We lost another high school coaching legend Tuesday morning. With the passing of Dick McConnell, we now have enough for an Arizona version of Mount Rushmore.
Move over Paul Moro, Jesse Parker, and Vern Friedli. It’s time to add one more.
In the span of just 21 months, we lost all four of those legendary Arizona high school coaches. Two of them died on the same day. Together, they dedicated 150 years to coaching our youth.
Moro, Parker, and Friedli were great football coaches. McConnell’s fame was built during 42 years as a basketball coach. Thirty-nine of those years were spent at Sahuaro High School in Tucson, where he finished his career with a 776-320 record and four state titles.
For the last 20 years, a trophy bearing his name has been given annually to the top hoops coach in southern Arizona.
He would be in good company up on that monument. Parker retired in 2008 with 309 wins over 40 years on the sidelines, which made him the winningest football coach in Arizona prep history. Friedli took over the title by piling up 331 wins, and then Moro came along to pass them both when he won No. 336 in 2017, his last season at Marcos de Niza High School in Tempe.
Parker and Friedli died on the same day in late July, Parker at age 77 and Friedli at 80. Both were in failing health. Moro was just 69 when he passed away on Jan. 26, after dealing with cancer and a couple of strokes.
McConnell outlasted them all. He was 89. Like the others, he had been in failing health for a couple of years leading up to his death.
His son, Rick, is the head boys’ basketball coach at Dobson High School in Mesa. Dick and his wife, Clarine, had moved in with Rick and his family earlier this year.
He had amassed a 776-320 record by the time he retired in 2007. The Kansas transplant took Sahuaro to state titles when the school played in the 4A conference in 1970 and 1982, and then picked up back-to-back championships in 2000 and 2001 when the Tucson school was playing in 4A. The ’82 squad narrowly missed an undefeated season, finishing with a 28-1 record.
The gymnasium at Sahuaro was named in his honor.
His 776 wins set the record for most wins until Gary Ernst at Mesa’s Mountain View High School passed him on his way to breaking the 900-win plateau last season.
McConnell was an assistant coach at Rincon High School when he was hired at Sahuaro when the school opened in 1968. He led that program for the next 39 years, dealing with just one losing season in nearly four decades – his first season with the Cougars.
He is a member of both the Arizona Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the National High School Coaches Hall of Fame.