Craig Remsburg column: O’Donnell will be missed in Negaunee at High School

Many words come to mind in describing Negaunee High School varsity boys basketball coach Mike O’Donnell:

Talented. Basketball savvy. Personable. Successful.

But the one word that may best characterize O’Donnell is “classy.”

The Negaunee native and 1999 NHS graduate – headed to Finlandia University to coach the NCAA Division III men’s basketball team there – has always been a class act.

A three-time (2008, 2013 and 2014) Upper Peninsula Class ABC Coach of the Year, O’Donnell has done things right during his nine years at the Miners’ helm.

The NHS boys basketball program has long been regarded by other programs/coaches/players in the peninsula as a team to be emulated.

A lot of that has been cultivated over the years by former coaches Dave Hallgren, Fran Ghiardi and Tom Russo. O’Donnell no doubt learned a lot from them and tried to reach the same high bar they set.

Some teams have had similar success – or more – than O’Donnell’s squads have realized. Yet, some have not achieved the respect earned by O’Donnell and the Miners’ teams he has coached.

Negaunee School District officials and NHS administrators have surely had an effect in that respect. They’ve long stressed doing things the right way to continue to foster the district’s basketball tradition and culture.

But O’Donnell should take some credit, too. He has been the right coach for the program through his demeanor and principles.

He has been an ambassador for NHS and the Negaunee community as a whole. When interviewed by the media here and throughout the state, he has been accessible and talkative, win or lose.

No one-word answers to questions, or refusing to talk after a tough loss. O’Donnell always has something insightful to say, no matter how poorly his team might have played in a game.

Taking over a floundering Finlandia program after being so successful at Negaunee is a huge step – a gamble, if you will – for O’Donnell.

The college game will bring a whole new set of challenges he’s unfamiliar with to date. He’ll have more on his plate than he ever experienced at NHS.

O’Donnell will also be judged more quickly and more often for what he does or fails to do with the Lions. It’s just the nature of the job, though realistically, he has nowhere to go but up with the struggling Lions.

Make no mistake. He’ll be missed at NHS.

But with his even-keeled coaching personality and obvious talent – albeit on the high school level – there’s no reason to think he’ll do anything other than succeed at Finlandia.

We wish him well.