One of the most accomplished careers a Leo Man could aspire to is coming to an end as Tom O’Malley wraps up 55 uninterrupted years of coaching at the conclusion of the current season.
St. Xavier University, O’Malley’s coaching home for the last 23 years, saluted him in a ceremony accompanying the Cougars’ final home game, vs. St. Francis on Wednesday, Feb. 19. With dozens of O’Malley’s fellow Leo Men on hand at the Shannon Center on the SXU campus, the party became a double-barreled celebration when the Cougars beat St. Francis 90-69 giving O’Malley the 1,000th victory of a storied career rich in milestones.
And it’s not over yet. A fourth-place finish in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference earned St. Xavier (19-10 overall, 14-8 conference) the No. 4 seed in the CCAC conference tournament and a possible spot in the NAIA national playoffs.
A member of Leo’s Class of 1959, O’Malley began teaching and coaching at his alma mater after graduating from Loras College in 1963. “I’d been accepted into a management trainee program for a department store chain, but Brother Coogan talked me into coming to work at Leo for about half the salary,” he recalled. “My dad said, ‘Tom, I thought you went to college because you were smart.’”
Thus was a remarkable career launched.
O’Malley’s first Leo lightweight team, with Brian Tansey and the late Fred McMahon in leading roles, reached the Catholic League playoffs. His second—Jerry Shannon, Jay Standring, Jim Stankiewicz, etc.—won the CCL title, in 1966.
He relinquished lightweight responsibilities to coach the heavies beginning with the 1967-68 season and immediately produced a playoff team. After upsetting powerful Hales Franciscan in the ‘69 playoffs, the Lions of the late Marty Carroll, Jack Hopkins and Sid Williams reached the CCL title game, only to lose to Brother Rice.
O’Malley’s ’73 team—Tony Parker, Jerry Newell, Jim McEldowney, Gary Blount, Ron Simmons—is regarded as one of the best in Leo history … and was inadvertently controversial. The Lions stormed through the Catholic League regular season with a 10-1 record, then cruised through two playoff games to claim the CCL title before finishing second in the Alhambra National Catholic High School Tournament in the final year before the Catholic League joined the IHSA and became eligible for state competition.
Meanwhile, Hirsch was adding the Class 2-A state championship to its Public League title. But the Huskies refused to play Leo in the city championship game, Coach Charles Stimpson claiming it would be pointless to play for a city title when Hirsch was already the state champ. Amid significant public outcry, Hirsch held its ground, and Leo was denied an opportunity to play for the city championship. The city title game had ceased to exist within two years.
O’Malley moved to Reavis and then Evergreen Park to complete a high school career that spanned 32 years and produced a 474-236 record (.593). Taking over at St. Xavier for the 1997-98 season, he has produced a school-record 526 wins, three conference titles, four conference tournament titles and 13 NAIA playoff appearances. Twenty of his players have achieved NAIA All-America status, and six are members of the SXU Hall of Fame, which will add Tom O’Malley when the Class of 2020 is inducted in April.
He’s already a member of the Leo High School Hall of Fame, the Chicago Catholic League Hall of Fame and the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame and was the Leo Alumni Association Man of the Year in 2012.
“I had the good fortune to play for Tom O’Malley, and it was probably THE highlight of a less-than-mediocre career,” Leo President Dan McGrath said. “He was tough and demanding, but he brought out the best in people. Some of the lessons I learned have stayed with me all my life.”