By Joe Henricksen
It was just three years ago when New Trier coach Rick Malnati was included in a City/Suburban Hoops Report issue as one of the five top coaches in Illinois prep basketball. And it was just a few months ago when as part of a "Best Of" issue in the Hoops Report, Malnati was singled out as the Best Coach. Now he's no longer the head coach at New Trier following his resignation after 12 years at the Winnetka school.
When Malnati's resignation went public it was probably a surprise to some. However, those close to Malnati probably weren't too shocked. After a few conversations with Malnati during this past season, I sensed it was coming. In one of those conversations that turned away from basketball and then back to it, including the talk of the longevity of some coaches and his specific future, Malnati -- a tell-it-like-it-is coach who wears his heart on his sleeve -- made references that would make you wonder just how long he would stick around. I remember him saying in one of those talks, "I'm telling you, Joe, it might be sooner than you think."
Malnati will be difficult to replace at New Trier. This is a special progam in a unique environment. And Malnati, having been a part of New Trier as a player, student and assistant coach, was a perfect fit. Malnati understood the culture of New Trier and Winnetka, which the new coach may have a tough time doing depending on his background. While New Trier had a long and proud tradition well before Malnati took over, he was the one responsible for raising the program to a higher level.
As a pure basketball coach, Malnati's teams often overachieved. In addition to overachieving teams, Malnati also made the most of his top talent. It's funny, most everyone just thinks -- or assumes -- that the 2002 team that upset mighty Proviso East with Dee Brown and Shannon Brown featured New Trier superstar Matt Lottich, who went on to star at Stanford. Lottich's team did reach the Elite Eight -- but it was in 2000. Malnati's teams executed. And they were fun to watch from a basketball purist's perspective. I also think Malnati would succeed coaching at different levels and in different types of environments. Plain and simple, Malnati was a college coach in the high school coaching ranks.