by Mitchell Austin and Joe Cook
Eagle Editorial Board
The climate of St. Thomas seems to change yearly. New teachers, new students, new technologies and new activities are introduced every year, and in an environment such as ours, long careers such as his are not commonplace.
One mainstay has been Dean of Students Michael McConnell who will retire at school year’s end.
McConnell has been at the school since 1978 and worked for seven different Basilians during that time. He left his post as defensive coordinator at Strake Jesuit to become head football coach here.
Before his coaching career began at Holy Ghost Catholic School, McConnell starred in both football and baseball at Bellaire High School, where he is a member of its Baseball Hall of Fame.
After graduating from Bellaire, McConnell served for more than 19 months in the Army, where he was deployed to Germany. After he completed his military obligation, he went to the University of Houston and earned a B.S. in education.
He is married to Dorothy McConnell, who works as bookkeeper in the business office, and has two children. His son, Blake, is a graduate of St. Thomas, and his daughter, Katie, is an Assistant Principal in the Alief Independent School District.
McConnell was hired as the football coach in 1978.
His first three seasons as head football coach consisted of rebuilding years. His record after his first three seasons was 8-24. In 1981, McConnell coached the Eagles to their first state championship in his tenure with an 8-3-1 record.
McConnell led the Eagles to three consecutive state championships from 1983 to 1986, with two more in 1988 and 1989. During his term of 15 seasons as head coach, McConnell achieved six state championships, 21 All-Greater Houston awards, 97 All-District awards, one All-Gulf Coast Award, four All-American Awards and 119 All-State Awards.
His overall record as head football coach is 83-72-2, with six state championships.
The regular season games St. Thomas played in during his career consisted mainly of 5A or state-ranked 4A schools.
“I miss the Friday night excitement,” McConnell said. “It was a joy to watch the players perform in the game what we practiced all week.”
He remembers the excitement of the first state championship vividly.
“It was the first state championship St. Thomas had in about 10 years,” McConnell said. “We went in there and just blew out Dallas Jesuit. I remember looking up and seeing all of our fans decked out in red. You always remember that first one.”
Dr. Ross Reul, class of ’84, was on McConnell’s championship teams in ’83 and ’84.
“We never knew we weren’t supposed to win,” Reul said about his experience playing under the direction of McConnell. “Coach McConnell taught us to believe in ourselves and our teammates. We won because he taught us how to win. We won because he told us to win. We believed.”
McConnell is remembered as one of the greatest coaches the school has ever had. He developed discipline, leadership and character on and off the field.
“It was truly a privilege to coach these guys,” McConnell said. “Every player I ever coached meant so much to me. Those were the best years of my life. It was a blast.”
In 1984, McConnell was selected to become the Dean of Students, replacing George Majoue.
During this time, he continued his assignments as head football coach, golf coach and teaching a few P.E. classes.
In 1993, he stepped down as head coach and was replaced by John Carrigan. McConnell continued to be Dean of Students.
Since 1984, many things have changed for McConnell, but much also remained the same.
“Boys have been boys from 1984 to present,” McConnell said. “Their time-to-time use of bad judgement has not changed.”
The things that have changed are those that students today are most familiar with.
“We didn’t have cell phones or drug tests to deal with,” McConnell said. “But even with these modern day problems, at the end of the day it is a respect thing.”
McConnell has encountered many issues at St. Thomas, one of the most challenging in 1998 when he had to serve as co-principal with current assistant principal Chris Westman.
“It was beautiful the way that students and faculty worked together to get through a very difficult time,” McConnell said. “My job was fairly easy that year because everyone in the St. Thomas community pitched in.”
After current President Rev. Ronald Schwenzer, C.S.B. was appointed principal in 1998, McConnell returned to serving only as Dean of Students.
McConnell said that having to do the best thing for the school is not always easy to do.
“It is always difficult to ask a student to leave,” McConnell said. “Ultimately, it comes down to what is best for our school.”
His wife Dorothy has worked for the school since 1997.
“Being able to work with my wife is terriffic,” McConnell said. “Although we hardly get to see each other at work, she is a great companion.”
Though he could not pinpoint what his single best memory of St. Thomas is, McConnell landed on a common are of pride for many.
“To me, Round-Up is St. Thomas,” McConnell said. “The whole school comes together, and it more than anything shows who we as a school really are.”
For many students, news of McConnell’s depature came as a shock.
“I was surprised when I learned he was leaving,” senior Michael Kafoglis said. “I’ll remember him every time I have to tuck my shirt in. He is leaving such a great influence on us all.”
Most students are thankful for having the opportunity to have McConnell serve as dean during their four years.
“I’m really glad he stayed for our senior year,” senior Alex Zapalac said. “I know St. Thomas will be a lot different without him.”
A successor for McConnell has not been announced yet. He said that a committee had been formed to search for the next dean of students.
“I’ll assist in any way they ask me to,” McConnell said. “Ultimately, [Principal Rev. Patrick] Fulton makes the final call.”
For his retirement, McConnell is not sure what he will be doing, but he did tell of a couple of things that he might do with his available time.
“Nothing is etched in stone,” McConnell said. “I have a big old house and a one year old grandson who I’ll be seeing a lot of.”
McConnell praised everyone he has worked with.
“I have fond memories and respect for all the coaches,” McConnell said. “I also have tremendous respect for all of the teachers here.”
No matter who succeeds him as Dean of Students, nobody can dispute the legendary legacy that he has left.