“He was one of those people in East Camden who really cared about the kids on the team. It wasn't just about basketball,” Williams recalled Friday. “When I became the varsity coach, all those kids were eligible for college. Fang and the community were as proud of that as they were of the state championship.”
Mitchell, whose nickname came from a deep-, scratchy-voiced character named White Fang on the 1960s television show “The Soupy Sales Show,” got his message across to high school players the same way he did for nearly three decades at Coppin State.
“He was tough on the players, but in a good way,” Williams said. “He took kids that needed some structure and made them a good basketball team. That carries after you quit playing ball. You have that structure when you go out and get a job. Fang did a really good job with that.”
After coaching at Gloucester (N.J.) County Community College for eight seasons, Mitchell was hired at Coppin State in 1986. One of the players he brought with him, Phil Booth, said Mitchell was a lot more than a coach to most of the team.
“He took a lot of us from the inner city and he pretty much raised us,” said Booth, who lives in Howard County. “When my son [Mount St. Joseph senior and Villanova signee Phil Booth Jr.] was going through the recruiting process, I met some pretty famous coaches. Everyone knew about Fang.”
Booth said Mitchell's formula for helping to fund the athletic department by playing for large financial guarantees also fueled his players.
“He created an atmosphere that you could go on the road and beat these big-name schools,” Booth said. “It wasn't just in the [NCAA] tournament. We knew from December to the end of January, we would go on two-week trips and play some of the best teams in the country. He wanted to win those games.”
Larry Stewart credits Mitchell with not only getting him to college but also for a 17-year professional career, including the first five in the NBA. When he arrived at Coppin State in 1988, Stewart had played just two years of organized basketball.
“I owe him a heck of a lot,” said Stewart, now the associate head coach at Bowie State. “I've been blessed to be around some very coaches, and Fang was one of them. … Fang was the one who put me on the right path. He showed me that you had to work as hard as you can and not take anything for granted. I owe Fang a tremenous amount. I learned how to work hard from Fang.”
Hundreds of other Coppin State players did as well. Among local college basketball coaches, only Phelan spent more time at the same school, coaching at Mount St. Mary's for 49 seasons. In the same time span that Mitchell was at Coppin State, Loyola Maryland had eight different coaches. Morgan State and Towson each had five.
Ramsey declined to speculate about potential candidates to replace Mitchell, but said he hoped to make the hire by “the third week of April.” Among possible candidates are Stewart; current Maryland assistant Bino Ranson; and former Maryland star and assistant Keith Booth, now an assistant at Loyola. Ranson and Keith Booth are Baltimore natives.
The priority, Ramsey said, is to find a coach who will be able to keep the local talent at home, as former Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos did in turning around the Greyhounds' program.
“I don't have a person [in mind] right now, but I certainly want to play up-tempo basketball. But more importantly, what I want to do, whomever the new coach is, we're going to start right here in Baltimore,” Ramsey said. “Everyone comes here to get talent. We're going to start here.”