Title IX opened up an unexpected career path for workout icon Flanagan

Don Flanagan is seen in a portrait photo taken recently at his home in Albuuqerque Foothills. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Don Flanagan recalls his reaction when Title IX made high school women’s basketball part of the American landscape.

It was the mid-1970s, Flanagan was coaching boys basketball at Window Rock High in Arizona, and he decided to watch the school’s newly formed girls’ team practice.

“I thought, ‘This will never work,'” Flanagan recalled. “These kids had never been trained and the skill level was so lacking. They didn’t know how to be strong with the ball. There were jump balls on almost every possession. It wasn’t pretty.

A few years later, Flanagan became personally involved. He signed on to coach women’s basketball at Eldorado High School and heralded one of the most successful eras in New Mexico sports history.

His Eldorado teams amassed a ridiculous 401-13 record and won 11 state championships from 1979 to 1995.

Flanagan didn’t see it coming initially.

“The first group I had in Eldorado weren’t very talented,” he said, “but they learned quickly and were very competitive. When I first went to Eldorado, I wanted to coach boys. But after two years they came back and offered me a job coaching boys and I declined. I was in the right place.

“Plus, we’ve had an ongoing winning streak.”

Eldorado coach Don Flanagan is shown in an undated photo with Eagles player Krista Kozel. Flanagan went 401-13 as the Eldorado girls’ basketball coach. (Paul Bearce/Journal file)

Flanagan became a supporter of uplifting women’s basketball in the state and opposed what he perceived as unequal treatment. Girls’ state tournaments were then held at school sites or the Tingley Coliseum, and Flanagan was among those pushing for inclusion at the Pit.

“I’m sure the (New Mexico Activities Association) got tired of hearing me out,” he said. “We never got to the Pit until 1990, but that first year Shiprock and Kirtland Central played in front of 10,000 people. It was clearly the right thing to do.”

Flanagan went on to turn the unsung University of New Mexico women’s basketball program into a consistent winner with a large and loyal fan base. From 1995-2011, Flanagan’s Lobos went 340-168 and won eight combined regular season and conference tournament titles.

Now 78, Flanagan credits Title IX with a huge impact on his life and career path. Current UNM women’s basketball coach Mike Bradbury agrees.

Federal legislation passed in 1972 prohibiting gender discrimination in any school receiving federal funding effectively sparked a nationwide sports boom for girls and women. It also created much more viable options for coaches – of both genders.

“I have a reputation for coaching high school girls,” Flanagan said, “and that’s how I got the job at UNM. Without Title IX, I probably would have coached boys my entire career. and who knows if I would have ever progressed.

Bradbury offered a similar perspective.

“Title IX has helped so many female student-athletes and it has created good jobs for coaches, trainers, officials, etc.,” Bradbury said. “For me, I was going to school to be a teacher and coach, male or female would have been fine. But the career I had wouldn’t have been possible without Title IX.

Irregular foot

When Flanagan made the leap from Eldorado in 1995, UNM women’s basketball was in a different stratosphere than the school’s popular men’s program. Women’s basketball had been dropped from 1987 to 1991, and the Lobos had a combined 14–96 record in the first four seasons after the program was reinstated.

Flanagan knew he was undertaking a construction project, as well as a public relations assignment.

“No one was at the games back then,” he recalls. “We did everything we could think of to get people to come. All players stayed after games to sign autographs and chat with fans. In this regard, we were really starting from scratch.

Flanagan’s garish high school diplomas were not amply rewarded.

“I made $45,000 my first year,” Flanagan said, “on a one-year contract. After the season, I went to see (then athletic director) Rudy Davalos and said, ‘Rudy, I’m going to need a raise.” I got $60,000 and another one-year contract.

Flanagan said he was willing to accept the meager salary for the chance to get his foot in the door as a college coach. He, however, advocated for the upgrading of women’s facilities.

“The locker room they had when I started was worse than Eldorado,” Flanagan said, “and the men’s locker room at that time was new. After six years of complaining to me, they finally built us some. a better.

UNM head coach Don Flanagan presents number one to the crowd after cutting the net after his Lobo women won the 1998 WAC tournament. (Jaime Dispenza/Journal file)

golden opportunity

Dilapidated locker rooms and relatively weak paychecks aside, Flanagan said he was given all the tools necessary to build a successful program at UNM. Title IX expectations for equal treatment were known and met.

“The administration has told all the coaches, ‘We have a book here and it’s the Bible,'” Flanagan said. “Women have the same things as guys in terms of gym time, equipment, uniforms. We never had a problem.

Flanagan also discovered a valuable commodity when he arrived at UNM: talent. The Lobos went 14-15 in his first campaign, then turned the corner and posted 14 straight winning seasons, including 11 with 20 or more wins.

“The team I inherited was pretty good,” he said. “It helped us get things done quickly and gave us a chance to build.”

Flanagan’s Lobos captured the imagination of local fans and the program quickly carved out a place among the national attendance leaders. Still, Flanagan frequently picked up static electricity from opponents in New Mexico and elsewhere.

“We had to fight the perception that women’s basketball was somehow inferior,” he said, “even though we got a lot of fans. I think once we got to the NCAAs and we organized them, it caught more people’s attention, they saw how good women’s basketball really is.

make him pay

Under Flanagan, UNM women’s basketball became a regular draw and a source of income for the school. As a result, salaries have risen steadily to provide coaches with a more than comfortable life.

After earning $45,000 in his first season, Flanagan had a base salary of $210,000 plus $100,000 for media and promotional obligations when he stepped down in 2011.

Lobo Women’s head coach Mike Bradbury, left, reacts to Jaedyn De La Cerda hitting a 3-pointer in action last season at home against Boise State. Bradbury’s college coaching career got off to an inauspicious start in Chattanooga. (Roberto E. Rosales/Diary)

Bradbury, whose base salary is $270,000 this year, admits he didn’t have high professional expectations when asked to help with women’s basketball while a student at Chattanooga.

“Not at all,” he said. “Thirty years ago, we drove vans for four to five hours to get to the women’s games. The players had a set of uniforms that we washed after each game and a pair of basketball shoes if they were lucky. It was not like that for the men’s teams. Fortunately, times have changed. »

Bradbury began considering a career as a women’s basketball coach only after another Chattanooga staff member left for a head coaching job. Four assistant positions and two head coaching positions later, he arrived in Albuquerque in 2016, succeeding Yvonne Sanchez.

Looking back, Bradbury said he was glad he ended up coaching women’s basketball.

“Male coaches make more money,” he says, “but there are advantages. Most female players don’t think about playing professional basketball. they want to get the most out of their college career. In addition, I have the impression that there is a more personal side, which one appreciates after a while.

Flanagan agreed.

“When I started coaching, getting a scholarship wasn’t even a motivation for girls,” he said, “it happened so rarely. Now, so many women have had the opportunity to play college basketball and earn full scholarships, and it goes back to Title IX.

“It gave me the chance to have a career doing something I loved, but so many girls and women really benefited from it. It’s its biggest achievement.

Comments are closed.