Ronald "Fang" Mitchell played basketball for Camden High School, graduating in 1960. He was the proprietor of Mr. Fang's Athletic Attire. In 1978 went on to coach college basketball, compiling a 227-45 record at Gloucester County Community Collger and in March of 2004 recorded his 302nd win as the coach of Coppin State College, including a first round upset of #2 ranked South Carolina in the 1997 NCAA tournament.
Camden Courier-Post - March 6, 2004
Man Has 302 wins at Coppin State
By CELESTE E. WHITTAKER
Ron "Fang" Mitchell has always tried his best to do the right thing. That's a motto he lives by, and it's something the 56-year-old Camden native believes has helped him achieve success.
Mitchell is in his 18th season as the men's basketball coach at Coppin State College, where he is the school's all-time winningest coach. After Friday night's 68-60 regular-season win over Morgan State, he had 302 career wins at Coppin and was 529-272 overall in 26 years of coaching.
"Put it this way, you never try to figure out how many wins you're gonna have or the success you're gonna have, you just try to do the right thing," said Mitchell, who is also the athletic director at the Maryland-based school. "I've always been a person that started with character. I've always tried to help people and do the right thing. Somewhere along the line, people say it comes back to you. I've learned from other people that have been successful. I've been blessed."
One of those successful people Mitchell has learned from is Temple University men's basketball coach John Chaney, a Hall of Famer. Mitchell worked in Chaney's summer camps for nine seasons and was a willing pupil.
"You can't be in the atmosphere of someone as great as him and not gather any information," said Mitchell, a five-time Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Coach of the Year. "It got to the point where I'd come with a tape recorder to hear him lecture. You learn a lot from him; he's a quality individual. A lot of my success and the things that we do are attributed to him. You lean on someone in this world, you can't survive without it."
Chaney has great respect and admiration for Mitchell as well.
"(Fang Mitchell) is magnanimous and one of the most brilliant coaches in the country today," the Temple coach said. What Mitchell would like to mimic more is the success Chaney has had in getting his teams to the Big Dance. Temple has made the NCAAs in 17 of the last 21 seasons under Chaney. Coppin State was 15-13, 13-4 (MEAC) before Friday's game. While he's had six 20-win seasons at the school and led his team to the NCAA tournament three times, Mitchell knows his squad must win the MEAC tournament to get into the NCAAs this season. The MEAC tournament is Monday through Friday in Richmond, Va.
"We definitely have to win it (to get into the NCAAs)," Mitchell said. "Our problem is, we just go out and play anybody in our non-conference schedule. In a way it hurts us, it's very deceptive in our won-lost record. We have a six-point loss at Michigan State and a nine-point loss at Missouri. These are things that build our character and allow us to go into conference play with a different state of mind. It's good for them, but it's not necessarily good for me because it does damage my won-lost record. But, who cares about that?"
It's about doing the right thing.
Mitchell admits Coppin is being looked upon as the favorite to win the conference tournament, but says, "It's a situation where we have to play up to our potential, and maybe we'll get a few breaks here or there. I've had a team that was 16-0 in conference play and lose in the tournament in the first round."
In 1997, Coppin not only got into the NCAAs, but the No. 15-seeded Eagles also upset No. 2-seeded South Carolina in the first round. Former Woodrow Wilson star Reggie Welch was on that team. It's one of Mitchell's most memorable moments at the school.
"I've got about three," said Mitchell, who never sits when his team is playing. "Beating the University of Maryland at College Park in 1989 was a great one. People down here were overwhelmed. Then, beating St. Joe's at Hawk Hill in the NIT (in 1995). The fact of being at home and people from South Jersey and Philadelphia coming to the game... Then, the South Carolina one."
Other NCAA coaches have noted how hard Coppin competes.
"Coppin State has always had great players, but Fang Mitchell gives them a chance to compete against anybody in the country on a given night," Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said.
Arizona coach Lute Olson said, "In the coaching fraternity, what you hear most often is people not wanting to play Princeton and Coppin."
No matter where his travels take him, South Jersey and Camden will forever be in Mitchell's blood. After all, it is where the legend of Fang was first created. A high school teammate at Woodrow Wilson, James Williams, gave Mitchell the nickname after a character, White Fang, on the Soupy Sales Show because he thought Mitchell's deep, scratchy voice resembled the character.
"The `White' was dropped for obvious reasons," Mitchell said.
After high school, Mitchell worked for more than a year at an aluminum factory and at Campbell's Soup in Camden. But, former Gloucester County College coach Mike Linder recruited him, and he played there for two seasons while also working the graveyard shift at a bank as a computer operator.
"He (Linder) had a lot to do with me getting through the college ranks and moving on," said Mitchell, who later played at Rutgers-Camden for one season under the late Wilbur "Pony" Wilson before returning to the working world.
After several successful stints in the business world - he had his own business, Mr. Fang's Athletic Attire, which grew into three stores - Mitchell became Gloucester County's head coach in 1978 and coached there until 1986, finishing with a 227-45 record. While there, he earned a business-administration degree from Thomas Edison State College.
One of his assistant coaches at Gloucester was Derek Brown, a Camden native and former Woodrow Wilson basketball standout who was a longtime assistant with Mitchell at Coppin. Brown is now the women's head basketball coach at the school. Since going to Coppin, Mitchell has had an impact on the lives of many - players, assistant coaches and just about anyone else he could assist. One example of that is when he hired former Coppin State women's basketball and volleyball player Stephanie Ready as an assistant men's basketball coach in 1999, when she was just 23 years old. Ready later became the first woman to ever coach a men's professional team when she was named an assistant coach for the National Basketball Development League's Greenville Groove. The team is now defunct.
"I was lucky enough to be at a college where the athletic director (Mitchell) and I had a very good relationship," Ready told NBA.com.
"To me that was simple - me hiring Stephanie was based on character," said Mitchell, who is very proud of Ready's accomplishments. "She was a quality individual, educated. She really did do a good job with me. I just think that we get so hung up on color or gender in today's society. It really isn't what it's all about. It's the quality of the people."
Lending a helping hand is something you learn when you come from a big family. Growing up in Camden, Mitchell had three sisters and four brothers (one brother recently died). Now, he has five children who all live away from home.
One of the biggest pieces to his family puzzle, his wife, Yvonne, died in January 2002 after suffering an aneurysm of the aorta.
"That was tough," Mitchell said. "I'm not going to lie. It was a battle I hope I'll never have to deal with again. But, we're supposed to be leaders and set the example. That's not a time to quit. It's a time to try to move forward."
Coppin finished just 6-25 in 2001-02, the worst season of Mitchell's career.
"In reality, I had a wife and a girlfriend, and the girlfriend was basketball," he said. "I lost my wife, and what made it so bad, my girlfriend was ugly. It was the worst year of basketball I ever had. . . . It was a tough year going through that whole crises. But, the Lord got me through it."
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