Former Brother Rice gridiron players were stunned to learn that their fabled coach, Tom Mitchell, passed away at age 72 of an apparent heart attack on Tuesday.
The famed Brother Rice High School football coach's passing was announced at Tuesday's Oak Lawn Village Board meeting by several board members and alumni who were in tears.
A 1959 graduate of Mt. Carmel High School, Mitchell joined Brother Rice as the head football coach in 1967 at the tender age of 26. He served in that role until his retirement in 1992.
Like the retired Irish-American boxer played by John Wayne who returns to Ireland to reclaim his family's homestead in the John Ford film “The Quiet Man,” Mitchell led the Crusaders through his example of quiet determination and strength, posting a 170-95 record.
In an interview with Taylor Bell of Comcast Sports Net, Mitchell said the “W” and “L” columns didn’t matter so much to him but his interaction with players and coaches.
"My mission was to develop kids to the best of their ability," Mitchell said. "At Brother Rice, we didn't get the bulk of talented kids. We had to work hard to maximize their ability. I felt I helped a lot of kids. It my job worthwhile.
"When I first started coaching, we existed in a league where schools gave out scholarships to talented players. We didn't have the privilege of that so many of our teams weren't as talented as the teams in our league. We didn't have the most talented team but no one ever out-worked us."
Mitchell was a charter inductee in Brother Rice’s “Circle of Champions.” During his 26-year coaching career he touched the lives of 1,100 players. He led the 1981 team to the Class 6A State Championship, was the Class 6A runner-up in 1985, and laid claim to two Chicago Prep Bowl Championships in 1975 and 1980.
The coaching legend was a member of Illinois High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame, and the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame. Mitchell was also an inductee into the Chicago Catholic League Hall of Fame, and the Brother Rice and Brother Rice Alumni Association Halls of Fame, the school website said.
Arrangements were pending as of Wednesday evening.
Mitchell leaves his wife, Marianne, and sons, Timothy and Thomas, Jr., both 1983 graduates of Brother Rice.
Patch will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.