Morris Smith characterizes Joseph McLoughlin as a coach who “never wore the basketball thing on his sleeve” and “doesn’t walk around in a track suit with a whistle.”
The two have worked together for years, Smith says, helping Collingswood High School student-athletes with everything from finding summer jobs to navigating the college applications process. It wasn’t until this year, however, that he took McLoughlin up on a longstanding offer to be his (volunteer) assistant coach.
“I saw the entire season from beginning to end,” Smith says. “I was at all but one or two practices, and all but one game."
At the Tuesday school board meeting, Smith alleged that unnamed people within the school district may have lobbied for McLoughlin’s dismissal behind the scenes.
“There are two individuals who are not here who had presented this [idea to dismiss McLoughlin],” Smith said at the meeting. “They’re not here. It seems to me that there would be some logic and merit in such an important decision to stand behind their recommendation.
“I suspect that the people who are advising you, not Dr. Oswald, maybe the people who are giving him the information, may be rushing this,” Smith told the board.
Yet Superintendent Scott Oswald told Patch after the meeting that the decision to not renew McLoughlin as coach was his alone.
"My recommendation is based on what I witnessed," Oswald said Tuesday, adding that he had "enough concerns" about McLaughlin's "handling of situations" to merit a change. The superintendent declined to be more specific.
One day later, Smith still stands behind his remarks. He declines, however, to provide specific context for them, he says, to avoid a public war of words with the district.
“I’m concerned at this point about seizing an opportunity to resolve this before we go that far,” Smith says. “I’m optimistic that the board, the administration and Mr. McLoughlin can resolve their differences before we reach a point of no return.”
If there is to be a peace broker in this personnel dispute, Smith seems the likeliest candidate. The 25-year Collingswood resident is a consultant and practicing attorney whose past clients have included the school districts of Philadelphia and Camden. His son (of the same name) is a student liaison to the Collingswood school board and a multi-sport athlete who played for McLoughlin.
And peace is what Smith is after. The issue, he says, is not that a replacement—the May 29 agenda named Patrick Dorney, eight-year men’s basketball coach at Arcadia University—would be any less capable than McLaughlin in the role.
The issue is what would be lost in dismissing McLoughlin, Smith says—a man whose inclusive approach to the game gave developmentally disabled children a chance to actively participate in the team as water boys and girls.
Joe McMonagle described his son Jimmy as "a high-functioning autistic" to the Collingswood school board Tuesday night. He said that McLoughlin "made him [Jimmy] feel part of the team" and even helped get his son a college scholarship.
Julian Welsh-White, a 2011 CHS graduate who played for McLoughlin, said that the coach has proven his worth in results, delivering four straight Colonial Conference championships, two sectional championships in three years and more wins at the sport than any other coach the school has had.
“The fact that they’re trying to fire the winningest coach in school history just doesn’t make sense,” Welsh-White says. “I don’t know why. He built this program up when it was at the bottom.”
“The real issue is in addition to the obvious basketball qualifications that Mr. McLoughlin has, he brings so much value to this community because of his structured and deliberate inclusion of young people,” Smith says.
“Black, white, Asian, his inclusion of the children who face disability challenges; that value is really incalculable,” he says. “They could bring in Pat Riley, Phil Jackson; they’re not going to be able to replicate what Joe McLoughlin does for children in Collingswood.”