Obituary: James Garland / Successful coach, retired teacher had ‘‍big heart’

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As Gloria Garland talked about her husband of 35 years, boxes of records that he had kept from the time he began coaching in 1985 all the way up until his retirement sat in front of her. Those boxes, Mrs. Garland said, are a testament to one of James Garland’s defining characteristics: his organization.

“OCD,” she joked, “never diagnosed but without a doubt.”

What those boxes also symbolize is the drive and determination that led to Mr. Garland’s coaching career, which spanned more than three decades. during which he claimed back-to-back PIAA Class AA titles as girls’ basketball coach at Cranberry High School in Venango County in 1992 and 1993.

Mr. Garland, 57, of Mt. Lebanon, died  July 19 after a year-long battle with myelodysplastic syndrome, a disease caused by defective blood cells.

A quiet man, Mr. Garland went to Franklin High School in Venango County with his future wife but the pair didn’t actually speak to each other until their senior year.

“He was an introverted guy,” Mrs. Garland said of her husband, who was captain of the football team when they met. “Until you got to know him, then it wasn’t that way.”

The man Mrs. Garland got to know was a focused individual who knew how he wanted to spend his life. His father, Evan, had told him to work with his head and not his hands, and he took the advice and became a teacher and a coach. He graduated from Slippery Rock University with a history degree and a coaching certificate.

Before his career was over Mr. Garland coached girls’ basketball at Cranberry, Franklin Junior/Senior High, Karns City, Mt. Lebanon, South Park and Bethel Park. In addition to girl’s basketball, he coached wrestling, football and cross country. He also was a teacher, retiring in 2013 after 20 years as a social studies teacher at Mt. Lebanon’s Jefferson Middle School.

“He was kind of like an old school coach, he demanded a lot of his players but he had a big heart, he really did. Their were times where he would get emotional, and I think he would surprise the kids when he did that,” said Brendan Hyland, his assistant basketball coach at Mt. Lebanon.

Mr. Garland turned around the Mt. Lebanon girls’ program. In seven seasons he was 143-48; in the seven seasons before his arrival in 1993 the team’s record was 76-86.

Following the 1999-2000 season, some parents complained to the school board about Mr. Garland’s hard practices and playing time, particularly in games when Mt. Lebanon was winning by large margins. The board opened his position and he resigned in July 2000, saying he was “ . . . very hurt, very distraught and very unhappy” about the board’s failure to support him. His last Mt. Lebanon team was 27-5.

Mrs. Garland said her husband enjoyed the task of taking a down program and building something special.

“Jim was a pretty simple guy and he was a very driven guy,” she said. “When he started a task, he completed it. He put his whole self into it, whether it was church-related, whether it was school-related, it was done completely and it was done very well.”

In addition to his wife, Mr. Garland is survived by their three children, Evan of Franklin, Tracee of Akron, Ohio, and Stephen of Pittsburgh; three sisters, Barbara Collins of Franklin, Beverly Griswold of Greenville, Mercer County, and Debra Brineau of Ford City; four grandchildren; and his mother, Velma.

Visitation is from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday at the Paul L. Henney Memorial Chapel, 5570 Library Road, Bethel Park. The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the South Hills Church of the Nazarene, 5601 Library Road, Bethel Park.


jlabarber@post-gazette.com and Twitter @jourdonlabarber


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