This Week in Villanova History

Katherine Silkaitis

University assistant track coach dies

By Leslie Campbell

Jim Tuppeny, or “Tupp,” to those who knew him well, passed away last Sunday due to heart failure resulting from complications due to stomach cancer.

The 75-year-old died in his Haverford, PA home surrounded by his friends and family.

Tuppeny, a coach for over 50 years, was a legend in the track and field community for not just his coaching, but for his work with the Penn Relays and for the character that he had instilled in the countless athletes he worked with throughout the years.

Tuppeny graduated from La Salled University in 1950 after serving in the military in the Pacific during World War II. He later earned his Masters degree from Villanova University and continued his graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania, where he would later serve as a coach.

Tuppney came to the University 45 years ago under head coach Jumbo Elliot.

“He was here in the early days and helped to build the Villanovan legacy here back in the 60’s,” said women’s head coach Gina Procaccio.

During his 13 years under Elliot he was a driving force behind 15 IC4A team championships and the 1957 Outdoor Track and Field Championship team.

Tuppeny left the University to become head coach for the cross country and track and field teams at the University of Pennsylvania. From 1966-79 he recorded a 240-44 record for both teams and built Penn into an Ivy League power, while never losing a dual or triangle meet for over a decade.

It was not just coaching that brought Tuppeny such national attention but his association with the Penn Relays.

From 1970-87 he was the Relays director and implemented many changes in the track and field community. He was a strong advocate for equal competition for men and women and was instrumental in the process of allowing women to compete in track and field, beginning with the Penn Relays. The women’s steepele chase will be added to the Penn relays this year due to Tuppeny’s lifelong persistent work.

Tuppeny also served as President of the NCAA Track and Field Association and Vice President of The Athletics for Congress (now USA Track and Field). He was the coach of the United States team in the World University Games in 1979 and in 1991 was the United States World Cup coach. Tuppeny added the position of the inaugural Executive Director of The Philadelphia Sports Congress to his resume, who recently honored Tuppeny with their first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 1999, he returned to coaching as the Associate Head Coach at Villanova after his 1979 retirement from the University of Pennsylvania.

Athletes who have been taught under this legendary coach insist there is much more to Tupp than his years of experience.

“Tupp was just an all around great person,” said track and field senior Mike Browm “You just learned and listened. He made everyone feel part of the team; no one was too little to matter.”

Being a coach for so many years, he was able to relate to many of the problems the athletes dealt with. Tuppeny was concerned with the schoolwork, familiy and friends, as well as the athletic ability of those with whom he worked side-by-side.

The late coach’s players remembered how no one was too insignificant to lend a hand to and no problem was too small for Tuppeny to get involved with.

“I remember him always trying to know everyone,” said track and field senior Gary Thau.

“Whether you were a national record holder, or if you were just putting your heart out there on the track Tupp was always there for you,” he said.

Tuppeny had many stories to tell from his years spent on and around the track, and his athletes said that when Tuppeny told a story about an Olympian you had to believe him because he coached that Olympian.

“With some of Tupp’s stories, whether inspirational or funny, you just believed him,” said men’s track and field head coach Marcus O’Sullivan. “I would have never believed some of the things I have heard, but with Tupp, he was there, he saw it, and so you know it is true.”

When asking those who knew and worked with Tuppeny about what he meant to them, one phrase was repeated over and over by everyone.

“Tupp was a father to us all,” said track and field sophomore Andrew Cameron. “he told our parents he would look after us, and he did, on and off the track.”

O’Sullivan went as far to say that Tuppeny was a grandfather to the athletes and a father to the rest of the coaching staff.

He described Tuppeny as someone who was able to convey to him the importance of the administrative duties as a coach.

Now O’Sullivan realizes that to be the best coach that one can be, one must take care of the details. Administration and organization is what Tuppeny came to honor through his coaching.

He was known by many as someone who got the job done and got it done right.

Track and field fith year senior Steve Tantino agrees with his teammates that his former coach was truly a role model.

“Coach Tupp was one of the greatest people I have ever known,” said Tantino. “he was the one who pulled the strings, and truly knew which levers worked and which ones were just for show,” he said.

“He was a behind-the-scenes man who touched countless people’s lives, and he will be missed.”