Brian Laffin’s 16-year tenure as Poughkeepsie High School’s boys basketball coach is over.
“The administration determined that there is going to be a coaching change for the coming year,” Poughkeepsie Athletic Director Bob Murphy said Tuesday. “Sometimes changes need to be made because that person, great as they are and as much you like them, might not be the best person to lead. We have to worry about best serving the student-athletes.”
Laffin’s resume includes close to 300 career wins and a Section 1 Class A title in 2013. He guided the Pioneers to the Section 9 Class A final earlier this year.
Murphy, himself a decorated basketball coach, said he observed closely and evaluated Laffin, and it was the administration’s belief that the position could be upgraded. Murphy is a member of the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame and also is the current coach at Woodlands High School in Westchester County. It’s with a keen and critical eye, he said, that he gauged Laffin’s performance.
Poughkeepsie will begin conducting interviews for Laffin’s replacement next week. Laffin, a social studies teacher in the high school, had led the Pioneers to six consecutive Section 1 finals from 2008-2013.
“It’s not about winning 14 games this year,” said Murphy, who previously coached basketball at Poughkeepsie High School for 20 years. “It’s about the young people that you’re working with, what are they doing on the floor, what are they learning, and are they showing model behavior.”
Laffin declined to comment on the coaching situation or his future, beyond saying, “I love Poughkeepsie High School and there’s a lot of good people and good things there.” He has taught in the district for 20 years and said he will continue on as a teacher, adding that he has received positive teaching evaluations and this move has nothing to do with that.
Murphy said the team’s current players had no input in the decision.
Some area coaches defended Laffin’s coaching acumen and lauded his character on Tuesday.
“I think Brian has done a tremendous job of leading those kids,” said Jim Santoro, who has coached basketball at Our Lady of Lourdes for 30 years. “Not only in teaching basketball, but how to succeed in life. He’s been a class act.
“Coaching against (Laffin) was like a chess match. Whether we were up or down, we’d go into halftime expecting changes and adjustments coming from the Poughkeepsie side. There aren’t many coaches in the area who can do a better job with Xs and Os than him. I think his record speaks for itself.”
Ernie Verdis, the president of the Dutchess County Basketball Coaches Association, said Laffin was devoted to his players beyond the court.
“Outside of coaching, he spent countless hours with those kids,” said Verdis, who is an assistant coach at Arlington High School. “He took them to camps, tried to raise money so they could attend summer leagues. He did a lot, outside of basketball, and it was a year-round job for Brian.
“I walked into a practice at Poughkeepsie one morning on a weekend and there was a table full of food for the kids. He was a coach and a role model.”
Murphy has more than 30 years of experience coaching basketball. He helmed the Poughkeepsie girls basketball team in the 1980s, and the boys team from 1988 to 2000, including winning a state Class B championship in 1995. He was named interim athletic director, succeeding Matt Cameron and Jack Mager, during the 2015-16 scholastic year.
The move comes while Poughkeepsie still is grieving the death of star basketball player Caval Haylett, who was shot and killed in March.
The Poughkeepsie City School District posted on its website an opening for the boys basketball coaching position on June 30. Murphy said the school would like to hire a new coach as soon as possible, so long as the candidate fits what they desire.
“If we can’t decide on a candidate with this first wave of interviews, and we have to continue to advertise it and try again, that’s what we’ll do,” Murphy said.
“What I’ve learned from coaching at Poughkeepsie, especially with our dominant sports, is it will require someone with experience,” Murphy said. “It’s not a learn-on-the-job kind of position. The coach has to be someone the players will immediately respect.”
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4
(Note: In the print version of this article, it was incorrectly noted that the school board was part of the decision to not reappoint Laffin. The decision, according to Murphy and a school board representative, was made by Murphy and the school administration.)