John Gallagher

John Gallagher

Niagara University Basketball Coach

In the high stakes world of college basketball, job security is an elusive goal for any coach. The constant pressure to win drives frequent turnover in the coaching ranks, and while many individuals make a career out of pacing the hardwood sidelines, a precious few wear out the floor in front of any one bench for any significant length of time. John J. “Taps” Gallagher was a notable exception to this rule, and with induction into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, Gallagher is honored for a coaching lifetime of service to one school, Niagara University.

A Brooklyn native, Gallagher joined Niagara University in 1931, following a three-sport career at St. John’s University in Queens, New York. In thirty-one campaigns, Taps guided the Purple Eagles to twenty-six winning seasons, highlighted by seven berths in the National Invitation Tournament. His record included 486 wins and 262 losses, for an outstanding percentage of .641.

The numbers alone, however, do not adequately convey Gallagher’s impact on basketball at Niagara. The Gallagher era encompassed the growth of college basketball into the entertainment spectacle it has become today, from the two-handed set shot to the Runnin’ Rebels. Taps coached – and consistently won – under an endless variety of changing playing conditions, rules and strategies, and with a myriad of players whose contributions built the Purple Eagle tradition. Former players Charlie Hoxie, Robert Paul and Andy O’Connell joined Taps in the Niagara University Hall of Fame in 1973; several other former players such as Frank Layden, Hubie Brown and Larry Costello went on to distinguished NBA coaching careers after learning the game from Gallagher.

Taps undoubtedly would count his eleven Little Three championships among his most satisfying coaching achievements. Gallagher relished the intense rivalry among Canisius, Niagara and St. Bonaventure, and on several occasions, he vetoed potentially lucrative scheduling propositions which, by eliminating Niagara’s chief rivals, would have spelled the demise of the Little Three. Gallagher’s intense loyalty to the Little Three ensured that local college basketball fans would share memories such as the 1961 Purple Eagle upset win over a St. Bonaventure team ranked second in the nation at the time, a win that snapped the Bonnie’s 99-game home court winning streak.

Gallagher the coach embodied Gallagher the man, a respectful, dignified teacher of young players who instilled proper perspective and value in those players. The basketball prominence which Niagara University continues to enjoy, and the esteem accorded its program, are the legacy of the great “Taps” Gallagher.