Disabato: Hundreds celebrate the life of former Brother Rice football coach Tom Mitchell
By Pat Disabato email@example.com Twitter: @disabato January 30, 2013 7:38PM
Tom Mitchell, former Brother Rice football coach. | Supplied photo
at Brother Rice
1981: 11-2 (Class 6A champ)
1985: 11-3 (Class 6A runner-up)
Updated: March 2, 2013 6:12AM
They arrived in the hundreds Wednesday to Brother Rice, wishing to pay their final respects to a high school coaching legend whose character, integrity, passion and kindness made him a giant among men.
If a person’s life is measured by the positive impact he made on others, Tom Mitchell has few peers.
The former Brother Rice football coach died Jan. 22 of an apparent heart attack at age 72, leaving a hole in the heart of Crusader Nation that will take considerable time to heal.
Tom Mitchell was Brother Rice, which is why it was appropriate his wake was held Wednesday in the school’s main gym. Mourners arrived to celebrate the life of a man who spent 26 years as football coach and educator at the Mount Greenwood institution. A picture of Mitchell adorned the school’s message board along Pulaski Road. Black bunting was draped above the school’s north entrance.
“Tom was a special, special man,” Brother Rice president Dr. Kevin Burns said. “He loved Brother Rice and Brother Rice loved him.”
It was passionate love affair, one exceeded only by Mitchell’s love for his wife, Marianne, and their children, Tim and Tom, and grandsons Ryan and Jimmy.
Mitchell retired after the 1992 season with a 170-95 career record, including the 1981 Class 6A state championship and Class 6A runner-up in 1985.
A marvelous career, for certain. But the accomplishments are mere window dressing on a man who impacted the lives of many beyond the football field.
A business law teacher and guidance counselor at Rice, Mitchell will be most remembered for his willingness to go the extra mile for people — not just his football players, but his fellow man.
Mitchell played no favorites in his life’s quest to help others find their way.
“His character was amazing,” said John Langam, who spent six years as an assistant coach on Mitchell’s staff. “If a kid needed help, he was there for him. There was a time when he was a guidance counselor at Rice and he noticed a kid’s grades slipping and asked the kid what was wrong. Well, the kid’s parents were having some problems at home. Tom called the parents and set up a meeting with them. He sat down with the parents and asked them to get themselves straightened out or their kid was going to suffer.
“Tom never thought about himself. He was a man without faults or weaknesses. I worshipped the guy.”
For years Mitchell and a group of his former coaches, players and friends would get together for lunch every few months. You know, reflect on the good times and share a few laughs.
Langam was part of that group.
So was Mark Donahue, arguably the greatest player Brother Rice ever produced.
Donahue, a 1974 graduate, went on to play offensive line at Michigan and had the honor to play for both Mitchell and legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler.
The similarities between the two coaches extended beyond their love of the game.
“They were both were men of strong character and were leaders,” Donahue said. “They were focused and in command. I’m just so glad I had the opportunity the last few years to reconnect with him (Mitchell) going to lunch ... just a great man.
“I learned a lot from him. What I’ll remember most is that, at the end of the day it’s not about how much you did or how much you’ve gathered in life, it’s about how many lives you touched. He touched a lot of lives.”
When a young Frank Lenti started his coaching career at Mount Carmel in 1984, one of the people he looked up to was Mitchell, a fellow Mount Carmel graduate (Class of 1959).
During the Caravan’s state championship run in 2012, Lenti had a chance to talk with Mitchell.
“Tom’s son is an assistant coach at Lyons,” Lenti said of one of the Caravan’s playoff opponents. “When we played them I was walking to our locker room and Tom was sitting outside our locker room waiting to say, ‘hi’ and ‘good luck’ to me. I always looked forward to chatting with him.
“When I first became head coach, he was one of the active legends of the Catholic League. As a young coach, you aspired to be like him. He was a guy who loved coaching his kids and his kids loved playing for him. He made it fun for his kids.”
That’s one of the many values — having fun — current Rice coach Brian Badke is trying to instill in the next generation of Crusaders.
“Coach Mitchell was always there for you,” said Badke, a 1992 Rice grad who played two years under Mitchell. “He’d always ask about your family and always knew your first name. Not just the football players, all the students by first name. He cared for everybody at Rice.
“You would see how hard he worked for you and in turn you wanted to work hard for him. He was all about taking care of others. Coach Mitchell was a one of a kind.”
He certainly was.