Local coaches react to Muffet McGraw's success

Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw celebrates by cutting down the net after defeating Mississippi State in the final of the women's NCAA Final Four college basketball tournament, Sunday, April 1, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio. Notre Dame won 61-58.

Several longtime high school basketball coaches from the area were happy to see Muffet McGraw win her second women’s NCAA tournament championship as the coach at Notre Dame.

McGraw, a native of Pottsville, started her coaching career in 1977 as the girls’ coach at Archbishop Carroll High School. She won her first NCAA title in 2001 with Notre Dame and her second on April 1 with a win over Mississippi State. That followed a stunning victory over Connecticut in the national semifinals.

According to the school’s records, the Archbishop Carroll Patriots went 22-3 during McGraw’s first season. She followed that up with a perfect 22-0 mark during the 1978-79 season, which included a Catholic League title.

McGraw, 62, who graduated from Bishop Shanahan High School in 1973, returned to St. Joseph’s University, her alma mater, and served as an assistant coach from 1980-82. She was named head coach at Lehigh in 1982 and posted an 88-41 record over five seasons before taking over the reins at Notre Dame, where she has compiled an 800–229 record over 31 seasons.

Renie Shields, the current girls’ basketball coach at Carroll, said McGraw challenges her players.

“Muffet’s approach to coaching has not changed since her time at Carroll,” said Shields, a former standout for St. Joe’s in basketball, cross-country, and softball. “She expects players to work hard, have drive and passion for the game, and work together toward a common goal.  She challenges her players to do more than they think they are capable of doing.

Camera icon JEFF FUSCO / File Photograph
Archbishop Carroll coach Renie Shields in 2015.

“To see a former PCL coach on the biggest stage of women’s basketball, the Final Four, is inspiring. It makes current players and coaches realize that hard work, drive, and passion can lead to a life of  personal and team achievement.”

Shields has been with Carroll since the 2007-08 season and took over as head coach in 2016. A three-time All-Big Five selection in basketball for the Hawks, Shields is in her 25th year in administration at St. Joseph’s, where she is also the color analyst for the women’s basketball internet broadcasts.

Paul Romanczuk, the Carroll boys’ basketball coach for the last 15 years, spoke of how proud the school is of McGraw.

“I think I can speak for the Carroll community in saying that we are all very proud of the success that Coach McGraw has had and pleased that Archbishop Carroll played a small part in the start of a such an illustrious career in coaching,” said Romanczuk.

Camera icon LOU RABITO / File Photograph
Archbishop Carroll coach Paul Romanczuk during the 2017 basketball season.

Linus McGinty, a St. Joe’s grad and former Carroll coach, has run into McGraw a few times over the years when Notre Dame has played in the area. He said McGraw could not have been nicer, asking how Carroll and Cardinal O’Hara were doing.

McGinty has been the girls’ basketball coach at O’Hara since the 1994-95 season, guiding the Lions to 11 Catholic League championships over that span. He spent 14 years as the coach at Carroll before taking the O’Hara job.

He won national coach of the year honors (2009) and was elected to the Philadelphia Archdiocese Hall of Fame in 2008.

“Being a St. Joe’s grad and an ex-Carroll coach, she has made the whole Catholic League coaches extremely proud of all she has achieved,” said McGinty, who has more than 800 career wins.

Camera icon LOU RABITO / File Photograph
Cardinal O’Hara Linus McGinty.

McGinty talked of the impact McGraw has on young coaches.

“Muffet is a great role model for young coaches,” said McGinty. “She does a great job and could not be classier. It is never about her. It is always about her players.”

Mary Beth McNichol, who has compiled more than 500 wins during 27 seasons as the girls’ basketball coach at the Academy of Notre Dame, was thrilled for McGraw.

“It was a thrill to see Muffet win another national championship,” said McNichol. “It is always extra special to see someone who played and coached both high school and college in Philadelphia attain such success.”

The two coaches reconnected when McGraw recruited one of McNichol’s players, Devon Kane, who went on to play for Villanova. McNichol played high school basketball at Archbishop Prendergast and went on to play at Villanova, where she is a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

Camera icon ROBERT FRANKLIN / AP
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw yells at her players during a first-round game against Cal State Northridge in the NCAA women’s college basketball tournament on March 16, 2018.

McGraw played basketball at St. Joseph’s, where she averaged 7.9 points, 3.5 assists and 3.1 steals per game over her four-year career. During her time on Hawk Hill, St. Joseph’s posted an astounding 60-11 record. She briefly played professionally for the California Dreams of the Women’s Professional Basketball League.

Already a Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer, McGraw was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame last September. She and her husband, Matt McGraw, a West Chester University graduate whose career has been in financial services, celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary last year.

“I never could have imagined when I started coaching Archbishop Carroll in 1977 that it would take me to so many places I would have never seen and given me so many experiences that have changed my life,” McGraw said during her Hall of Fame acceptance speech.