Interview with Brian “Shifty” Schiff

A member of the media for the past 23 years, Brian “Shifty” Schiff is a producer at Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, an all-sports regional cable network. Shifty lives in Exton, Pennsylvania and is married to Susan Kardon. He has two daughters, Brenda and Juliet, and two stepsons, Blake and Logan.

For the past 22 years, Shifty has been part of JCC Maccabi and Maccabi USA basketball.  His name is synonymous with the JCC Maccabi Games, and he is a revered coach. We had the opportunity to hear from him about some of his highlights and experiences as a coach.

Shifty Photo

How did you first get involved in the JCC Maccabi Games?

I first began coaching basketball almost by accident. As a writer in 1992, I was sent to cover a story about tryouts for the Philadelphia JCC Maccabi team. When I  told the coach, Norm Millan, that it looked like fun, he asked me to assist. I became an assistant coach that year and then  head coach in 1998. During my first year as head coach, Philly won the gold medal championship in the largest set of JCC Maccabi Games in Detroit. I got involved with Maccabi USA in 1998 when I was named head coach of the USA Junior Boys team for the 9th Pan Am American Maccabi Games, held in Mexico City.

Do you have any special stories or moments of inspiration that you want to share?

I took a team to Memphis in 2002. In the same day, we upset the top-seeded Boca Raton team and a much higher-seeded Israel team to get to the finals. As we were leaving the gym after the second game, a player on my team looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “This is the greatest day of my life.” It showed me how much the JCC Maccabi experience means for teens even if they are ‘too cool’ to show it.

An interesting side note… we played Phoenix in the finals (they killed us), and they were coached by one of my high school classmates and friends, Ricky Sheinson, who was an assistant with the Philly team the first year I was involved (1992) and who had moved to Phoenix and started their Maccabi program.

What have you learned as a coach working with Jewish teens through the Games?

Being part of a culturally Jewish event can have such a huge impact on teens’ lives. It makes them feel connected to Judaism in a way that will last their lifetimes and will hopefully be passed down to their children. That means a lot to me.

Do you have any advice for our new or potential coaches out there?

Embrace the whole experience. We all want to win but it’s about so much more than winning and losing. It is also important to remember at the same time that it is a serious competition and that you are representing your city, school, family and friends. If a kid is a serious athlete, he has to see JCC Maccabi as being serious as well. I preach ‘we are here to have the best cultural and social time possible, but the 64 minutes a day we are on the court we are business.’

Tell us something that we didn’t ask that hits home for you about this special program.

Rare does a participant not come away with JCC Maccabi being one of their best experiences ever. However, I get way more satisfaction out of it than they do. Having an impact on teens, teaching them about basketball and Judaism, giving them the opportunity to meet other teens who are just like them, and enabling them to have a memorable and lasting Jewish experience is the reason I’ve been coming back for 22 years. From a selfish standpoint as a coach, it actually gives you the feeling that you are doing some good.