Jason Delaney knows how this looks.
“I’m the hero or the villain,” he said. “Probably the villain.”
Delaney is trading in the green, white and red of Tech High School for the gold and blue of Cathedral. In high school basketball circles, it’s the equivalent of Chuck Pagano inviting Tom Brady to a pregame dinner or Yogi Ferrell playing his senior year at Purdue.
There was no hotter rivalry in high school basketball for the past five years than Tech versus Cathedral. When Delaney was hired at Tech in 2010, Cathedral immediately became the game on the schedule. It was ambitious for a program that had just one winning season in 10 years.
“Cathedral has always marked excellence,” said Delaney, who was hired on Tuesday. “They were the game we circled. It was a team we wanted to beat every time.”
Tech won its share, beginning with that first season when Trey Lyles – then a sophomore – made a late free throw for a 59-58 win. In 2012-13, the teams split four meetings. Cathedral won the last two, including the sectional, to catapult its run to the Class 4A state championship game.
The following year, Tech won both games on its way to the Class 4A state title. In all, Tech was 9-3 versus Cathedral in Delaney’s five seasons. There was little love between the programs; no pregame handshakes and few words between Delaney and then-coach Andy Fagan, who left Cathedral last month for a college job that hasn’t yet officially been announced.
Which makes Delaney’s move to the other side (the dark side, if you are a Titan), hard to swallow.
“It’s like going from Purdue to IU or Duke to North Carolina,” he said. “We had some major battles.”
Delaney, 39, led Waldron to the Class A state title in 2003-04 in his only season there. He also coached at Southport from 2004-08, Anderson Highland (2009-10) and Washington (2010-11).
But it was at Tech where he left his biggest mark, going 97-27 in five seasons, including the 2014 state title. It was the first state championship for Tech and the first for an Indianapolis Public Schools program since Broad Ripple in 1980. Lyles was the first IndyStar Mr. Basketball winner from an IPS school since Washington’s George McGinnis in 1969.
There is another layer of familiarity to Delaney’s move. Cathedral’s principal, Dave Worland, coached him in high school at Lafayette Central Catholic.
Delaney notified Tech’s incoming players on Tuesday morning.
“I told them I expect them to want to beat us as bad as they can,” he said. “The returning guys are so competitive. There are good players in the (Tech) system. It’s going to be a really attractive job.”
Still, Delaney admitted there was a feeling that he needed a new challenge. He was complimentary of the job Fagan did in his five years at Cathedral. In addition to his coaching duties, Delaney will teach business and advanced physical education.
“There’s part of me that feels rejuvenated,” he said. “It’s a place we can win right away because coach Fagan has established a winning culture here.”
Delaney’s first game on the other side of the rivalry will come in December when Cathedral hosts Tech. Another meeting could come in the City tournament at Tech in January.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “All you have do is look at the wall and be reminded of the things we accomplished. I’m always going to be a Titan. Tech basketball is much bigger than me, though. I was just a piece of it.”
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.