Stern speaking at retriever Madness. Photo by Alex McKenzie
As a coach you are looked at as sometimes stern and somewhat exhausting. There are some who are beloved by all and others who would never be allowed to associate with you outside of coaching. Head coach Phil Stern is one of the special ones. Stern loves his players and loves the life of a coach.
As a young kid growing up in Long Island, New York coach Stern always had a love for sports, especially basketball and baseball. Stern believed he at one point was going to be a professional baseball player. “At one point I thought I was gonna be a baseball player, but I didn’t get drafted and I wasn’t going to chase it so I went to get my degree.” With one huge opportunity shot down, Stern looked for another chance with sports through coaching. While he is a basketball coach he started his career as a varsity baseball coach teaching from experience.
Stern has coached here at UMBC for 17 years. In those 17 years, Stern has earned over 150 wins as UMBC’s basketball coach becoming only the second UMBC women’s coach to eclipse the century mark. He also earned win number 250 in the same season. Stern inherited the team back in 2002 where he lead the team to their first ever league title game. Once UMBC moved to the American East in 2003 they experienced a woe of troubles as they looked to find themselves in a new conference.
Over the course of his time here at UMBC Stern has managed to make the playoffs in four of his 17 seasons including one to the NCAA tournament where they faced the Huskies in a loss. In 2011 Stern was named Coach of the Year where he coached the Retrievers to their first-ever America East regular-season title and a berth in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. UMBC went 20-12, matching the school record with 20 wins and its 13-3 mark in league play was its best in eight seasons in the conference.
2015-16 was another historical year for Stern at UMBC as the Retrievers returned to the postseason for the first time since 2011 with a trip to the WBI Tournament. In a 61-49 victory over Fairfield in the first round, the team entered the history books with the program’s first postseason win.
Stern has lived a good life growing near the beach as a child and tries to duplicate that feeling with this family. Stern’s wife is also a college basketball coach. When telling the story of his family and the various things they enjoy you could see the happiness and contentment within him as he sat relaxed and spoke with a tone of serenity. In his down time, he also enjoys anything Vince Vaughn and loves the show, Seinfeld.
“I could pretty much put any kind of scenario into a Seinfeld moment,” Stern said with a chuckle, “Anything 80’s and 90’s is pretty much for me [Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler all those guys], I just love to laugh.” While he does enjoy having a good laugh here and there Stern also enjoys golf and watching basketball and football on television. Being a native of New York he admittedly roots for the Giants and Yankees while also confessing his love for all sports including college football and the NBA.
When asked about the NBA and the Warriors impact on the NBA Stern had his own personal take on the league today. “Look, the Heat did this a couple years ago and the level that they play at matches the roster.” Stern explained, “They’re taking advantage of the situation and they’re just so good and talented that [it may look silly] but I don’t mind what they’re doing.”
Outside of his life of sports he also enjoys going downtown enjoying the food and scenery and spending time out in Catonsville. Stern considers UMBC as one of the best places to be. “The reason UMBC is so special is because you get to bring student-athletes here, kids who put academics first.” Stern said. He continued to speak on the good nature of UMBC with multiple academic awards and a diverse culture coupled with one of the best presidents in the nation.
Everyone wants to leave an impression for the people they come in contact with. Whether it is a lasting image or a memory that one has shared, Stern wants his mark to be left not by him but by the people he left an impact on from player to coach. As another season peaks over the horizon, one can only imagine what the game of basketball has in store for him.