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JOLIET - After 34 years and better than 500 coaching victories and over three decades worth of double duty as an administrator, University of St. Francis men's basketball coach Pat Sullivan has announced his retirement from the University effective at the end of the current 2009-10 season.
Sullivan, 66, is a native of Joliet and an alumnus of both Joliet Catholic High School and Lewis University ('65). He was hired by then-College of St. Francis Athletics Director and baseball coach Gordie Gillespie in 1976 to coach the Saints' basketball team after spending the previous seven years coaching basketball at Providence Catholic High School in nearby New Lenox.
In 1986, Sullivan added the duties of Athletics Director to his plate when his boss, close friend and mentor Gillespie gave up the director's duties to serve as head coach of the Saints' new football program. Sullivan also served as Assistant to the President from 1977-82 and remained in the role of Athletics Director until 2000.
Sullivan moved into the role of Athletics Chairman in 2000 and again was asked to serve in the university's upper administration as Assistant to the Vice President for University Advancement.
With all the title changes and all the duties, one thing remained constant. Sullivan was not only the coach of the men's basketball team, he was also the face of the successful athletics program in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC), the NAIA and the Joliet community.
"As I reflect on my 34 years of coaching men's basketball at the University of St. Francis, I think of three concepts: Graduation rates, basketball highlights and lifelong friendships," said Sullivan. "Everything I have ever done at St. Francis has always been part of a collaborative effort. I am thankful that we have kept the ‘student' in the student-athlete verbiage. In 34 years here, we have had 175 seniors play for us in basketball and 171 of them have completed their degrees. These are the most important numbers I will take with me from St. Francis."
On the court, Sullivan passed the 500-wins milestone this past Dec. 1 with a USF victory over Trinity International. He has directed two teams to the NAIA National Tournament (1993-94 and '95-96).
Four times Sullivan has been inducted into halls of fame, the latest of which came two years ago when he was inducted into the Providence Catholic Hall of Fame. He also is a member of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame, as well as the Lewis University Hall of Fame and the CCAC Hall of Fame.
Sullivan started his string of honors when he graduated as the valedictorian of his 1965 Lewis University class and was selected as a Who's Who Among American College and University Students. Since then, the accolades have come from a variety of sources, including: Outstanding Young Educator of the Year in 1971 when he was teaching and coaching at Providence Catholic; Community Leader of America in 1972; Alumnus of the Year in 1981 in addition to the Alumni Athletic Achievement Award in 1990 from Joliet Catholic; and Coach of the Year recognition no less than 12 times from a diverse number of organizations - CCAC (five times), Illinois Coaches Association (three), NAIA District 20 (three) and NAIA Area IV (once).
In addition to his coaching success, Sullivan was also the founder and chair of USF's Brown and Gold Night. The annual fundraiser began in 1977 and has grown into one of the largest and most well-respected events on the sports banquet scene in the Chicagoland area. The list of featured speakers over the past 33 years can compare with any other annual banquet in the country. Former Marquette University basketball coach Al McGuire spoke at the inaugural dinner in 1977 and returned again 10 years later in 1987. Other Hall of Fame names include former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka (1982 and 2007), legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, DePaul coaching legend Ray Meyer, Chicago Cubs pitcher Fergie Jenkins and NFL Hall of Famers Dick Butkus, Carl Eller, Dan Hampton, Paul Hornung and Bart Starr.
"I believe we have brought some of the most well-known people in American sports history to USF and the Joliet community through our Brown and Gold Nights," said Sullivan. "I cannot remember one speaker who did not do a great job for us. Their messages were insightful, enjoyable and inspiring."
While Sullivan claims that he learned most of what he knows about college athletics from Gillespie, he also has left his mark on coaches and administrators who have learned their trade under his guidance.
"Pat not only laid the foundation for the athletic program, but built the skyscraper, as well," said USF Director of Athletics Dave Laketa, himself a USF student-athlete alumnus who served as the Saints' Sports Information Director under Sullivan for 10 years prior to following his mentor into the Athletic Director's office in 2000. "Programs throughout the country have marveled at it -- the fact that we were successful both on and off the playing fields -- and have come to him for the blueprint."
Sullivan still has some unfinished business to tend to before his retirement becomes official. His young Saints' squad has seven regular-season contests and the CCAC postseason tournament to play. The team travels to South Bend, Ind., on Saturday afternoon to play Indiana University South Bend. USF returns home on Wednesday, Feb. 3 to play host to Robert Morris University at the Recreation Center.
It's safe to say that Sullivan will spend his final weeks of work doing what he has done so well for the past 34 years. He'll be watching videotape, drawing up game plans, running practices, answering his telephone and finding ways to share a few laughs and a few words of wisdom with his fellow coaches and staffers and his players.
"The most important things that have happened in my 34 years of coaching at St. Francis are the genuine lifelong friendships I have been blessed to have with my former players," said Sullivan. "I have been able to watch their successes in medicine, law, business and education and have gotten to know and coach their children in our basketball camps and on our St. Francis teams. We have had some extraordinary young men play on our teams and I have been privileged to coach them and now to have their friendships as they progress in their professional lives."
Laketa echoed Sullivan's comments.
"The biggest compliment one can pay a coach is with lifelong respect and friendship," said Laketa, "and to a man the USF student-athletes who have played for Pat have always remained a part of his life and the USF life. His players have always been the first ones to step up and give back to the University whether it was in service, time or monetary commitments."
In addition to his St. Francis family, Sullivan will have the opportunity to now spend more time with his own family. He and his wife Peg were married in May, 2009. He has five children - Colleen, Katie, Patrick, Bridget and Anne - and five grandchildren and all now reside in the Chicago area.
"When Pat leaves us in March, he can and should feel good knowing he did incredible things for our University," added Laketa. "He leaves USF a much better place than when he first stepped foot on the campus back in 1976 and for that we are all thankful."