You had to see this one coming. Jerry Conner has resigned from Shadow Mountain High School after winning the D-II state basketball championship in his first year back at the school.
Conner had earned near-legendary status in the prep game after spending 32 years as the head boys basketball coach at the east Phoenix school, where he won more than 500 games and a couple of state championships. He ‘retired’ in 2006, but took on a few more coaching gigs before returning to reclaim his well-worn seat on the bench at Shadow Mountain.
The Matadors put together a 29-3 season, lost just one game in sectional play, and captured its first state title since 2000 – when Conner was in charge of the program.
But the (Arizona) hall of fame coach has packed up his bag of tricks and will attempt to work his magic at Scottsdale’s Horizon High School. The Huskies have struggled since Paul Long left the program three years ago, unable to post a winning record overall and unable to pick up more than four section wins in any of those years. Last season wrapped up a 7-18, 2-11 record.
On the surface it makes little sense that Conner would put the Shadow Mountain program back on top and then leave again so quickly, abandoning the school that named its basketball court after him. But the story behind the story is all about a former player who led the offense in 1996, when Shadow Mountain won its first state championship.
That former high-school player is now a former University of Arizona standout, big-name NBA player – and an assistant coach on Conner’s staff last season. But, according to people close to the program, Mike Bibby assumed a more significant role and was often seen as the ‘shadow’ head coach. His son, Mike Bibby Jr., was also on the team and was its second-leading scorer.
Conner found himself in a sticky situation when he returned to his old haunts, with a popular local high-profile basketball star on his staff and another Mike Bibby on the floor – who had been listening to his dad a long time before Conner took over as his head coach.
Taking a back seat to an assistant isn’t how Conner is used to operating. After starting the Shadow Mountain program back in 1974 and being ‘the man’ for more than three decades, he tried his hand at the college level – also as a head coach. He started a men’s basketball program at Blue Mountain College, an NAIA school in Mississippi that had been an all-girls school until recently, and later took over the Arizona Christian University women’s program for a couple of years. In between those stops, he was the boys head coach for a season at Sandra Day O’Connor High School in west Phoenix.
At every stop, Conner sat in the driver’s seat. Last season, although he won’t admit it, he probably felt like he was in the back seat on too many occasions. He had the head-coach title, but not necessarily the juice that goes with it.
But now he’s got the reins back in his hands again, moving up to a program that competes in Division I – and hopefully gives him an opportunity to end the travels that started with his ‘retirement’ eight years ago.