Shawn Flaherty wasn’t outwardly warm and fuzzy. But he was a damn good basketball coach, fierce competitor and even better friend
And as friends now tell it – misunderstood. For beneath the gruff exterior beat a heart of gold, willing to teach the game he loved to anyone willing to put in the effort.
Flaherty, who coached for nearly two decades in the North State before heading back to his native North Dakota three years ago, was killed Tuesday in a car accident after a driver cross the center divide and hit his car head-on according to Dickinson, N.D. police. He died at the scene. Flaherty was 64.
“There’s been an outpouring of support that’s overwhelmed me,” said Rick Sherman, a friend who coached with Flaherty for 10 years. “Kids that are into adulthood have flooded social media and voiced how he changed their outlook and helped make them who they are as a person.”
Sherman, whose three daughters were all coached by Flaherty, said the gravelly voiced coach did have a hard exterior, but “had an innate ability to connect with kids and show them how much he cared.”
“It was life lessons – not just stuff in a gym,” Sherman said. “He was always texting kids encouraging them, give accolades for practice, games and giving them goals.
“It wasn’t always basketball. It was character; how to deal with problems outside the gym. The kids appreciated it and through his death, it’s become that apparent the appreciation was way more than I thought it could be.”
Todd Franklin, the Simpson University men’s basketball coach, worked with Flaherty for years at Liberty Christian choked up talking about his friend on Friday.
“It’s still a little much for me,” he said, adding his friend’s death on top of his own father’s in October stings. “I feel like I’ve lost two mentors.”
Franklin said Flaherty headed back to North Dakota to finish up his teaching career and was about 18 months from being able to retire. But his love of the game never wavered and even coached when he moved back to North Dakota.
“He could reach children,” Franklin said. “He was a master at taking talent and making it work.”
He pointed to several Liberty girls teams that went 30-1, 27-4 and 30-2 in consecutive years.
“He also was a master at taking little talent and maximizing it,” Franklin said. “Coaches often look at other coaches and see how they do things. Shawn got every ounce out of his players.”
Sherman said Flaherty was tough on his players when they’d mastered a technique but didn’t execute that technique, adding their practices were often spent drilling fundamentals.
But for as demanding as Flaherty could be, Sherman said he never heard a complaint from a player.
Franklin described his friend as a gym rat and an old school character with an East Coast toughness about him.
“His attitude was that we aren’t afraid of anybody,” Franklin said. “He’s given me the ability to not to be afraid to compete.
“That’s why people loved him – he coached every game as it was his last.”
And finally, for all the exterior toughness, Franklin said Flaherty really was a big softie.
“So many people misunderstood him. For example, he never let any of the camps that we put on end without giving out popsicles.
“When my kids heard (of Flaherty’s death) they asked if they could have a popsicle in Uncle Shawn’s memory.”
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