Sara Lillevand's Eulogy

Shared by Denise Noleroth on October 19, 2019
Good morning,..

 I am truly honored and humbled to speak today about a man who I came to interact with by an evolution of names that reflected my changing relationship with him...... Mr Phelps, Coach Phelps, Phelps, occasionally Phelpsie (but never to his face), Coach Mike, and ultimately just Mike.

Its hard not to talk about the wins. SO many wins. 

 As a player I took winning for granted. It was not until I began coaching that I understood just how much preparation and game time adjustment goes in to every single one. And the more you win, the more your opponents prepare for you and the more motivated they are to knock you off the top. Anyone can condition a team in to physical fitness and instruct basic skills but teaching and fostering the mental and emotional toughness in the context of a team first culture where everyone understands and values and feels valued in their role is rare and transcendent and why championships are so elusive for most.

The winning machine that Coach Phelps built was astounding.  His teams out-worked, out-hustled, outsmarted and out -executed everyone , every night  ,  every year. The system seemed to sustain itself and build upon itself with the master conductor pulling all the right levers at all the right moments.

I think Mike's teams were so solid and his sideline demeanor so focused, stern and controlled that he also seemed like a machine. But like all of us, we are much more than we appear.  SO I would like to focus my remarks on the humanity and vulnerability of Michael Edwin Phelps 

The first glimpse I caught of Mike's vulnerability was a the end of my junior  year at ODowd  - 1985 - when for the first time a handful of girls signed up for his summer camp. Well I have to say he freaked out a little bit… and asked me if I would work camp and I think he probably envisioned putting the girls all together in one group with me so he wouldnt have to deal with these foreign beings.  Well it didn't take long for the girls to be fully integrated in to camp and for me to take charge of most of the ballhandling and passing drills.  As it turned out, the girls were generally  better listeners and harder workers and were thirsty for knowledge in a way that is reserved for those who have been given opportunity previously denied. The girls did not ruin camp and in fact they made it richer. That handful of girls got a lot better that week under Coach Phelps, they made the boys better and I'd like to think that Coach Phelps stretched and grew a little bit too,  And while at that time I still far preferred playing to coaching, a pilot light was lit in me that week that still burns today... I love to coach and Phelps was and is my model

Fast forward 20 years and I had the profound opportunity to hire Coach Phelps at Cal State East Bay in Hayward to join the Pioneer Coaching staff. After 3 tortuous years without a team to coach, Phelps was ready to work. He brought with him his immense basketball brain and binders and notebooks and more binders and notebooks filled with his long tested systems and all the time in the world to share it with us.  He embraced his time at Cal State with his resolute focus and intensity and attention to detail and also with a deep appreciation of his thirst to be back in the gym quenched by the opportunity.

How does one integrate a legend into a coaching staff?  Well for us, we sat back and listened and learned a lot. The players weren't quite as attentive early on... frankly they didn't know or particularly care about all the wins; the 843reasons to pay attention!

 Coach Mike had to earn the respect of the Pioneers and he did but it wasn't easy. 

The most obvious Phelps influence on our program was the high post offense. We committed to it and at times the players hated it.  It was simple and elegant with an answer for every attempt to stop it BUT it required exact timing/precision entry passing/ and a level of reading defense that the Pioneers were not accustomed to. But when we got it, it was something to behold. 

I recall one conversation with Coach when I really needed his sage advice. I was frustrated with our big kids not catching the ball.  So I asked Coach, Can you teach someone to catch the ball?  If anyone had an answer it would be Coach Phelps. And he said very earnestly, YES I do know exactly how to teach them to catch the ball. 

Well I Was thrilled by this possibility that had eluded me for years. …The answer… you throw the ball as hard as you can right at their face and I promise you they will catch it.  And that was it… next question. 

To this day I am not sure if he was kidding or he was serious but I think he was serious and he he was seriously funny.

Mike's health was beginning to fail him during his time at Cal State and he was scared and he was frustrated. His mind was sharp but his body was not cooperating. He was fragile and he hated that. We only got to coach together for two years but I learned a lifetimes worth from Coach in that short time. And mostly, I gained a friend and a glimpse of the man beyond the coach. Mike was funny and mischievous in his own way. You really had to pay attention though as often the only cue to confirm his often subtle but laser sharp sense of humor was the little hint of a smirk on his face and a sparkle in his eyes.

OF many possibilities, Three of my favorite phelpsisms are these:

Make the easy pass 

Always guard the (fat kid)  kid with the knee brace.  

