BOYS BASKETBALL | SEASON PREVIEW

The win total is massive, but that doesn't define Mount Carmel basketball coach Mike Flaherty

2011-11-24T17:00:00Z 2012-02-16T07:55:04Z The win total is massive, but that doesn't define Mount Carmel basketball coach Mike FlahertyBy Ken Karrson kenneth.karrson@nwi.com, (219) 933-4192 nwitimes.com

Numbers supposedly don't lie, but in this case they don't tell the whole story, either.

Ask Mike Flaherty what his career victory total is, and you won't receive a definitive answer. He's not being coy; he simply doesn't get caught up in his own statistics.

"To be honest, personally I think it detracts from what we're trying to do," Flaherty said. "We're always telling the kids, 'It's not about you, it's about the team,' so it kind of contradicts the message you're giving them when you talk about something individual.

"If this was going to be my last year (of coaching), maybe I'd look at it, but I think I'm going to do this for a while (because) I enjoy what I'm doing. It's been about the interaction with the kids -- that's always been enough."

Flaherty isn't sure how many winning basketball games he's coached. His wife, Lora, figures it to be exactly 700. Other sources put the amount at a little less.

The confusion is caused, in part, by the nonexistence of Flaherty's first coaching stop. Mendel High School closed its doors in 1988, so it's understandable that athletic records from long ago might be a bit sketchy.

There's no disputing the coaching job Flaherty did in 1982, though, when he led the Monarchs to the Class AA title game and watched them end Quincy's 64-game unbeaten streak along the way. Then not long after taking over at Thornridge, Flaherty guided the Falcons to a downstate berth in 1989.

He nearly did the same at Mount Carmel a few seasons back, falling one game shy of a personal state-qualifying three-peat. It's that kind of ongoing success that prompted Mount Carmel athletic director Frank Lenti to seek out Flaherty after the latter took an early retirement from Thornridge six years ago.

"When I found out Mike was retiring, I couldn't get to the phone fast enough," Lenti said. "If there is anything I did right as the athletic director, it was basically to steal Mike Flaherty away before anybody else had a chance to get him."

As Illinois' winningest high school football coach, Lenti knows all about what takes a team to the top. It wasn't only Flaherty's on-court achievements, however, that made him an attractive commodity to Lenti.

"You're teaching life lessons (as a coach)," Lenti said. "Not only is Mike a great basketball coach, he's a great person and he has great integrity. You'd like every young coach to aspire to be like him."

Even the young Mike Flaherty was not a mirror image of the 60-year-old version. He jokes that some former Mendel players he occasionally sees insist he's changed, that "I've eased up a bit."

"As you get older, you put it more in perspective and realize it is a game," Flaherty said. "You're doing it because you enjoy it.

"We tell the kids, 'You don't want to be up too high when you win or too low when you lose. Just go to line up and shake hands.' You want to model for the kids how you want to conduct yourself."

Bloom Township coach Jasper Williams, who worked with Flaherty at Thornridge for more than 15 years, said the fact that many of his former athletes still keep in touch proves Flaherty's positive influence.

"He built personal relationships with each and every player," Williams said. "Every player brings their home life to practice, and he was able to work through problems. He took a great interest in them, and he'd just listen to them and see where they were coming from."

That wasn't all.

"Mike's brother used to have a restaurant in Evergreen Park," Williams said. "If kids said they hadn't eaten, we'd load the van up and just feed them. Buy them a hamburger here or there, and it goes a long way. Kids always remember that."

What fans remember, though, are the victories, and Flaherty-coached clubs -- even those not blessed with an abundance of physical talent -- have accumulated an awful lot of those.

"If he has a couple days to plan, he's one of the best I've ever seen in getting a team prepared to play," Williams said.

"A lot of times, it's like a puzzle," Flaherty said. "When you have a lot of talent, you're more of a recruiter than a coach. My last team at Thornridge, we had a bunch of great kids and guys who were hard workers, and I guess you derive more satisfaction out of (succeeding with) that."

So when he's finally done drawing up game plans and dealing with teenagers, how does Flaherty want the public to remember him? Rest assured, number of wins isn't it.

"I would like them to say, 'He was always fair and helped his students be the best they could be,'" Flaherty said. "That would be the most satisfying thing."

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