His double double is just day at office Coppin: In his rare dual role of athletic director and coach, Fang Mitchell's days are long but satisfying.

November 29, 1997|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

As the clock inches toward 11 p.m., the Coppin State basketball team approaches the end of the grueling, three-hour practice.

Coach Fang Mitchell has been on his feet for much of the session. His voice has ranged from a whisper that's barely audible four feet away to a roar that could be heard in the offices surrounding the gym.

But at this particular moment, the day is taking its toll. And as the team runs its full-court defensive drills, Mitchell sluggishly ambles over to a courtside seat, buries his face into his hands and shakes his head.

"Oh man, oh man," he says, his voice muffled. "This definitely is not going down as one of my strong nights."

It wasn't always this way for Mitchell. Not at practices during his first 10 years at Coppin, when his sole responsibility was leading the basketball team that has put the school on the national map (last year's first-round NCAA win over South Carolina was just the third time a 15th seed had beaten a No. 2 seed).

Since summer 1996, Mitchell has been wearing two hats -- men's basketball coach and athletic director. Mitchell is one of five people in Division I athletics to hold both positions.

So the numbers that float through his head these days don't reflect just points and rebounds, but also expenditures for the women's volleyball team and how many shoes to order for his cross country team. His advice isn't just to a player on how to shoot a jumper, but also to a cheerlead er on the appropriate length of new uniforms. His responsibility is no longer just to 12 players, but to a program consisting of more than 150 athletes. It's a tiring job that forces him to schedule practice as late as 8 p.m. (to accommodate the class schedules of all his players) or as early as 6 a.m. (so he can attend the conference cross country championships).

Difficult? Demanding? Tiring? Yes, on all counts. But to Mitchell, 50, the job also is rewarding. He's already gotten Coppin recognized; now, he wants to take it to another level.

"It's two jobs, and it's changed my life to a point where I have to work all day and late into the night just to get things accomplished," Mitchell says. "But whatever it takes to get the job done, I'm willing to put in.

"It's funny. Before, I used to go into the office demanding what I needed for the men's basketball team. Now, I have to look at everything with an open mind and make sure things are equally distributed. I have to cater to Coppin State College and its teams."

Hugs all around

It's 9: 30 a.m., and Mitchell is maneuvering his rented Ford Taurus (his car was stolen days before) into the school parking lot while reaching for his cellular phone. He's alerting Dr. Mary Wanza, the school's library director, that the 9: 30 meeting to discuss the school's NCAA certification procedure is going to be slightly delayed.

Brown leather briefcase in hand, Mitchell saunters directly from the parking lot to his meeting site in the library. Moments after his arrival, before he can even remove his leather jacket, the embracing begins.

Secretaries. Administrators. It's hugs galore. Library workers. Bookstore employees. A custodial worker, upon seeing Mitchell, momentarily stops work and props her broom on the wall so she can receive an embrace.

His first meeting begins at 9: 41 and is over in about an hour. From there, it's off to the office of associate athletic director Desney Byrd, where, for the next two hours, Mitchell fields calls and talks to staff members. Coaches walk in with questions. Potential sponsors call to confirm meetings. A scout with the Miami Heat phones about prospects. Mitchell handles all of this while reading and signing off on stacks of paperwork.

"It's amazing that he only gets more energy as the day goes on," says Byrd, who handles much of the department's administrative duties. "He'll say, 'Let's get this done, let's get that done' -- and we get it done. He's a hands-on person. He wants to make sure everything has his stamp of approval."

Just then, Mitchell re-enters Byrd's office, holding open a book with a photo of a cheerleader's outfit and asking, "Is that too short?" Told the outfit isn't, Mitchell leaves to tell the cheerleader her outfit choice has been approved.

"See that?" Byrd says. "He's very detail-oriented."

By noon, a break is in sight. The outer office is nearly empty with the lunch hour. But just when Mitchell leans back in his chair and seems to relax, the student secretary taps lightly on the door.

"Excuse me, I have to leave for class," she says to Mitchell. "Do you have the phones?"

A mellower Mitchell?

Maybe it's the added responsibility of being athletic director. Perhaps it's a simple matter of mellowing with age. Whatever it is, those close to him say Fang has lost some of his bite.

"Oh yeah, there's a big difference," says Antoine Brockington, a senior guard and the preseason Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year. "He's kind of laid-back. I won't say it's old age. I don't know. But he's easier to talk to."

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