There is a reason you are that open 

Make the easy pass –  is self explanatory but so many fail to do so and really is the simple key to offensive success

Always guard the kid with the knee brace.  – common sense and observation defined Coach Phelps… if you don’t have a scouting report, it’s likely a slow kid on the floor is out there because he or she can shoot, so don’t let them shoot!

And perhaps my favorite…. There is a reason you are that open.  

There is a reason you are that open.  

Just left hanging in the air with a player complaining about not getting the ball when she was clearly open and wanting to shoot.  He didn’t explain it, left it there for her to figure out. He didn’t yell or demean. But he gave her an opportunity to reflect and see if she could connect the dots.

I wish I could have played for Coach Phelps but I am grateful that I got to know and love Mike… the strong yet fragile, invincible yet vulnerable, serious yet seriously funny human being who enjoyed so many victories but also suffered greatly. I pray for peaceful rest for Mike and an eternity of easy passes delivered in just the right way at just the right time.  Thank you

Thanks Coach Phelps

Shared by Mark Wainwright on October 16, 2019
I think the first time that I ever saw Mike coach a game was the 1982 NCS championship at Cal State, Hayward. Hayward High vs. BOD.In a game that was overloaded with talent such as Tony Jackson, Tony Ronzone, and Jack Del Rio, one could hardly keep his eyes off of the master that worked the sidelines. Like a great maestro Coach Phelps made move after move that eventually resulted in an O'Dowd OT victory. The game was played in a packed gymnasium and to this day it is still the best high school game that I have ever seen.
I eventually became a high school coach, largely because of that night. Our teams at Encinal competed against the O'Dowd teams in the 90's and Mike was always complimentary and even helpful when he could be. After Mike retired, I ran into him at a summer tournament when I was coaching the Dublin girls in 2009. I asked him about some particular basketball points and he said he'd be glad to help me any way he could. For the next few years, Mike came to some of our practices and summer camps. He came to many of our games. And he was kind enough to invite me to his home in San Leandro for some one on one classroom sessions. I was in awe and honored to have his friendship for these few years. He created binders designed to help the specific needs of our teams. And he even went out of his way to make sure he used the pronoun "she" or "her" to describe particular situations in his writings. Wow!!  The advice and materials he gave me were so insightful and so successful that I always felt that we had a big advantage over our competition that no one knew about.
Of course, anyone who ever went to Mike's house had to spend some time in his trophy and memorabilia room. It was basically a Bay Area high school basketball museum. A true place of honor. I would soak in all the history that defined this man. And Mike was so cool; he would go in the other room for a while and allow me to peruse to my heart's content.
Coach, I just want to thank you for befriending me for those few years and lending your wisdom to our program. You were always complimentary to what I was trying to do and you were always respectful of my limited knowledge and you never tried to over impose your greatness. Your humility and kindness were always prominent.
Rest in peace my friend. The world will somehow have to move on without the greatest high school coach/teacher of all time.

My last story

Shared by Paul Phelps on October 16, 2019
We made it to the championship game of the Babe Ruth district championship which was composed of all star teams from all of the different leagues throughout the East Bay.Mike was the coach of Oakland American because our team,had won the league.He had to choose the all star team from all the teams in our league.He chose me to be on that team and I remember people questioning why I was on it.Let’s just say that guys can be a little insensitive, especially at that age,and I was not the most popular guy on the team to say the least. So we make it to the championship and we are playing Hayward.They have to beat us twice to win the title and advance to the Northern California championships.They beat us in the first game and force the final do or die game.There were a lot of games played in that tournament and I had only pitched a couple meaningless innings.Out of nowhere,Mike decides that I am going to pitch the final game at Cal State Hayward.To this day I can see the guy who wanted to pitch throwing his glove off the fence in anger down the left field line.Note,this guy was a big basketball star at O’Dowd a year later.Needless to say it was a controversial decision and it was pretty tough.Nobody wanted me to pitch.I didn’t”t even want to pitch.The reason Mike chose me was not because of nepotism,but because Hayward was the best hitting team in the tournament and they were great fastball hitters.After just losing to them a half hour earlier,Mike determined that because I didn’t throw hard and had a really good slow curve,that I was the better choice.He did not care what anyone thought.
So we get to the 5th inning and we are ahead 2 to 1,Hayward has the bases loaded,2 outs and the best hitter in the entire tournament at the plate.We get to a count of 3 and 2 and I look at Mike in the dugout and we both know what has to happen.If I throw the guy a fastball he is going to hit it really hard somewhere and if I walk him the game is tied.I have to throw a big slow curve.I do and he is so surprised he doesn’t even swing and the ump calls strike 3.We win the game I believe 5 to 1 and Mike’s gutsy decision proves to be the right one,as usual.Nobody else believed in me, but Mike did
Shared by Ilan Remler on October 15, 2019
I’d like to add one more thing. I met coach when I was looking  to get back into coaching after med school. Matt Drew told me all about him and I figure he would know a school that might need help and he to my surprise said O’dowd. As a Berkeley High victim, I had always assumed Phelps was a genius with the strategy or plays and was surprised when that really was not what made him great. It was the clarity with which he new each position had certain skills or actions that they had to do at a minimum level to be on the court. A point guard had to at least be fast enough and good enough to get the ball from top of the key to top of the key ASAP. Wing had to at least be able to square up and shoot. Big man had to at least sprint the court and post up hands up under the basket and demand the ball. Everyone had to cut intending to score. It’s not that he did not understand there was more than these foundational skills but understood the team without these basics could not do what he needed for the group as a whole. If there is a heaven, I have no doubt. Coach is there yelling first post and waiting for all of you.

