Jim Deegan, a former track and field and men’s soccer coach at Mount St. Mary’s whose legendary career at the school spanned 50 years, died on Saturday, according to the Mount. He was 87.
A native of Philadelphia, Deegan arrived at the Mount in 1956 following his graduation from West Chester University. He piloted the Mount’s soccer program for almost four decades and made a global impact on the world of track and field.
“Coach Deegan dedicated his life to the Mount and influenced over a thousand student athletes throughout his career,” Mount director of athletics Lynne Robinson said in a release issued by the school. “Coach Deegan was a brilliant coach and educator, a great mentor, a dear friend, and storyteller extraordinaire.”
Deegan’s track teams became powerhouses throughout his tenure, producing 78 All-Americans and 25 NCAA champions. Under Deegan’s leadership, the Mount became nationally known as the training hub for the decathlon, producing 10 NCAA National Champions, 20 All-Americans and four Olympians.
In total, 11 student-athletes from the Mount competed on sport’s greatest stage, the Olympic Games, performing in a total of 16 events. The Games of the XXIII Olympiad in Los Angeles, 1984 saw the largest Mount contingent with six representatives. The Mount’s Olympic success reached a climax in 1988 with Peter Rono winning the gold medal for the 1,500 in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
Deegan’s teams also produced at least one All-American for 23 consecutive years, from 1972 to 1994. One of the best seasons came in 1987, with 16 Mountaineers achieving All-American honors along with five national champions.
“Coach helped me run faster than I ever I thought I could, and he gave me space to let track and field form who I was as a person,” Jay Phillips, who is now the Mount’s director of track and field, said in the release. “Decades of men and women can claim the same.”
The distance medley team of Dave Lishebo, Rono, and Kip and Charles Cheruiyot bested the world record, placing third at the Penn Relays in what was labeled “The Greatest Race of All-Time.” The Mount’s storied tradition at the prestigious Penn Relays includes the distinction of staking claim to the most decathlon champions of any university in one of the oldest and largest track and field competitions in the U.S.
The accolades for Deegan started accumulating in the late 1970s. In 1978, the NCAA College Division Track Coaches Association awarded the Mount coach its Distinguished Service Award. Nine years later, he received NCAA Division II Coach of the Year honors for District II, following top five finishes at both NCAA Division II Championships. He was then selected to join the coaching staff for the East at the Eighth U.S. Olympic Festival in Durham, N.C. in 1988.
That same year, the Mount inducted Deegan into the Athletic Hall of Fame, going in simultaneously with fellow Philadelphian and Mount basketball coaching legend Jim Phelan. He is also a member of the Delaware County [Pa.] Athletic Hall of Fame and the West Chester Hall of Fame.
For 38 of his 50-year tenure in Emmitsburg, Deegan was responsible for two sports at the Mount. He guided men’s soccer from 1956-1993, winning 216 matches. Seven players earned All-America honors, and Deegan was the recipient of the NEC Men’s Soccer Coach of the Year in 1990 when the Mountaineers went 12-5-3. The same year he earned Division II honors for track, he duplicated for soccer, cumulating a 14-5 mark for the 1987 season. Deegan also laid the foundation for the addition of the women’s track program at the Mount and was the first ever head coach for the program, which he began in 1976.
Deegan officially retired in 2006, but he continued to serve as a volunteer coach and mentor for his successors, first Jim Stevenson and later Phillips.
“Coach’s philosophy, perspectives, and training are still a part of our team’s DNA — they live on,” Phillips said. “We’re living in the house he built, and we’re blessed because of it.”
In addition to his coaching duties, Deegan taught accounting and mathematics from 1956-1966 at Saint Joseph’s College, the Mount’s sister school. St. Joseph’s closed its doors and the Mount went co-ed in the early ‘70s; Deegan went on become a member of the tenured faculty at the Mount from 1964-1979 and subsequently served as an Assistant Athletic Director.
“His genius as a coach will live on through his former student-athletes who are now coaches, such as our track and field director Jay Phillips,” Mount St. Mary’ president Tim Trainor said in the release. “The Mount was blessed that Jim dedicated his life to forming student-athletes, and he will be greatly missed.”
Deegan was preceded in death by his wife, Marge, earlier this fall. He is survived by his five children and seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are pending.