Weekly Feature

2007-02-28 / Obituaries

Joseph P. Niland, legendary Canisius College men's hoops coach

Niland Niland Joseph Patrick Niland, 89, of Williamsville, a former Canisius College basketball player and coach and later a local businessman, died Sunday, Feb. 18, 2007, in Veterans Memorial Hospital, Amherst, after a brief illness.

Born the ninth of 13 children in the City of Tonawanda, Mr. Niland starred from 1933 to 1937 at Tonawanda High School where he was All-Western New York in basketball and football in his senior year.

At Canisius College, he played basketball until graduating in 1942 as an All-American. He also played in the 1942 All-American College All-Star Game in Chicago before dabbling in pro ball with the Sheboygan Redskins.

During World War II, he served with the Army's 20th Armored Division in Europe, ending up in Germany and returning home in 1945.

After the war, Mr. Niland took over as Canisius basketball coach, and his career and the college's program blossomed. Mr. Niland posted the second-highest winning percentage in Canisius history, beating a CCNY team in 1950 that was the last to win both the NCAA and NIT tournaments. He coached some of the top names in Griffins history, including Leroy Chollet, Hank O'Keeffe, Herman Hedderick and Bob MacKinnon, while recruiting 1950s stars such as Johnny Mc- Carthy and Hank Nowak.

After leaving Canisius in 1953, Mr. Niland coached the Rochester Colonels in the Eastern Professional Basketball League with Larry Costello and Hubie Brown. In 1955, he took over as coach at Bishop Ryan High School, where his "Foxy Five" squad of 1959 became the first in school history to reach the Manhattan Cup finals. His teams later won back-to-back cups in the mid-1960s and were league runners up in five other seasons.

Mr. Niland served as a scout for the fledgling Buffalo Braves of the NBA from 1970 to 1972, helping to bring aboard stars Bob McAdoo and Randy Smith. He also was a baseball scout for the Cincinnati Reds in the 1960's and spent 10 years as an aide to General Manager Bill Polian of the Buffalo Bills, including during the team's run of four Super Bowl appearances in the early 1990s. Along the way, he also established his own trucking company, JED Trucking.

Mr. Niland was inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 2001 and also the Canisius College and Tonawanda High School Sports Halls of Fame.

His oldest son, Joe Jr., is head basketball coach at the University of Mobile in Alabama, and his son David is head coach at Penn State-Behrend in Erie, Pa. His nephew, John Beilein, is a former Canisius College head coach who now coaches at West Virginia University.

Surviving, in addition to his sons, are his wife, Lois Higgins Niland; five daughters, Maggie Glass, Martha Lamparelli, Sara McNamee and Maria and Bridget Gwitt; a sister, Ina O'Hanlon; and a brother, J. Michael.

A Mass of Christian Burial was offered Thursday, Feb. 22 in St. Gregory the Great Church.

Arrangements were made by the Dengler and Roberts Funeral Home.

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