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Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014

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Callahan retires after more than three decades as Princeton men's squash coach

Bob Callahan, inducted into the U.S. Squash Hall of Fame last year for his contributions to the game as a Princeton player and as the University's men's squash coach, has retired.

"The word 'legacy' is often overused in today's society, but Bob's body of work over a 32-year coaching career merits such a term," said Director of Athletics Gary Walters. "I have always believed that a coach's immortality lies in leaving a vestige of oneself in the character development of one's players."

Callahan's legacy is far more than numbers, though the numbers are spectacular. Since taking over the program he captained to the 1977 national championships in his senior year, Callahan led Princeton to 314 victories, 11 Ivy League titles, and national championships in 1982, 1993 and 2012. He coached the individual national champion 10 times, including the 2011 championship by Todd Harrity, the 2013 Ivy League Co-Player of the Year. Princeton also won the 1988 National Six Man team championship.

When he announced Callahan's retirement this spring, Walters, a member of the Class of 1967, said Callahan "greatly embodied the values associated with the Princeton Athletics core mission: Education Through Athletics."

Callahan champs

Coach Bob Callahan (at far right, back row) poses with members of the Princeton University men's squash team after they won the 2012 NCAA championship. It was the third national championship team coached by Callahan, who retired in June. (Photo courtesy of Princeton Athletic Communications)

"It has been a great ride over the last 32 years, and I have so many people to thank who have supported me along the way," Callahan said. "Princeton squash means so much to me, and right now, I think this is the best decision for myself and this program.

"I want to thank Gary Walters and his administration for all the support I have received over the years," he said. "Both the hard work and consistent support from our department have helped Princeton squash reach great heights throughout this amazing journey of mine as head coach." He also thanked Princeton women's squash team coach Gail Ramsay and men's assistant coach Neil Pomphrey for their assistance over the years.

Ramsay said Callahan has been "the guiding light and visionary for Princeton men's squash for 32 years."

"He has touched the lives of so many young men and provided tremendous guidance and support while they have been at Princeton," she said. "College squash has not seen a better coach or person and we all will miss his involvement moving foreword."

Callahan Harvard

Callahan speaks on a microphone prior to a match between the Princeton men's squash team and Harvard on Jan. 13, 2013. Callahan coached the men's team for more than three decades. (Photo by Beverly Schaefer)

One of the high points of Callahan's career was the 5-4 victory over Trinity College of Hartford, Conn., in the 2012 national championship match before an enthusiastic crowd at Jadwin Gymnasium on the Princeton campus. The Tigers ended Trinity's 13-year reign as national champion.

In his final season, Callahan took a team that graduated four seniors from the 2012 national champion and still managed to win its third straight Ivy League title. It was Princeton's ninth league crown in the last 14 seasons.

Callahan played on three national title teams, including his senior year when he captained the Tigers to an undefeated season in 1976-77. He took over as coach in 1981 and founded the nation's first major squash camp in 1982, which he had run ever since.

In 1998 he directed the World Junior Men's Championships at Princeton, the first time the U.S. had ever hosted a world singles championship. That event would ultimately help him land a young player now considered the greatest collegiate male squash player ever, Yasser El Halaby. He became the first male player to win all four individual championships (2003-06), and he helped Princeton to two Ivy League titles.

"Playing for Coach Callahan's team is a privilege that one recognizes after the first few team training sessions but only truly understands with time," El Halaby said prior to Callahan's 2012 Hall of Fame induction. "I have a tremendous respect for a one-in-a-million individual who exudes kindness, generosity and character integrity. The many lessons I have learned and continue to learn from Coach Callahan are not restricted to the game of squash, but encompass all aspects of life."

Callahan has been succeeded by Sean Wilkinson, who had been an assistant coach at Drexel University. Wilkinson becomes the eighth men's squash coach in Princeton history. "Bob Callahan, Neil Pomphrey and all the Princeton players have created something very special here, and I am humbled to have been chosen to continue that legacy," Wilkinson said.

Callahan retired at the end of the acadmic year in June. He spent that last month orienting Wilkinson to the squash program and will continue to be available to offer his successor help and advice whenever asked, Callahan said.

Callahan, who is being treated for cancer, turned 58 on July 4. He said he was gratified to hear then from many former players.

Among the scores of the players he coached over time were his five sons: Greg, Class of 2005; Tim, Class of 2007; Scott, Class of 2009; and identical twins Peter and Matt, Class of 2011. Coaching them and getting to see them several days a week during the squash seasons "ranks up there very near the top" of his fondest memories at Princeton, Callahan said.

Callahan will continue to live in Princeton in retirement. "I am still anxious to keep in touch with everyone," he said.

For a more detailed profile of Coach Callahan, visit the Department of Athletics website.

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