Remembering Bob Chandler

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

 His height was far from six feet but his presence loomed large. He had a stern, intense look about him. His eyes were sharp. When he was in charge of a team, there was no doubt who was the boss. His name was Bob Chandler and if you ever met him, you would not forget him. At Madison he coached boys basketball, boys soccer and baseball in various roles over the last three decades.

Chandler lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in July. I was unaware of his illness and I was shocked when another coach told me of his passing.  It shocked me because I thought he was indestructible. Indeed, one coach told me he had dealt with the cancer for several years and intimated that he probably lasted so long because ‘his illness was afraid of him’.

I believe it because you could see the determination that lived within him. He was one of those people you thought would go on forever. He seemed to live in the Madison gym and always knew what was going on there. He coached the freshman boys basketball team just this past winter. I think the last time I talked to him was in the Madison parking lot when I was on my way to question a Dodgers soccer coach about something before practice started. As always he was able to let me know what was happening.

Chandler was probably best known for coaching Madison baseball, something he did on the varsity level for quite awhile. He also had great success o the soccer field coaching the Dodgers to two state titles in the early 80s. My appearance as a reporter on the scene didn’t come in until the late 80s when he was nearing the end of nine years of coaching basketball on the varsity level for Madison.

At that time, the Morris County Tournament was not an open tournament. Limited to 16 teams, it made it difficult to teams with a .500 mark or less to qualify, so the Dodgers rarely got in. Chandler may not have had the most talented basketball players at the time, but he was able to say he coached a Super Bowl quarterback on the court. Neil O’Donnell, who became one of Madison’s more prolific scorers at that time, eventually led the Pittsburgh Steelers to the title game.

Perhaps the best basketball team he coached was during the 1989-90 season. The Dodgers had a 15-10 record. They could put 6-foot-8 Carl Schum and 6-foot-7 Chris Harper on the floor together. They had St. John Forschner who was a leaper and a scorer and ballhanding guards Carl Irving and Carmine D’Avino. That team was unlucky because when it did get into tournament play, it eventually bumped into two formidable 20-win teams.

In the Morris County Tournament they were bounced by a Parsippany Hills team which had the county’s all-time leading scorer Glenn Sekunda and perhaps the best point guard the area ever produced Arik Cotton. In the state tournament they were beaten by a highly successful Jefferson team coached by another well respected mentor Joe Cleary. The Dodgers wouldn’t have lasted much longer in their section since legendary teams in Roselle and Hillside were also in their bracket in those years.

Chandler enjoyed winning in those days like any coach. However, those were different times and being a teacher and educator was more of a concern to him then mere victories. The emphasis then was in teaching athletes to be good citizens and to work together, skills that were more important than winning at all costs.

Chandler didn’t mince words and he was never afraid to challenge his athletes. When you talked to him you always felt you were talking to someone of substance. You always had the feeling that what he said, he believed in his heart.

There were lessons to be learned and standards to be maintained. Chandler taught those standards and held his teams to them. He could be intense and he could be tough but it was for a reason. It was to instill those qualities on to his players, so they might benefit from them throughout life long after games that were won or lost.

Times are different now and as the years passed he grudgingly changed with them. Chandler had a good sense of humor and appreciated a joke now and then, and perhaps coaching on the jayvee or freshman level for years took the edge off, but every once in awhile you could hear that old fire of a coaches desire to win in his voice. You could sense his determination to help his young charges to succeed. You got the idea that he taught lessons that his players might remember but wouldn’t appreciate until long after their games had ended and those athletes were teaching their sons and daughters to play.

 The times that molded people like Bob Chandler have long passed. And when someone like him passes, it is a loss for us all.

 

 

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About mcvbb

Mark Kitchin is a boys varsity basketball writer for the Morris County New Jersey area

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