Their impact goes beyond all the winsMount Carmel's head coach Mike Flaherty, at Monday's game between Mount Carmel and Crete-Monee, hosted at Joliet Central High School. | Paul James Bergstrom~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 16, 2012 8:33PM
When a fresh-faced Mike Flaherty graduated from Lewis University, his alma mater, St. Rita High School, just so happened to be in the market for an assistant varsity basketball coach.
The position was vacant after an equally fresh-faced young man by the name of Tom Cappel had resigned to take a similar position at Oak Forest.
That was in 1973.
On Monday, nearly 39 years later, the two were coaching against each other at the Martin Luther King Hoops for a Day Tournament at Joliet Central: Cappel guiding Crete-Monee, Flaherty manning the reins at Mount Carmel.
Between them, they have won 1,213 games, as well as dozens of conference and regional championships.
For Cappel, the majority of those wins — 502 to be exact — occurred at Hillcrest.
For Flaherty, the bulk came during his 21 years at Thornridge.
“We’ve gone at each other before, when I was at Hillcrest and Mike was at Thornridge,” Cappel said, matter-of-factly.
True enough. But Monday’s meeting had greater significance. Flaherty was sitting on 699 career victories. A win over the Cappel-led Warriors and Flaherty would have No. 700 for his 36-year career.
It didn’t happen, though.
Crete-Monee rallied from a four-point fourth-quarter deficit to claim a 52-46 victory.
“It just means we’ve both been doing this a long time,” Flaherty said of the win totals.
So Flaherty remains stuck on 699. Cappel added to his own noteworthy total, now at 514.
“He’ll get it,” Cappel said.
And when Flaherty does, Mount Carmel is certain to honor him in some way. Just don’t expect a new car, Mike.
What must be made perfectly clear is Flaherty’s disregard for the distinction. In fact, trying to figure out just how many wins he had in his career evolved into nearly a seasonlong back-and-forth between his family members, Mount Carmel and SouthtownStar staff a year ago.
Flaherty wanted no part of it. Still doesn’t.
His brother, John, finally set the record straight on the matter.
“It was unbearable last year,” Flaherty said of the hoopla and fact-checking surrounding his career victories.
After the game Monday, Flaherty still was uncomfortable talking about the achievement, which could occur as soon as Friday, against Providence.
It wasn’t until his 3-year-old daughter, Sydney, jumped into his arms that he began to ease into the subject.
Flaherty is a man who preaches teamwork, that no one player is bigger than the team. It’s a philosophy that’s served him well through a remarkable career.
Now, because of some number, he’s expected to step into the spotlight and overshadow his players accomplishments?
Sorry, that’s not his style.
“I tell the kids playing is all about the team, not the individual,” Flaherty said. “And now people are making a big deal out of this.”
Such achievements hold greater significance to people.
For instance, when this newspaper published a list a few years ago of local coaches who had won 500 games, we neglected to include Cappel on the list. It was a complete oversight on our part.
Cappel called the sports department to set the record straight.
I don’t get the sense Flaherty would have picked up the phone and informed us of the slight. That’s not a knock against Cappel, one of the nicest and most humble people I’ve had the fortune of working with in this business.
Like their coaching styles — Flaherty constantly standing, barking instructions; Cappel firmly seated most of the game, rarely raising his voice — their career victory totals hold different values.
Their impact on their teams, however, do not.
They are coaching legends.
“I’ve been blessed to work at three great programs,” said Flaherty, who coached at Mendel for nine seasons prior to Thornridge and is in his sixth season at Mount Carmel.
“I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had some great kids to work with. I still enjoy it and plan on doing this for a few more years.”