I am his brother so I get to tell as many stories as I want :)

Shared by Paul Phelps on October 15, 2019
We had a wonderful service and reception yesterday and it brought up a lot more great memories.
There has been a small debate about Mike regarding basketball vs baseball.I have thought about this a lot and I have my final opinion.
It is easier to influence a game as a basketball coach.If you are of a certain mindset you can even almost control who shoots every shot and where.You can also greatly influence the other team by how you choose to play defense.You can also dictate the tempo of the game by pressing and emphasizing the fast break.Basic stuff.
Baseball is quite different.Yes there are things a manager can do but it is on a whole different level.There is a reason Bruce Bochy,the Giants manager,won 3 World Series but has a career losing record.
Mike in his younger days, before O’Dowd,influenced the outcomes of games to a degree I have never seen by any other human :)He had the ability to manufacture runs through his base running plays and squeeze plays that was nuts.He was also great at stealing the other teams signs and his array of pick off plays to steal outs was fantastic.
Strategy is one thing and Mike was the best at it,but he was even better and teaching skills.I believe baseball skills are definitely more difficult to teach than basketball skills.Guys who would not even get a chance to play on a lot of teams became good pitchers.Guys that were pretty average became really good hitters and fielders because of the hours and hours of work they put in with Mike.The end result: players reaching there full potential, which is rare, bonded together and playing games using Mike’s game strategies to beat  teams they had no business beating.There is a famous line in the classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid movie,”Who are these guys”.Those were Mike’s teams.

I really believe Mike’s first love was baseball,but he had such unbelievable early success coaching hoops that his main choice was kind of made for him.



A second hoops story

Shared by Paul Phelps on October 13, 2019
I am going to say something controversial but controversial in a good way.
I believe the best coaching Mike ever did was when he first started at St.Joe’s.How is that possible when he had more knowledge of the game many years later at O’Dowd?
When Mike was at SJ he was he was still young and actually playing 3 on 3,4 on 4 with the players.We played countless hours during open gyms and after practice.Mike had some unique skills.He never developed a jump shot but he was a really good shooter.At 5-9 for some reason he had also developed an awesome hook shot with either hand and he was great at stripping the ball out of guys hands going up to shoot a jumper.His skill set and intensity was absorbed by a lot of his players.Back in those days there was no AAU and outside influences so he really was able to get guys to play his way.He obviously did that at O’Dowd as well, but at SJ it was possibly at a different level.
Mike had a lot of really good players at SJ who were great competitors,but by some quirk, his teams were really undersized.He had a lot of 5-6 guards,and forwards and centers ranging from 5-10 to 6-2.The amazing thing was how good his teams helped on defense to shut down and frustrate much bigger and physically gifted teams.They were so good on defense that the size advantage evaporated and was no longer an advantage.The great part was these bigger talented teams had a tough time stopping SJ from scoring and when the 4th quarter came around and they fell behind the game was over.Mike’s teams were masters at running the old 4 corner offense.They would spread the court and the smaller but quick,fundamentally sound players would pick apart the opposition and it became layups and free throws.It was a thing of beauty to watch.You had to be there to really understand the impact he had on those teams.There were a lot of David vs Goliath games.After a lot of these great “upsets” I would often wonder who was really David and who was really Goliath.It was truly awesome

My Coach, Basketball

Shared by Anthony Taylor on October 12, 2019
Mike was a great coach. He aided you in developing your skills that enabled you to compete with the best. At 6'4 I played center and my senior year (Class of 76) was very rewarding. Our team won the Cal and the North Coast with an over all record of 30-5. He would instill in you discipline , drive and intensity. These attributes instilled by Mike have carried forward into my professional life. Thanks again Mike, and may your soul rest in peace.

