Tampa Prep’s Joe Fenlon closes in on 800 wins

Coaching milestones happen seemingly on a weekly basis, especially this winter. One coach reaches 400 wins. Another surpasses the 600-win plateau. The list goes on. 

But the achievement Tampa Prep boys basketball coach Joe Fenlon is on the verge of reaching is hard to fathom. 

With two more victories, Fenlon will have 800 in his career. The countdown starts tonight when the Terrapins (9-7) take on Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic and will continue with three more games this week. 

It is a legacy that is not based entirely on longevity. 

To get an idea of just how hard it is to get to 800, consider that Fenlon has averaged more than 20 wins per season during his 38-year tenure with the program. 

He already has more wins in the state than any other boys basketball coach and can become the first with 800 wins in Florida. 

Ed Kershner, who retired from Oviedo following the 2016-17 season, is listed as the all-time wins leader at 901-377 in 45 seasons as a head coach, but that includes his early years in his native Indiana. Kershner came to Florida in 1980 and won 783 games in Florida at five schools: Kissimmee Osceola, Port St. Lucie, Fort Pierce Westwood and Oviedo in that order.

Kelly Beckham,  who has been at Gainesville since the 2008-09 season, is closing in on 800. He has more than  770 wins in a career that included early stops at Belle Glade Glades Day and Dunnellon and a long tenure at Bronson. He had more than 500 wins when he arrived at Gainesville.

Still, the major milestone has been met with little fanfare, unlike five years ago when the hallways at school were adorned with posters counting down the days until he reached 700. 

Part of that is due to COVID-19 safety protocols with students attending classes on campus for just two days and spending the rest of the week learning virtually. Games have limited seating capacity. 

“Or maybe nobody really cares anymore,” Fenlon, 59, quipped. 

His family certainly does and have been the ones to remind him that he is close. 

Fenlon started coaching the Terrapins in 1983. His first win came against now-defunct St. Petersburg Lutheran. 

Fenlon once thought about leaving to follow the same path as his brother, Bill, who has had his one longtime coaching career at DePauw University.

But Fenlon stayed. By doing so, he became an institution at Tampa Prep. He has coached big-time players such as Anddrikk Frazier (USF), Casey Sanders (Duke) and Juwan Durham, who is finishing his college career at Notre Dame.

But for every Division I player, countless others became doctors or lawyers. Many still go to games or keep in touch with their former coach.

Those players have helped Fenlon not only win games but titles. The Terrapins have made nine state semifinals and five finals. In 2012, Tampa Prep and Fenlon won the school’s only state title.

Fenlon’s imprint is on everything with the program. He even drove the bus to and from Lakeland during his team’s state title run eight years ago.

The sideline has been a family affair at times, too. Conner spent time as an assistant and is now a radio analyst for men’s basketball games at Siena. 

 “I never shot a ball, I never passed a ball, I never guarded anybody,” Fenlon said. “I’ve had a lot of great kids. This team that I have now is one of favorites, I really would like (to get 800) with them because it would give us a lot of positive momentum going forward.”

Winter milestones

Tampa Prep’s Joe Fenlon is not the only area coach to reach a big number in wins. Several other area basketball and soccer coaches have also hit milestones this season.

650 Carrollwood Day girls basketball coach Karim Nohra

600 Tampa Catholic boys basketball coach Don Dziagwa

400 St. Petersburg boys basketball coach Chris Blackwell

400 St. Petersburg girls soccer coach Rui Farias

400 Cambridge Christian boys soccer coach Kevin Hickinbotham

400 Northeast girls basketball coach Will White