Remembering Tom Mitchell

900675.png

Remembering Tom Mitchell

When I learned that former Brother Rice football coach Tom Mitchell had passed away on Tuesday of an apparent heart attack at 72, I immediately recalled the first time I saw him. It was a snapshot of the kind of man he was and how he always will be remembered.

It was 1968, my first year of reporting high school sports for the old Chicago Daily News, and I was covering a Catholic League football game at Gately Stadium on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

I was standing on the Brother Rice sideline when I was forced to make way for a white-haired, hard-boiled, shouting, screaming man whom I assumed at the time was head coach Tom Mitchell. He had something to say to every player on the field who was wearing a crimson jersey and it wasn't very complimentary, often profane.

Standing a few yards away from him was a much younger man whom I assumed at the time was an assistant coach. He barely said a word or blinked an eye.

"Boy, the head coach really gets excited, doesn't he?" I said to someone.

"Oh, he isn't the head coach. He's Joe Johnston," I was told.

Indeed it was. Joe Johnston was Brother Rice's longtime assistant. He was a gifted line coach who, despite his age, would think nothing of going one-on-one with his teenage linemen during practice. He helped three of them to go to Michigan on scholarship.

In 1981, when Brother Rice won a state championship, I watched from the press box at Northwestern's Dyche Stadium as Johnston joyfully ran around the field hoisting the big trophy as the players gleefully trailed behind.

The Quiet Man? That was Tom Mitchell. The last thing he would ever think of would be to run around a football field carrying a trophy. That wasn't him. In 30 years of coaching, what meant most to him wasn't the W's and L's or X's and O's, but his interaction with players and coaches.

"My mission was to develop kids to the best of their ability," Mitchell said. "At Brother Rice, we didn't get the bulk of talented kids. We had to work hard to maximize their ability. I felt I helped a lot of kids. It my job worthwhile.

"When I first started coaching, we existed in a league where schools gave out scholarships to talented players. We didn't have the privilege of that so many of our teams weren't as talented as the teams in our league. We didn't have the most talented team but no one ever out-worked us."

In 26 years as head coach, from 1967 to 1992, his teams posted a record of 170-95-1, a .641 winning percentage. His Crusaders won a state championship in 1981, beating Reavis 14-0, and finished second in 1985.

He also won three Prep Bowl championships in 1976, 1980 and 1992. He produced such outstanding players as Mark Donohue, Tom Coyle, David Diehl and Jerry Szara.

Mitchell, a consummate gentleman, was one of the mainstays in a golden era of Catholic League coaches in the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s that included St. Rita's Pat Cronin, Mendel's Lou Guida, Loyola's Bob Spoo, St. Laurence's Tom Kavanagh and Gordon Tech's Tom Winiecki.

A South Sider who played football at Mount Carmel, Mitchell always said the most fun he had in the coaching profession was to work with his players and his coaching staff, which included Johnston, Eddie Bara, John Langdan, Eddie Staron, Dennis Duffy, Dan Jocoby, Bill Gleeson and his son Tom, who played on his father's 1981 state championship team and later coached at the University of Chicago.


His other son, Tim, didn't play football but served as a statistician. He served as superintendent of the Chicago Park District from 2004 to 2011.

"Over the years there have been many great teams and excellent players that I've had the privilege of of coaching," Mitchell said. "They all had their own personality and it made coaching really special. But there was one constant in all the teams I coached. They all showed great work ethic and strong determination. They never gave up and always tried their hardest."

Donahue, a 1974 graduate who was a two-time All-America offensive lineman at Michigan and played two years in the NFL, recalled a recent reunion with Mitchell and former players.

"We were reminded of how great a coach and man Tom was," Donahue said. "It speaks volumes about a coach when former players reunite, hug and tell stories as if they had played together just yesterday. Coach was one of those guys who had the ability and cared enough to teach, coach and mentor many of us. What a special, special person. I am deeply grateful for having had Tom Mitchell as my coach."

Simeon beats rival Morgan Park for city championship

Simeon beats rival Morgan Park for city championship

The Battle of Vincennes is one of the best high school basketball rivalries in Illinois. But for as often as storied rivals Morgan Park and Simeon play, the two Red-South titans had never met for the city title.

That changed on Sunday. 

In an epic clash of top-five teams that might go down as the season's best game, No. 4 Simeon held on for a 68-64 win over No. 3 Morgan Park in the Public League Playoff finale at Chicago State.

The city title is the eighth for the Wolverines as they've won this event in back-to-back years -- the first time a team has done that since the Derrick Rose-led Simeon teams in 2006 and 2007. 

Simeon (24-3) was led by junior Kezo Brown, as he finished with 26 points while senior Evan Gilyard added 18 points. Simeon also had 13 points from junior Talen Horton-Tucker while role players like Messiah Jones (six points, seven rebounds) and Madison Lowery (three points, five rebounds) made winning plays down the stretch by grabbing key rebounds in a tight game. 

After going six consecutive quarters without a made three-pointer after going 0-for-6 in the first half on Sunday, the Wolverines finally heated up from the perimeter in the second half thanks to Brown's three triples and a key bucket from Gilyard.

The Mustangs (19-6) had a chance to tie this game down by three with 11 seconds left but junior Ayo Dosunmu missed a contested pull-up three that was rebounded by Lowery. 

Lowery made one of two free throws at the other end to ice the game after getting fouled.

Dosumnu finished with 16 points despite battling foul trouble for Morgan Park while big man Lenell Henry continued a strong recent stretch with 15 points. Melo Burrell added a double-double for the Mustangs with 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. 

Simeon and Morgan Park split the regular-season series in Red-South conference play during the season as the road team won both games. Sunday's clash at Chicago State was a fitting conclusion to three great games between the two rivals this season as both schools enter their respective classes as potential title favorites.

Both Simeon and Morgan Park were clearly focused on Sunday's city championship game on Saturday as the two teams both lost in the annual City-Suburban Showdown. Playing a lot of reserves and not going their hardest, the Wolverines lost to Evanston and Morgan Park fell in overtime to Stevenson. 

While Morgan Park has a far easier path to Peoria in Class 3A, Simeon is still a major contender in Class 4A as the Wolverines are playing very balanced ball entering the final stretch of the season.

Tyler Ulis returns to Marian Catholic for jersey retirement

Tyler Ulis returns to Marian Catholic for jersey retirement

As the NBA world convenes in New Orleans for All-Star festivities, one point guard in the league returned to Chicago for his own celebration. 

Friday night, Tyler Ulis was the guest of honor at Marian Catholic, the school where he put on a four-year clinic despite being one of the smallest players on the roster. The school honored his tremendous career by retiring his No. 3 jersey.

  

Well under six feet, Ulis thrived for the Spartans by accentuating his unreal ballhandling, shooting and floor management skills. He was named to the 2014 McDonald's All-American team and went on to play for Coach Calipari at Kentucky. 

Ulis, now with the Phoenix Suns, currently averages 3.1 points in nine minutes per game. Similar to his time at Kentucky, the rookie's game is improving the more he plays. Following a tough January when he shot under 30 percent, Ulis has connected on 44 percent in February. More impressively, though, he's logging an assist to turnover ratio of 6:1 for the month. 

As for Friday, the homecoming king's best gift may have been the Spartans' 38-point win over rival Marian Central Catholic. Check out the highlights and the ceremony in the video above.