Men’s basketball coach Bob Sheldon announced his retirement last week, ending a 32-year career leading the Jumbos. Matt Malone (LA’07), who has been on Sheldon’s coaching staff since 2006, was named interim head coach.
Sheldon amassed a career record of 483–321 since 1988, making him the winningest coach in the program’s 116-year history and placing him in the top 25 winningest active coaches in Div. III at the end of last season.
At the time of his retirement, Sheldon was the third-longest tenured active varsity coach at Tufts, behind sailing coach Ken Legler and baseball coach and Associate Director of Athletics John Casey.
Sheldon, 65, said in an interview that he decided to retire because he was ready to move on after the team’s success last season. The COVID-19 pandemic also influenced the decision, as he knew it was doubtful the team would be able to play this year (the NESCAC canceled the 2020–21 winter season the day after Sheldon announced his retirement).
“I didn’t want to wrestle with it,” Sheldon said about COVID-19. “I knew this was going to be a tough year.”
“I’m ready to move on to treating every day like a Saturday,” Sheldon added with a laugh.
Sheldon undoubtedly goes out on top. Overall, Sheldon’s final five seasons were some of the best in program history, with a total record of 97–42.
The 2019–20 season was arguably one of Sheldon’s best, as he led the team to its first NESCAC Championship. The championship game was a thriller, despite the Jumbos blowing a second-half lead to the Colby Mules, Sheldon led his team back through double overtime to secure the historic victory.
The team went on to the NCAA tournament — the sixth time with Sheldon at the helm — and defeated a scrappy team from Western Connecticut State University in the first round and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the second round. But a few days later, the NCAA canceled the rest of the season due to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic, squashing what could have been a deep tournament run for the Jumbos.
Sheldon is still proud of that finish, though. He said he has done some research and only one other NCAA coach won their last game in an NCAA tournament: the legendary John Wooden, who coached at the University of California, Los Angeles from 1948 to 1975.
Aside from Sheldon’s basketball success, Malone spoke to many of Sheldon’s personable qualities that will be missed at Tufts.
“He’s just a guy that people want to be around,” Malone said. “He never had a bad day, he was always looking for the positive in whatever the situation was and he could find the humor in any situation.”
For Sheldon, it was more than just basketball that kept him at Tufts for so long.
“I stuck around because of the people,” Sheldon said. “I enjoyed working with the players every day, I enjoyed interacting with the parents, I enjoyed the alums that would come back and I liked hanging out with the other coaches. And I liked the competition … It’s very rewarding.”
Malone, who also serves as assistant director of athletics for facilities and event operations, is taking over the team in an unprecedented time, with the winter NESCAC season recently canceled. But he is excited for his new position and ready to build upon Sheldon’s success.
“It’s certainly not the type of first team meeting I ever expected,” Malone said. “But we’re excited …We’ve got things we need to work on individually, which is something that we typically don’t get to do in the NESCAC.”
Sheldon is confident he is leaving the team in a good position.
“It’s so bright you need sunglasses,” Sheldon said about the future.