My Coach, Mentor, Friend

Shared by Kevin Maas on October 11, 2019
One of the most influential men in my life. I will miss you Coach Mike Phelps. You saw potential in me, gave me a chance when I wasn't sure, toughened me up at BODHS, taught me the importance of discipline, fundamentals, repetition, and teamwork. All those amazing basketball AND Baseball Championships together at BOD were some of the very best years of my life and largely due to your influence. I will remember the endless hours you and Kelly King threw batting practice to me. You always unwrapped brand new baseballs, ‘ Pinckards’, so we could hit the very best balls even in practice. I will remember our last time together not long ago up out of your wheelchair to shoot some hoops in your backyard together with Waldrip and Jason. The Best until the very end! I will always remember you as a great friend, mentor, Greatest Coach imaginable...a Big piece of you will always be a Big part of who I am, so until I see you again in Heaven my Friend,  I Love You. 

Baseball

Shared by Paul Phelps on October 10, 2019
Mike will be mostly remembered for his basketball success,but I believe his first love was baseball.He was a great baseball coach and was great at teaching skills because of his attention to detail.Mike had the rare ability to actually get the player to change habits and learn a better way.Strategy?I still remember the many times he had guys score from second base on a squeeze play or getting guys picked off first on purpose to allow the runner to score from third.There were many others special strategies he used that were amazing to watch.
He was probably one of the best batting practice pitchers ever.He had great control,a rubber arm and threw well enough that the batters were really challenged and became better hitters.He actually pitched batting practice for the A’s.I remember one year we had the alumni baseball game at St.Joes and we both wanted to pitch.Most of the alumni were recent graduates that Mike had coached and he really wanted to pitch being the fierce competitor that he was.I relented and told him ok but I am going to catch.I caught him for nine innings and it was the most fun I ever had playing in a game.
Mike,I finally forgive you after 52 years for bringing me in to pitch at Fresno Giant Stadium in the Babe Ruth Nor Cal Championships with the bases loaded,no outs and a 3 and 0 count on the batter :)

Hoops story

Shared by Paul Phelps on October 9, 2019
Mike and I must have spent thousands of hours over the course of our lifetimes talking about X’s and O’s.I had a team one year that was very talented and played better without running a complicated offense.I can still see the look of horror on Mike’s face when I told him we were going to full court press the entire game and free lance on the fast break and in our half court offense.He thought I had completely lost it.He felt a little better when I assured him we had special plays to go to when needed.He saw us play a few times that year and after the games he would say free lance and just shake his head and smile.We actually had a good year and I always needled him after that whenever he was struggling a bit with a game plan for an opponent,usually against a match up zone.I would simply tell him“just free lance”and that look of horror would return,but it would be followed by a smile.

Mike loved playing cards. Any Card Game

Shared by J K Scott on October 4, 2019
Mike's math skills and keen ability gave him many winning games and hours of laughter. We would be laughing so much...  we didn't realize that his turn to deal was passed on to others. He confessed years later. More laughs. J K

Things that Mr. Phelps loved

Shared by Denise Noleroth on October 3, 2019
*Scooter races with Tamarik

*Tamarik quizzing him to get him to calm down……math equations

*wanting to look on sides of house to see how many weeds were growing

*Tamarik, 5th or 6th grade, would make them go to Costco for a hotdog, then ice cream, cookies, instant mash potates.

*Tamarik made him a turkey burger, and Mr. Phelps yell “this is so dry”. "Camila, this is why I wanted you to make it. "

*split pea soup, turkey, sometimes ham, cranberry.

*Hawaiian Pineapple and Ham Pizza

*Turkey sandwich, dry

*Harry's Hofbrau

*Mr. Phelps singing the Star Spangled Banner

*Video of singing God Bless America

*Organize his math books and papers for plays …..he would make many of each. He killed many trees. 

*Barry Manilow

*obsessed with batteries and flashlights

*M&M's all around the house

*COOKIES

*anything sweet

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