While I sit at the wooden table conveniently placed on the sidelines of the empty Weehawken High School basketball court, a tall figure walks over towards me. Jake McNish wears his signature black pullover that says Weehawken Basketball in red lettering with grey sweatpants. At 6’8, McNish towers over me once I stand up to greet him, and his massive hand engulfs mine when we shake hands. “I get satisfaction as a coach by meeting the challenges of motivating young men to play hard, unselfishly, and as one unit,” said McNish. “I believe accomplishing this validates me as a coach.”
McNish is one of the premier coaches in the New Jersey Interscholastic Conference (NJIC) and Hudson County. He enters his 23rd year at the helm as Head Boys’ Basketball Coach at Weehawken High School. I asked McNish if he knew he was referred to as the dean of coaches in the NJIC. “Yeah, only cause I’m the longest tenured coach there, its all young whippersnappers now,” he said with a hearty chuckle.
Last season, McNish reached a special milestone in his career when he won his 300th game as a head basketball coach. You can count the amount of coaches that have reached that accomplishment on your hands. “You think back to all of the kids, all the young men that played for you, all the guys that coached with you and it’s kind of like being in a time- machine,” he said about his experience.
McNish grew up in Kearny, New Jersey. As a kid, he played stickball, wiffleball, baseball, basketball, and football. “We played anything and you know, back then we didn’t have all the electronic gadgets,” he said. “We stayed busy out on the streets playing.” At Kearny High School, McNish played football, basketball, and threw the shot put and discus for two years. During high school, he discovered he was meant to be a teacher and coach. McNish said: “At the end of junior year, I realized that I loved being in the gym and basketball, so I knew I wanted to teach and coach.”
He earned a basketball scholarship to Division I Tennessee Tech and played with the team for four seasons. McNish also learned during his time at Tennessee Tech that the college environment was not for him. As a first year college basketball coach, McNish was not satisfied with being a gopher like most rookie college coaches. “Back then in high school, I thought I wanted to coach college sports, so I played sports in college and I realized I didn’t want anything to do with coaching on a college level,” said McNish. “I wanted to coach on the high school level.” Coaching high school kids allows him to influence/impact athlete’s lives and immediately compete as a coach, instead of waiting a few seasons like in college basketball. He said: “As a coach I can teach and share my knowledge of the game with these teenagers, who in turn help keep me young.”
Fellow coach and teacher Jim Panepinto has been a best friend and colleague of McNish’s since 1992, when they both began teaching and coaching at Weehawken. “Jake is loyal to a fault and he stands by his family, friends, players, and assistant coaches through thick and thin,” said Panepinto. “There is no doubt in my mind that this man who has dedicated his life to teaching and coaching has had a great impact on the many students, players, and coaches who have passed before him.”
Montclair State | New Jersey