AVP of Athletics Tom Shirley looks back at 30 years on campus.
Assistant Vice President of Athletics Tom Shirley, who just wrapped up his 30th season, is one of the most successful coaches in the history of collegiate women’s basketball and shows no signs of slowing down.
The Rams opened the 2018-19 season with 20 straight wins—the second-best start in the program’s history behind the 1992-93 campaign—and made the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in the past five years. Entering this season, Shirley ranked 10th among active NCAA coaches and 18th all-time with 748 victories in the women’s game. Those career wins have come between two schools in his 38 total years of coaching. He has led the Rams to 21 20-win seasons and eight NCAA Tournament appearances. The program also has produced six All- Americans under his watch.
In addition to his coaching duties, he runs the day-to-day operations of the University’s athletic department, including scheduling, budgets, event management and alumni relations. He has seen the school move from Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science to Philadelphia University to Jefferson and helped manage those transitions to create the current landscape of Jefferson Athletics.
His journey at the school began in 1989 as associate athletic director and head women’s basketball coach. Three years later, he became the director of athletics.
He guided the team to a 26-6 season in 1991-92 before turning in a program-record 27 wins the following year. The Rams remained a dominant force in the 1990s, as his teams won 20 or more games for 10 straight years, made three NCAA Tournaments, produced two All-Americans and one National Player of the Year in Tammy Greene ‘94 in 1994. In 1998, the Rams grabbed a win in the NCAA postseason, the program’s first since reaching the national semifinals over a decade earlier.
“Recruiting Tammy Greene set the program up as a major player once again,” Shirley says. “Former head coach Julie Soriero took the program to the NCAA national semifinal game in 1986. Tammy then helped put the Rams back on the map and pushed our program forward for years to come.”
Shirley and the athletic department left the New York Collegiate Athletic Conference (now called the East Coast Conference) in 2005 to join the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). Since then, the University has won 30 conference titles, including two in women’s basketball (2008-09 and 2015-16).
“Moving to the CACC was one of the best things the athletic department has done in my tenure,” he says, noting that the completion of the Gallagher Athletic, Recreation and Convocation Center in 2007 also helped to further build the foundation of athletics on campus. “The conference is the most geographically friendly in the nation with a centralized recruiting base and has set us up with local rivalries with Chestnut Hill, Holy Family and USciences.”
“Moving to the CACC was one of the best things the athletic department has done in my tenure.”
— Tom Shirley, Jefferson Women’s Basketball Coach
The Rams had continued success throughout the 2010s as the school merged with Thomas Jefferson University, still competing at the Division II level in the CACC. In their first campaign as the Jefferson Rams in 2017-18, the team won 26 games, the most since their 1995-96 season, while making the NCAA Tournament for the third time in the past four seasons.
Beyond the University, Shirley served as the CACC president from 2006-10, and he is in the final year of his second four-year term on the NCAA Division II Championships Committee. The two-time CACC Athletic Director of the Year winner also has held a dozen other NCAA committee positions, ranging from tournament selection for men’s and women’s basketball and women’s soccer, to rules for women’s basketball, to management council.
But more than wins, facility upgrades and committee appointments, Coach Shirley has positively impacted the lives of countless students—on and off the court.
In 2008, he established the Kathleen and Thomas R. Shirley Sr. Scholarship in memory of his father, a World War II veteran who served in the Navy. The award provides a non-athlete who resides in East Falls, Manayunk or Roxborough with a tuition-assistance scholarship for four years. The scholarship has raised almost $275,000 to date, with the goal to reach $300,000 to celebrate Shirley’s 30 years on campus.
“I wanted to honor my parents, people who worked every day to make a better life for their children,” Shirley says.