Jonathan Halpert always sought renown – but not like this. For 42 years, Halpert dreamed of winning a championship as coach of Yeshiva University’s men’s basketball team, the Maccabees. The glory eluded him. Last week, Halpert was featured in The New York Times and New York Post. The reason? He was fired.
Halpert doesn’t know why he was fired, and YU apparently won’t explain. In 2012 YU honored Halpert by imprinting his signature on its basketball court, and just recently it promoted Halpert’s basketball memoirs, Are You Still Coaching? (AuthorHouse, 2013).
If YU stands by its decision, the Maccabees’ 60-57 victory over Maritime College this past Saturday night will represent the last game of Halpert’s record-long career.
The Jewish Press spoke with Halpert about his dismissal and new book.
The Jewish Press: What do you make of your firing?
Halpert: Well, I’m disappointed, surprised, and really I don’t have any answer as to why. I was never given an answer, so I’m only left with speculation. And I’m a basketball coach – I don’t believe in speculation. I believe in facts.
So they have to explain why. The onus is not upon me to try to speculate what someone else’s motives are.
Was the decision financial? Personal?
Financial? [Laughs] Let me tell you something: If my firing is because of my salary, then oh God….
I didn’t work there for the salary. Thank God, I had a full-time position. I was a CEO of a not-for-profit agency, Camelot. It’s inconceivable they’d fire me because they thought they were going to amass some kind of savings.
As far as “personal” is concerned: not on my part. I was there for 42 years, and if you speak to any of the faculty, administrators, past athletic directors, or past presidents, you’ll find that I had a very fine personal relationship with everybody. So I really don’t know.
Did you ask Richard Joel [YU’s president] why?
Oh, yeah. I asked him what was going on, and he said, “You’ve been here 41 years, it’s enough.” What the heck does that mean? I asked him if there were any complaints. He said “No.” So what am I supposed to [do]?
Any chance his decision will be overturned?
Oh, I would be shocked. I don’t think so. The president’s made his decision and I think he’ll stick by it.
You’ve been at YU for over four decades but never won a championship. Is that because Jews aren’t physical or big enough?
If you look at the pool of players that Yeshiva can recruit from, we have to find a player who a) is Jewish, b) is interested in a double program [Jewish and general], c) is a good student and can carry a double program, d) can be a college basketball player, and e) has the financial wherewithal to pay a private school tuition. Well, that shrinks the pool of recruits compared to schools like Farmingdale, Old Westbury, Brooklyn College, John Jay….
Second of all, we practice eight hours a week, our opponents practice 16 hours a week. They arrive at games at 6 o’clock, our kids are still in class until 7 o’clock. So it’s not exactly a balanced situation. You’re not comparing apples to apples.
Probably the most significant answer is that Yeshiva kids have a very different perspective in terms of sports as opposed to these other schools. Our kids have priorities. They’re students [first] – they [want to be] doctors, lawyers, all that kind of stuff.
You write in your new book that coaching YU students can be challenging since they tend to be “Talmudic” and question your directives. Can you elaborate?