Four state championships with SJND and student-athlete success away from the basketball court mark Coach Lippi’s distinctive imprint on Bay Area high school career
Don Lippi, long-time and beloved boys basketball coach at Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School in Alameda, has announced his retirement. Coach Lippi’s contributions to SJND’s rich athletic history in his 23 years at the school are numerous and profound and they include four state championships.
A 2022 inductee to the California Coaches Hall of Fame with more than 900 wins by his teams at Bay Area high schools, Coach Lippi began his head coaching career at SJND in 1978. He then went on to work as an assistant coach at Stanford University before returning to high school coaching, first at St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School in Vallejo before moving on to Skyline High School in Oakland and St. Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco.
Coach Lippi returned to SJND in 2004. That year, the Pilots won the California State Division IV championship. Under Coach Lippi, the Pilots also won state championships in 2011, 2014, and 2016. In all, Coach Lippi led seven teams to state championship games, six at SJND and one at Skyline.
He attributes his success on the court to his early experience coaching with Lyle Newcomer at Skyline College who mentored Coach Lippi. “He showed me how to create a fast break, how to create intensity, but most importantly how to form a team and create a family,” Coach Lippi said.
“Coach Lippi’s impact on the lives of thousands of students is immeasurable. From the classroom to the court, he has modeled the meaning of family, commitment, faith, and love."
Despite all of the victories, Coach Lippi, 75, considers his greatest accomplishments to include the impact he had on his players off of the court.
“My proudest moments as coach are many, including when my former players become coaches, when my players start their families and I get to visit them and share great memories and get updated on their lives,” Coach Lippi said.
“Two of my former players are helping to build low-to-moderate income housing for people in San Francisco,” he said. “Another example is a documentary being produced by three former players about the discrepancy in education in our country, A zip code should not be a major factor in a child’s success. These stories are the real championships where I find my ultimate joy.”
“I thank Coach Lippi for his many years of dedicated service and accomplishments, and I wish him well as he transitions into retirement and life’s next adventure,” said SJND Principal Julianne Guevara in an email to the SJND community announcing Coach Lippi’s retirement. “Coach Lippi’s impact on the lives of thousands of students is immeasurable. From the classroom to the court, he has modeled the meaning of family, commitment, faith, and love. It has been a blessing to know him, learn from him, and be part of the Pilot family because of him. Please join me in extending our very best SJND wishes to ‘Coach.’ We will greatly miss his presence on the SJND campus.”
Though retiring from SJND, Coach Lippi isn’t about to slow down. He plans to travel with his wife, Joanne, finish the book he’s been writing, What it is Like to Have 7,000 Children, follow the career of his son, Dominic, who is special assistant to University of California at Santa Barbara men’s basketball coach Joe Pasternack, work out, referee CYO basketball, and spend more time with family, including his brother, Michael, who has Down syndrome. His daughter, Gabriela, will be married this fall and just concluded 10 years working at SJND.
“I try to live everyday to make everyday great for some student, player, coach, parent or stranger,” Coach Lippi said. “God gave me a big heart and I want to share that with others.”
Coach Lippi has shared that heart plenty already. Just last fall he and SJND players conducted a youth basketball camp, the proceeds of which went to support Smile Train, an organization that provides surgical procedures to children with cleft lip and cleft palate.
Coach Lippi was born in San Francisco and played basketball in high school before attending San Mateo Junior College and playing basketball there. He then served in the U.S. Army for three years and started a basketball team while serving in Vietnam. Upon completion of his Army service, he attended San Francisco State and tried out for the basketball team.
“After day three of the tryout the coach (Lyle Damon) pulled me over and said, ‘You are too small for forward and too slow for guard,’ so we are not going to keep you, but you seem to have good knowledge of the game. Did you ever think about going into coaching?’
“I was not happy with that comment at the time,” Coach Lippi said, “but it was the best thing anyone has ever said to me. I never played organized ball after that, but I coached for 50 years.”
Coach Lippi graduated from San Francisco State with a bachelor’s in political science and a master’s in secondary education. Though he did not make the basketball team, he embarked on a coaching path that would lead to a level of accomplishment that propelled the Pilots to four state championships.
“I have been following Coach Lippi’s success since his days at St. Ignatius Prep,” said SJND Athletic Director John Bertken. “Everywhere he has gone he has established his program as one of the best in the Bay Area. It is truly fitting that he brought his career full circle and was able to retire at Saint Joseph Notre Dame where he has made such an impact on the Pilot community. Although only briefly did I get to work with and know Don and his wife, Joanne, I feel, like so many others, privileged to have done so.”
SJND is forming a search committee and will soon conduct a thorough search for its next coach. The school is planning a celebration of Coach Lippi’s time and impact at SJND, and expects that the event will take place sometime this June.