May 8, 2012
Lowie calling it a career at CHS
The winningest coach in the history of the Cortland High boys’ basketball program is calling it a career.
Karol “Mick” Lowie, who compiled a record of 279-207 in 23 seasons — the program’s longest tenure ever — split into two separate parts, has retired from the position, having submitted his letter of resignation last week. The 58-year-old Cortland High graduate (1972), who was recently inducted as a member of the CHS Wall of Fame, retired as a physical education and drivers’ education teacher with the district after the 2008-09 school year.
“Working for my alma mater was something I always wanted to do,” said Lowie, who was hired as a driver’s education teacher in 1977. “I had the same offer from Tully, where I’d coached JV basketball and varsity baseball the previous school year. I was the JV basketball coach under John Jackson and the junior high baseball coach to start at Cortland, and knew at some point that that I’d wind up as varsity coach, which happened in the 1983-84 season.”
Lowie held the position for three years originally, then coached the men’s team at Tompkins Cortland Community College in Dryden for three years while still teaching driver’s education and physical education at CHS, where he came back to coaching in 1989, serving as an assistant football coach under John Pilato through the 1992 season. He became the varsity basketball coach again for the 1992-93 season and held the post through this past campaign. He also coached the CHS softball team from 2006-09.
“As far as the wins, you now if you’re anywhere long enough you’re going to accumulate wins. You have some bad years, but the seasons pile up on you. I was fortunate to have a lot of great kids and super parents, and you get more mature as a coach and learn how to handle things better.”
During his time as head coach, the Purple Tigers went to four Section 3 Class A finals in the 10 seasons from 2002-03 to 2011-2012 and won back-to-back OHSL Freedom American Division championships in 2009-10 and 2010-11 — the program’s first league titles in more than 50 years. He was named Section 3 Class A Coach of the Year for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons and was All-CNY Co-Coach of the Year in 2010-11, when his 19-2 squad posted the best record in program history.
Lowie, who early last year broke the program’s old career win standard of 246 set by Jack Hannon between 1951-69 and then 1793-77, has cited the fact that the program’s coaches are all CHS graduates as one of the reasons for its success.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my coaching staff over the years, a very consistent, loyal and dedicated group of friends,” he said. “It includes my varsity assistants, Rick Miller, for the last 17 years, and Jeremy Milligan; Yale Hughes, the head JV coach, 16 years; JV assistant Tom Neugebauer, 16 years; modified coaches Jeff Lacey, 15 years, and Jim Brown, over 10 years; former head JV coach John Tobin, 10 years; Tim Guido, a former player of mine and current JV assistant coach; Dave Beams, the former seventh-grade coach and Ben Albright, the current seventh-grade coach. They have made things much easier for me at the varsity level, having done some outstanding coaching at the lower levels.”
In thinking back over his success, Lowie noted that “One of the biggest changes came during the 1996-97 season, when Section 3 reorganized basketball leagues by school size,” Lowie said. “Up until then we had been playing in Class AA leagues. We were respectable, but didn’t win many games.
“Since then we’ve done pretty well. That first season we went 16-6, and three of our losses were to a Westhill team that went undefeated and won the state championship. Since we’ve been playing schools our size, we’ve had some pretty nice seasons. ”
As for his decision to retire, Lowie said: “It felt like the right time. My wife (Joan) is retiring as a one-on-one aide at Barry at the end of this school year. I’m happy that I’m not leaving a program that’s in trouble. The cupboard isn’t bare by any stretch of the imagination. It’s in very good shape. One starter is back next year and a lot of playing time is lost, but there are some good players left and coming up and the program is still solid.
“It’s more difficult coaching when you’re not in the building. Jeremy took charge of everything that happened in-school, and that (not being there physically) didn’t feel right to me,” he added.
Jamesville-DeWitt, coached by Bob McKenney, beat the Purple Tigers for the title in three of their four sectional finals appearances, including each of the past two seasons. New Hartford outscored CHS for the crown in 2006.
“It’s too bad,” an obviously disappointed McKenney said when he learned of Lowie’s retirement. “He has a lot left in him as a coach, I can tell you that. It was fun going against him. This is good for him, but bad for the game. I hate to see good people get out of the profession, and Mick is one of the greats.
“He had that ‘it’ factor as a coach; he was a great game coach with a great system that the JVs and varsity ran well. His kids were always prepared, and he was able to get them to believe in the system, which showed in his success. I can’t remember Cortland being down in the 16 years we coached against each other. He was a master of adapting to his talent; he wasn’t a 2-3 (zone) coach when I started going against him.”
Mexico coach Paul Callaghan, who has coached the Tigers for 30 seasons with, like Lowie, some time away to coach a college program (Oswego State from 1981-90), had fond memories of going against his long-time cohort as well as a reaction to the news that was similar to McKenney’s.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Callaghan said when informed of Lowie’s plans. “I always loved it when we coached against each other, and he did too. We’re both scouting and tape fanatics, and we knew each other’s plays, so if we had a play called four I knew he knew that and I’d call it something different when I called it out to see how he’d react. He also knew that we go 99.9 percent man-to-man on defense, so I’d come out in a 2-3 zone and he’d look down the sidelines at me and I’d look back.
“You always knew when you played his teams that his kids would play hard; they were always well-prepared and obviously well-coached. You take those things alone and add some good talent here and there and you’ve got successful teams, plus he always knew how to react when he saw what we had. Mick will be missed, as a coach and as a friend. Maybe now I can get him out on the golf course.”
Jeff Johnson, the Cortland High athletic director since the 1998-99 school year, said of Lowie that “Mick’s done a great job of building the boys’ basketball program up and making it very competitive. He worked very hard in the off-season to improve the program, and had a great deal of success. He’s been a great guy to have on the staff. He’s an extremely hard worker, is extremely conscientious and provided the kids with a quality sports experience.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have him as a coach, and he’s been one of the best coaches on the staff. We’ll certainly miss him being on the staff, and wish him the best of luck in retirement.”
In looking back over his CHS coaching career, Lowie came up with a couple of standout memories. “Beating Jamesville-DeWitt at home last season was nice,” he said of the Purple Tigers’ 55-51 win over the top-ranked Class A team in the state, which would go on to win a fourth straight NYSPHSAA championship.
“But the standout is beating Utica Notre Dame (80-68) on their court in the quarterfinals in 2007. They were the defending sectional champions with five starters back, and had a home winning streak of 50-plus games.”
As for future plans, Lowie noted that “It will be nice to watch some games from the stands. You never lose from there. And you never say never, or close the door on coaching.”
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