The word "legend" is defined as “an extremely famous or notorious person, especially in a particular field.” Yet when you talk to people in Maryland about legendary coaches, you normally hear names like Lefty Driesell, Bud Beardmore, and Earl Weaver. I agree they are all legendary, but there is clearly a name missing from this list. Although he doesn't seek attention, this individual deserves to be in the conversation when discussing legendary coaches; he has become a hero to me from just hearing about his impact. Who is this incredibly legendary man that you haven’t heard of you ask? Meet coach Mike Daniel, the coach of the New Town High School basketball team.
Coach Mike has changed the lives of nearly everyone that he has met. He has honestly changed mine, and I haven’t had the privilege of even meeting him yet. He has shown methat what I always hoped for in a coach when I have kids and they play sports actually exists. This will all make sense pretty soon when I explain his impact on the kids he has coached, the coaches he has had on his staff, and even opposing coaches. Coach Mike has coached many great professional players including a future HOF candidate Carmello Anthony, Dr. J, Moses Malone, Mugsy Bogues, Will Barton, Dave Wingate, Donte Greene, Malcom Dulaney, Kim English, and a long list of players who played basketball professionally overseas. He also had a chance to coach the USA 17 & Under national team that would have featured OJ Mayo. Coach Daniel's impact is one that can be felt across the basketball world. When he coaches these players he doesn’t just coach them. He changes their lives and molds these young kids into mature young adults.
Coach Mike's impact on basketball does not extend only to players. He has also had a strong impact on both college basketball and on the NBA as a whole. Coach Mike Daniel has not only coached some great players, but he has also coached some great coaches and team executives. Coach Mike coached Sydney Johnson, the head basketball coach at Fairfield University. Sydney Johnson has also coached at Princeton and Georgetown. Coach Mike Daniel also coached the Connelly brothers, one of the most fascinating families in the NBA. Joe Connelly works in player development in the NBA. Dan Connelly now works as an NBA scout and trainer. Pat Connelly is the GM for the Phoenix Suns, and Tim Connelly is the GM for the Denver Nuggets. In a 2013 Baltimore Sun article (avaliable here), Coach Mike Daniel described the Connelly brothers' story as "worthy of being told in Sports Illustrated or on ESPN." While their story is worthy of the national spotlight, so is the story of their high school coach. Coach Mike Daniel's impact on the sport of basketball is a far-reaching one that is, to this day, greatly underappreciated.
Coach Mike's legacy is one that cannot be defined by its impact on the sport of basketball alone. Coach Mike has touched the lives of many young students in extremely positive ways. What I love about Coach Mike is that he doesn’t just reach out to his school’s basketball players, he has reached out and helped football players as well as just regular students. For example, Coach Mike mentored defensive lineman Charles Tapper, helping him succeed as a student-athlete in high school. Tapper went on to a successful career at Oklahoma and was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the 4th round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
Coach Mike takes an interest in young student-athletes no matter their personal life situation and helps them focus on what is important. He teaches kids that life outside of basketball is where their focus should be. He believes in many philosophies that have seemingly disappeared from today’s society. One of those philosophies that I admire so much is the dress for success mindset. By that I mean he has his players dress up in shirts and ties when doing anything team oriented, even when going to games. He believes that when you dress well, you learn to respect how you look off the court as well. This helps with self-presentation, which in turn helps make positive impressions on people of importance, and with getting a job either as a student or in the future. The second thing he does that really impresses me is that he helps kids practice for interviews and helps them write resumes. Coach Mike's focus on developing these kids and polishing them into high-character young men and women helps them with their futures, whether they lie inside or outside of sports. He knows that the inevitable fact is true, that one day you just “won’t be able to play the kids game anymore.” The kids that Coach Mike works with are prepared for future success, both on and off the court, thanks to his approach. Honestly I was never taught how to make a resume, and wish that I had a coach or similar mentor in my life that taught me how to write one when I was younger.
Another major thing that Coach Mike instills in his players is the mentality that school comes first. If you are struggling in school and can’t keep your grades up he doesn’t care if you are a star, you can’t be on the team. He wants these kids to succeed and knows that schooling is the most important thing for success in today’s society. However, Coach Mike does not simply passively sit back and let his athletes struggle in the classroom. He helps them study, and even helps them prepare for the SAT. While Coach Mike is a very successful coach on the court, he has had even greater success off the court molding successful young men and women.
Another thing that Coach Mike really does well that every coach should focus on is building a staff under him that supports his goals and plans for the team and kids on his team. Coach Mike has built great relationships with both players and fellow coaches, and his staff is entirely committed to hisvision. The impact he makes on his coaching staff is insane. I had the privilege of talking to his longtime assistant coach, Tony Biggers, on the phone to learn everything about Coach Mike and we talked for 3 hours and he told me that "I still have more if you want anything else to know about him". He has helped Coach Tony become such a good coach that he (Coach Tony) has received offers to coach all over the country, both at the high school ad college level. Coach Mike has such a strong reputation that he got Olympic considerations at one point his coaching career.
All of the things that Coach Mike instills in his players and students not only creates high-character young adults, but also success on the court. He brings a winning formula and I believe truly that is because when you show you care about your players they really play harder for you. He has won multiple titles at New Town and has won titles in every high school and place he has been prior to his current coaching position. His recipe for helping these kids, both on and off the court, has made him a popular coach among both current and former players and students. He still has players to this day thank him for all that he did for them. He still has players come back to the school without him asking just to talk to his current players about how important what he is teaching them is for their futures, and how much what he did for them as a mentor and coach is responsible for their current success. Coach Tony said that “Coach Mike is why I am the great man and coach I am now. To my players as well as my family, he is my hero and I owe him everything.” To me that speaks volumes. Coach Tony is not the only coach who's career Coach Mike has touched. How about coaches like Tubby Smith who have called Coach Mike for his opinions of players and used his feedback in some of the recruitment decisions they have made, shaping the futures of their college teams.
Now if you read all that he has done for his own students as well as the kids in this schools that he doesn’t even coach and you aren’t impressed, honestly you probably aren’t impressed by anyone. I have met a lot of great people and great coaches in my life. I have been coached by Billy Ripken, Cal Ripken Jr, Larry Sheets and many other baseball coaches in my life and they were great to me, but I never learned what Coach Mike has taught his students. Coach Mike truly develops not just top athletes and champions; he also develops coaches, changes people’s lives, and shows kids how to create a future for themselves. He also mentors and believes in them, providing a positive role model for them. Coach Mike's example to his students helps them succeed both in and out of in the classroom while helping them stay out of trouble. Coach Mike, when you read this, I know that you don’t know me, but you have become a hero of mine just through what Coach Tony has told me about your career and about the impact you have made on people. It has truly shown me that there are still coaches out there that genuinely care about their players and their students' well-being. A coach that still reaches out to his players even when they are gone from the school and gives up his time just for the betterment of their lives is not just rare; it is basically unheard of in this modern era. Coach you are a legend and you deserve a legend's recognition not just in Maryland but across the country. In a world of negative media and no positive focus, the world could use a story about how much you do for the youth of our country. I hope this helps get you the recognition you deserve.
Written by Matt Koontz.
Edited by Mike Bertasso.
Facts from Coach Tony Biggers.