The day after Bob Sheldon decided to retire after 32 years as head coach of the Tufts University men’s basketball team, the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) released a statement on Thursday announcing the cancellation of formal athletic competitions this winter.
Sheldon, the program’s all-time leader with 483 victories, said he was already nearing the end of his career when the coronavirus pandemic sent college athletics into a tailspin and indicated that it was the right time for him to retire.
“I’m just ready,” said Sheldon. “I’m retirement age at 65. I’ve given a lot [at Tufts]. I’ll miss a lot about coaching, but I’m ready for the next phase of life.”
Sheldon was named NESCAC Coach of the Year in the 2019-20 season after tying a program record with 23 wins and earning a conference title. His final game turned out to be a 75-66 victory over Rensselaer in the second round of the Div. 3 NCAA Tournament at Cousens Gymnasium, advancing the Jumbos to their fourth Sweet 16 berth under his guidance before the pandemic ended the season.
Sheldon will be succeeded by 15-year assistant coach Matt Malone, who was promoted to associate head coach in 2018. Malone is a 2007 Tufts graduate and the assistant athletics director for facilities and event operations at Tufts.
Malone inherits a team that will return 15 players, including six seniors who will defer their eligibility to next year following the NESCAC announcement, according to Sheldon.
“I’m proud of the way I left the program,” said Sheldon. “Last season was a great year and we only had one senior. [Malone is] set up to be very successful. We see things along the same lines, and I think he’s going to be a great coach, who is going to infuse his youth and energy into the program.”
A 1977 graduate of St. Lawrence, Sheldon participated in 12 NCAA Tournaments as a player and coach. He served as an assistant coach at Clark and Tufts prior to landing the head coaching job at Tufts in 1988. He also served as the head coach of the Tufts golf team and earned the New England Association’s McCullough Award in 2011 for his commitment and contributions to the sport.
During his time as Tufts men’s basketball coach, Sheldon mentored several players who went into the coaching profession, including Towson University coach Pat Skerry and his brother, Medford boys' basketball coach John Skerry.
Sheldon, who commuted from Northborough to Medford, plans to buy a lake house in New Hampshire with his wife Cindy during his retirement.
He said he still plans to catch Jumbos games whenever possible, joking that he can sit in the stands and never lose another game while observing the program and conference he helped put on the map.
“Tufts and the NESCAC in general, has received so much more nationwide recognition over the past 30 years,” said Sheldon.
“We’ve built ourselves into one of the top Division 3 leagues in America and Tufts is close to the top of that [league] every year. We’ve come a long way and the program is in a good spot going forward.”