Mike Flaherty has coached at three high schools in four decades and masterminded one of the most dramatic upsets in the history of the state basketball tournament. But he is largely unappreciated and vastly underrated because he isn't a self-promoter, isn't outspoken and doesn't seek headlines.
The truth is Flaherty is on the short list of the best active coaches in the state, probably among the top five.
In 1982, he guided Mendel to second place in the Class AA tournament. In the semifinals, his Monarchs beat defending state champion Quincy and Bruce Douglas 53-52, snapping the Blue Devils' 64-game winning streak.
He coached Thornridge and Townsend Orr to the Elite Eight in 1989 and also took a 13-game loser to the quarterfinals in 1992.
Now he is working his magic at Mount Carmel, advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time since the Caravan won the state championship in 1985. The fact that Mount Carmel is the Yankees of high school football hasn't slowed him from trying to build a successful basketball program.
Ray Collins and Jamie Mayes played for Flaherty at Mendel. The man hasn't changed, not even his moustache. In the 1970s, they experienced the same philosophy, discipline and principles that has forever been his trademark.
"Coach Flaherty took a raw athletic kid who could not play defense and could only dribble with one hand and helped turn me into a Division I scholarship athlete," recalled Collins, an all-stater who played at Nebraska.
"To me, his coaching philosophy was simple--outwork and be smarter than the other team. He definitely prepared me for basketball at Nebraska. More importantly, he taught me about being a good member of the community and society.
"His lessons were not always about basketball. When we messed up, there were consequences. And when we did well, he told us so. Outside of my parents and family, I can't think of anyone who had more of an effect on me growing up."
Mayes played for Flaherty for three years at Mendel. In 1977-78, the Monarchs were battling St. Laurence with Kevin Boyle and Jim Stack for first place in the Catholic League. They finished 23-5, 10-3.
"We could have easily been 13-0 in the league but (Flaherty) had to discipline us due to an incident that occurred on the day we played St. Ignatius and were tied for first place with St. Laurence," Mayes said.
"He sat down Ray Collins, Al Hudson, David Ray, Gus Brookshire and Mike Rochelle. We lost and the next evening St. Laurence beat us bad in our own gym. Bottom line, coach Flaherty put more emphasis on us doing the right thing rather than allowing us to get away with something that surely would hurt all of us later in life.
"He taught us that what you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player. That's what really makes him a great coach. He is more concerned with developing you into being a man that merely winning games."