’s going to change my approach to running a program. I want whoever plays for me to enjoy their experience whether that’s four years, three years, two years. I think I ran a first-class program at Judge and our kids had a good experience because they knew I cared, which is a big thing.”

As he returns to a reshaped Philadelphia Catholic League, returning Conwell-Egan to prominence has been a difficult task for his predecessors. Frank Sciolla led the Eagles to the 2015 PIAA Class 2A title behind the likes of Stevie Jordan, Vinny Dallesandro and LaPri McCray-Pace — the program’s all-time leading scorer with 1,264 points — then stepped down the following season. 

Since his departure, four different head coaches have attempted to right the ship, but none has lasted longer than four years. Eric Kindler and Bryan Caver lasted one year each while Adam Bowen was the longest tenured of the group at four years. Lewis was gone after two seasons. During that span, Conwell-Egan had a 44-120 overall record and only won 14 league games. Furthermore, the program hasn’t been to the playoffs since the 2016-17 season.

Tait offers a true opportunity for the program to finally get off the ground, establish consistency and create longevity for the first time in nearly a decade.

“I think part of the problem with their teams since Frank left has been the revolving door at head coach,” Tait said. “Stability at the head coaching position hasn’t been there. It starts there and if we have stability there to string some years together, I think the success will come. The administration is very enthusiastic with the upgrades to the facilities to be a competitive program in the Catholic League.”

Conwell-Egan has certainly made an investment in athletics over the last few years. The football program played its first game at the new Alumni Stadium in Bristol Township in September. It’s a turf field that first broke ground in 2020. Updates have been made to the weight room and basketball gym, and enrollment has gone up as well, making these enhancements to the athletic facilities possible. 

“They’ve made some tremendous upgrades to the facility lately, and the gym is really nice,” Tait said. “The physical layout of the school with the stadium, turf field, and press box on the football field has made it a nice place to be.”

He'll have pieces to work with in year one starting with Sebastian Khan, the 6-4 rising senior and Australia native who averaged 11.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.6 apg and 1.1 spg while shooting 44.7% from the floor and making 30 three-pointers. Khan had 28 points and 15 rebounds in an overtime loss to La Salle this season. 

Antwone George returns for his fourth season with the program after a terrific junior year that saw him average 14.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 4.1 apg and 2.2 spg on 46.2% shooting. The 6-2 guard had a season-high 27 points against Bonner-Prendergast. Finally, 5-9 rising sophomore Jared Velez started 21 out of 22 games at point guard in his first varsity season, and 6-6 sophomore forward Justin Bobb, who averaged 5.4 ppg and 4.3 rpg after starting his career at Academy of the New Church, may play the role of the playmaking big man in Tait’s patented Princeton offense in the same way Radtke did before him.

Regardless of the challenges of returning to the high school game in a different environment than where it was when he left in 2021 or transitioning back to head coach after a few years as a collegiate assistant, Tait is ready for this position. He has had success in the past and feels confident the results will be the same this time around.

“Like I’ve said to all my teams before, you can’t make the Palestra unless you’re one of 10,” Tait said. “For the most part and better half of my career, I gave my seniors at least one more game. There’s nothing like the atmosphere of a playoff game. I’ve had a pretty good success rate with my teams over the years, so that’s my hope. There are pieces in place with the program now and I hope we can start working and building to get that extra game.”

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