NCAA Legend Phil Kahler to Retire From Fisher
sjfc.edu November 11, 2008
After 34 years at St. John Fisher College, Phil Kahler will officially retire on Friday, November 14th. The Ohio native has served in several different capacities during his tenure at the College, but is more widely known as one of the most successful coaches in NCAA history.
Kahler is the only coach in the 34-year history of women’s basketball at Fisher, and has guided the Cardinals to unprecedented success during his tenure.
With an overall record of 797-175 (.821 winning percentage, including Canadian institutions and junior colleges) and an NCAA record of 757-171 (.816 winning percentage), Fisher ranks as the all-time winningest program in NCAA Division III. No coach in NCAA men’s or women’s basketball Division I, II, III owns a better win percentage over a longer period of time.
Kahler, who reached the 600- and 700-win plateaus (716 games, 839 games respectively) faster than any other coach in NCAA basketball history, retires as the second-longest tenured coach in all of women’s basketball, and the Division III coach with the most wins.
Kahler, a two-time national coach of the year, has been inducted into numerous Halls of Fame, including the St. John Fisher College Athletics and Basketball Coaches of New York.
Under his watch, Fisher has reached the 20-win plateau on 27 different occasions, and advanced to the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament 14 times. Kahler led the Cardinals to runner-up finishes in the 1988 and 1990 NCAA Championships, and strung together a streak of 32 consecutive winning seasons from 1976 to 2008. The Cardinals have also advanced to the postseason 31 of a possible 34 times during his tenure.
“I would like to take this time to thank the St. John Fisher College administration that has supported me over the years,” Kahler says. “It’s really hard for me to believe that I’ve been here at St. John Fisher College for so long. Time flies when you’re having fun, and I’ve loved every minute of it.”
Kahler, however, had no intentions of coaching when he and his family arrived in Rochester in 1974.
“I met with Father Lavery, who was President of the College, and he said he wanted to start an athletic program for the women and that I would be the women’s athletic director,” Kahler says. “But when I arrived at Fisher, I found out there wasn’t enough money to hire coaches, so I really didn’t have a choice but to coach.”
With only 34 women attending Fisher at the time (the College was an all-male institution until 1970), Kahler met with interested students and asked them what sports they wanted. Their response was basketball and volleyball and the rest is Fisher history.
Not only did Kahler create a dynasty on the basketball court, but the volleyball court as well. Kahler guided the Cardinals for nine seasons with a career record of 386-72, including eight straight trips to the state tournament from 1976 to 1983 and two appearances in the National Intercollegiate Athletic Association (NAIA) Championship. Fisher won an NAIA-record 61 matches during the 1980 season, and Fisher’s 76 consecutive wins over the 1979 and 1980 seasons rank as the second-longest winning streak in NAIA history.
“We’ve been a successful program over the years because we’ve always had smart, talented players that have excelled in the classroom and on the court,” Kahler says. “I’m proud of our win-loss record over the years, but I take much more pride in knowing our program has produced women who have gone on to become lawyers, doctors, nurses and mothers.”
Kahler, who was born in Columbus, Ohio, grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and later attended Dickinson State College in North Dakota. While at Dickinson he lettered in basketball, baseball, and football and met his wife, Fran. The two were married in 1955.
He enlisted in the Army after the birth of his daughter, Jill, and was stationed in his hometown of Anchorage. After completing his military obligation, he returned to Dickinson State to finish his undergraduate studies. After receiving his undergraduate
degree, he earned a master’s degree from the University of Toledo.
As a graduate student, Kahler accepted his first coaching job at nearby Arnegard High School. He proved he possessed a true knack for coaching when he led the boys’ basketball team to a state title and the football team to back-to-back winning seasons.
Kahler managed the baseball team to a remarkable record of 119-13 and led the boy’s basketball team to several league titles at DelVilbiss High School after enjoying success at Arnegard. Looking to take his coaching career to the next level, Kahler made his collegiate coaching debut at Aquinas Institute in Michigan, where he compiled a 60-41 record during his stay as the men’s basketball coach.
After a few seasons in Michigan, Kahler came to St. John Fisher College, where he has been ever since.