In March of 2011 Flanagan was looking ahead to a 17th season as University of New Mexico women’s basketball coach. By early April he was stepping down in the wake of five freshmen unexpectedly leaving the program.
Flanagan, 70, amassed a 340-168 record and led the Lobos to eight conference titles. He had one year remaining on his contract and says now that 2011-12 likely would have been his final season – regardless of how the team finished.
But a true exit strategy was one thing Flanagan never drew up.
“I was not thinking of that at the time,” he said. “You get so immersed in coaching, it’s all you think about. I was still in that mindset.”
Retirement did not come easily at first. Coaching and winning were too ingrained.
Prior to his tenure at UNM, Flanagan led Eldorado High School’s girls basketball program to a ridiculous 401-13 record and 11 state titles in 16 years.
“I missed coaching early on,” Flanagan said, “and I still miss the kids. But I’ve adjusted. I still get a little taste of it and I’m happy with my life.”
That little taste comes from helping his son, Shane Flanagan, who is preparing for his fourth season coaching women’s basketball at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan. It’s something of a role reversal as Shane assisted at UNM during Don Flanagan’s final five seasons.
Shane says his father helps with recruiting in New Mexico and Arizona (there are three New Mexico natives on Haskell’s roster) and makes a few on-campus appearances every year.
“My dad’s the same as always,” Shane said in a phone interview from his Lawrence home. “The first time he ever talked to our girls, a couple of them yawned and he made them all do pushups. I don’t think they knew what to make of that, but they’ve gotten to know him now. They love it when he’s here.”
Basketball is just a small part of Don Flanagan’s retirement. He still resides in Albuquerque but spends a fair amount of time in Taos, where his wife Wahleah runs a gallery at nearby Taos Pueblo. It allows him to indulge a longtime passion for fly-fishing.
“I’ve been trying to get better at golf, too,” Flanagan said. “I’m not sure I’m succeeding.”
Flanagan said he works out regularly and is in better shape than when he stepped down. Though physically up to the challenge, he does not plan a return to coaching and says he has no regrets about his UNM career – including the unplanned ending.
“I had a great time when I was coaching,” he said. “I wouldn’t have wanted to do anything else. I feel like during our time we changed the perception of New Mexico women’s basketball. I feel good about that.”
Shane and his wife Kim celebrated the birth of their first son, Cash Craig Flanagan, earlier this summer.
“He’s healthy and we’re all really, really happy,” Shane said. “This is something we’ve wanted for a long time. Our family’s really blessed.”