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Big shoes to fill in Oak Park

Basketball coach Matt Maloney’s resignation after 12 years creates an opportunity to shape a new era for the Huskies.

Oak Park basketball coach Matt Maloney argues with a referee during a game against York.
Oak Park basketball coach Matt Maloney argues with a referee during a game against York.
Sun-Times file photo

Coach Matt Maloney stepped down as head coach at Oak Park on Wednesday.

He compiled a 224-108 record in his 12 years as head coach and won four West Suburban Silver titles, including two in the past three years. Maloney also won three regional championships.

Maloney cited personal reasons for his departure from coaching, including time missed with his three-year-old daughter, the time constraints of being a full-time history teacher and starting up a second Master’s degree program.

“My wife is a school administrator, so with my coaching we both had jobs that require so many hours beyond the actual work day,” Maloney said. “I have missed a lot of milestones already with my daughter, and I didn’t want to sacrifice any more precious time with her.”

Maloney’s resignation opens up what is considered to be one of the better, more high-profile high school basketball coaching jobs in the Chicago area.

The Oak Park job does present some challenges.

In comparison to many other jobs, it brings more pressure and scrutiny than most high school basketball coaches are accustomed to. At times there are some unrealistic expectations within a very vocal community, especially considering the sectional the Huskies play in every year is generally always one of the strongest in the state. That has played a part in why Oak Park hasn’t won a sectional championship since 1975.

The cavernous home gymnasium, with its vast openness and rubber floor, has never been confused with a gem, while it’s also become known that young eighth-grade players in the community are constantly being recruited by others schools from outside the area.

However, it’s a school district that pays very well, boasts high academics and has 3,300-plus students in a school that offers a lot of diversity. There is some basketball history and the pure talent base and wide-range of athletes seems to always be there. Plus, there is currently plenty of talent in the pipeline.

In addition to the diverse student population, there is also diversity in the skill sets of the players each year. That presents an opportunity for a coach to adapt, implement and play different styles from year to year.

While it will be a very attractive job and some big, successful names in coaching will certainly be intrigued, a lot needs to be sorted out with any coaching opening in high school basketball.

How committed is a high school and school district to athletics, particularly the higher profile positions in basketball and football? What teaching positions does a school have –– if any? –– and how does that fit with a candidate’s teaching credentials? Does an educator and coach want to lose the security where he presently works, especially under the current climate we’re in?

Regardless of who Oak Park ultimately hires, what the Huskies basketball program –– and high school basketball in general –– will miss with Maloney is a coach who genuinely cared about the sport, his players and Oak Park. He lived and breathed all three. That was easy to see and recognize over his 12 years as head coach and 13 more as an assistant.

In addition to raising the profile of the program and implementing discipline, Maloney was accessible and helpful to the media and college coaches. From personal experience and first-hand knowledge in watching and dealing with Maloney, he worked hard in getting the names of his players out there and doing all he could to pump up their profile for college opportunities.

There are a lot of coaches who fall far short of Maloney in terms of the work and time he put in on behalf of his players.

During his 12 years at Oak Park, Maloney helped send 40-plus players on to play college basketball.

Maloney, who is an Oak Park graduate, had a unique path back home. As a 19-year-old college student, he was offered the Freshman B basketball job just prior to the start of his junior year in college. He transferred to Dominican University where he was then able to both attend classes and coach at Oak Park.

“I have to thank coach Al Allen for allowing me to come home, opening the door to my coaching career and providing me a chance to coach at that young age,” Maloney said. “And I have to thank the athletic department for the opportunity they gave me. To be able to coach where I grew up and live is very special while being able to give back to the community that gave me so much.”

While averaging 19 wins a season over his 12 years, Maloney was a professional in the coaching industry who was a true advocate and had a passion for the sport he coached.