Kevin Foley can't remember his first win as Suffolk Community College women's basketball coach.
"Somebody asked me that the other day,'' Foley said. "They said, 'Do you remember who your first victory was [against]?' And I really don't.''
When you've won 400 games, pinpointing one from 39 years ago probably isn't easy, said the 68-year-old professor of Health and Human Services. But the program records show that it was a 66-54 road victory over Farmingdale CC on Nov. 11, 1976. Foley was a 29-year-old, coaching in his first game at Suffolk.
Foley, who notched his 400th victory at Suffolk on Jan. 22 against Hostos CC of the Bronx, said he will retire as coach after his team's final game this season.
That will cap a 23-year career spread over two stints. He left in 1979 and returned in 1995. In between, he coached basketball at Bayport-Blue Point High School, founded a human resource company and assisted at Smithtown East.
"They say if you win 400 games or 500 or even [1,000] like Coach K , it means you've been there a long time,'' Foley said. "But more important than being there a long time, I've been able to work with people, assistant coaches and kids, who were willing to put the time and the effort in and, to use a Larry Brown phrase, to learn how to play the right way.''
Since Foley returned, the Sharks have not had a losing season. They have reached the playoffs every year and won six regional championships.
Foley guided Suffolk to a 49-2 record between the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons, winning the NJCAA Division III national title in 2003. He was named National Coach of the Year after his team beat Madison (Wisconsin) Area Technical College, 63-53, in the final.
"It's a tremendous feeling, especially if you've been there a few times before, to get to the mountaintop,'' said Foley, who already had coached in four national tournaments. "It's something you're always proud of.''
Foley, Suffolk's athletic director, said his experience from teaching and his background -- playing for former Utah Jazz coach Frank Layden at Seton Hall High School and former NBA player Richie Regan at Seton Hall University -- shaped his approach as a coach.
"I was lucky enough to be in an environment where I learned not only how to play but how to prepare to play,'' he said, adding, "I always consider myself a teacher. I always considered walking into the gym like a classroom.''