Woodland Hills brings back boys basketball coach Matt Furjanic

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Thursday, October 17, 2019 | 8:58 PM


Matt Furjanic’s phone was ringing all day long. So much so that the Rankin native and former Robert Morris men’s basketball coach was liable to have had it pried off his ear.

His friends were calling him constantly at his home in Winter Haven, Fla., on Thursday to send along their best wishes a day after Woodland Hills chose the 68-year-old Furjanic to be its next boys coach.

“I’ve been on the phone a lot today,” Furjanic said. “I have a lot of friends back there and I’ve heard from many of them.”

Rankin Borough is part of the Woodland Hills School District, where Furjanic previously coached the Wolverines from 1991-95, leading them to two section championships and four appearances in the PIAA Class 4A playoffs.

“I was a resident of Rankin for a long, long time,” Furjanic said.

His dad, Matthew Furjanic Sr., served as the borough’s longtime mayor until his death in February 1997.

“I was mayor for 10 months when my dad passed away,” Furjanic said.

And now, years later, he’s overwhelmed at the opportunity to return to his roots after retiring as a junior college coach at Polk State College in Winter Haven.

Furjanic, who has been a high school reading teacher since he left Polk in 2017, succeeds Odell Miller, who resigned in April from Woodland Hills after seven seasons and a combined 75-85 record. The Wolverines were 18-6 in 2018-19 with an appearance in the WPIAL Class 5A quarterfinals round.

Miller’s previous two teams made it to the semifinals.

With Woodland Hills having spent an unusually long time to decide on a successor, Furjanic will get a late start to the 2019-20 season. Basketball practices at PIAA schools officially begin on Nov. 18.

Furjanic said he didn’t know the reason for the delay, and Woodland Hills athletic director Ron Coursey did not immediately respond to a text and phone call.

“Kids are kids. Basketball is basketball,” Furjanic said. “I don’t know much about the players, but I’ll learn.”

He said he’s planning to drive to the area next week with his wife, Rita, who works on Polk’s campus at the school’s bookstore. But the couple, he said, plans to keep their home in Florida.

“Like I said, I’ve got a lot of friends up there,” Furjanic said, implying he’ll have no trouble finding a place to stay. “We had mixed emotions about this.

“Any time you make a move, you have mixed emotions. It happened so quickly, so right now, my wife will be staying behind. She’ll commute from time to time and when the time is right, we’ll worry about moving. We’ve got two grandkids down here.”

Furjanic’s long coaching career has involved many moves, taking him from Pennsylvania to New York, back to Pennsylvania, and then to Florida, before his imminent return once again to familiar territory in suburban Pittsburgh.

“The weather is nice here, but I miss the city life,” Furjanic said. “But the one thing I’m going to miss here is going to Disney.”

Winter Haven is roughly 50 miles in either direction to Tampa and Orlando, home of Walt Disney World Resort.

Furjanic’s first coaching job in 1972 was as a volunteer assistant at the former General Braddock High School in nearby North Braddock, which won a PIAA championship that year. He later became a full-time assistant before taking over as head coach for two seasons from 1975-77, guiding his teams to a combined record of 34-9 with two WPIAL section championships.

In 1979, Furjanic was named men’s coach at Robert Morris, where he led the Colonials to NCAA Tournament berths in 1983 and ‘84. He then moved to Marist in Pougkeepsie, N.Y., for two seasons before returning to Rankin to take the boys job at Woodland Hills, whose school district was formed by the merger of General Braddock and four other former high schools — Churchill, Edgewood, Swissvale and Turtle Creek.

Furjanic left Woodland Hills in 1995 and moved back to the college ranks, taking over the fledgling Division III program at Pitt-Greensburg for five seasons.

He then made the decision to relocate to Winter Haven, where he enjoyed a 17-year run at Polk, a Division I junior college, finishing with a record of 319-214.

If not for enrolling in a Florida-sponsored retirement program known as DROP, or Deferred Retirement Option Program, in 2012 at age 62, Furjanic said he’d likely still be coaching at Polk.

The optional program requires workers in the state to retire five years after enrolling. Furjanic said he decided to take part because he wasn’t certain at the time how he’d feel about working at age 67.

But, he said, “I feel great now. Coaching isn’t really a job. It’s a passion. It’s been an enjoyable time at Polk.”

Furjanic led the Eagles to six Suncoast Conference titles and three conference tournament championships. He also was voted conference coach of the year six times.

All told, Furjanic has coached his teams to a combined record of 606-411 (.596).

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