By Jeff Miller
Special to The Texas Catholic
A convincing Bishop Lynch Lady Friars basketball win over Carrollton Prince of Peace was only minutes old on Thursday evening, Nov. 29 when the school recognized coach Andy Zihlman’s 1,000th career victory with a banner lowered from the walkway above one baseline, a team photo was taken at midcourt and other celebratory events.
It would figure that Amie Smith Bradley and her family would be among those who most appreciate a feat that has been 39 seasons (plus 25 state championships) in the making. Smith Bradley played three seasons for Zihlman during the early 1990s, winning three state titles. Her younger sister, Jenna Smith Uzzell, was part of three championships years later. Smith Bradley’s oldest daughter, Brooke, was a senior on the 2016-17 state championship team. Daughter Paige is currently a sophomore and played on last season’s state runner-up.
Smith Bradley is certainly impressed by that four-figure achievement, but not as much as other numbers related to Zilhman that she recalls from her time as a Lynch student and now also recognizes as a Lynch mother (son Jack, a multisport senior, plans to play football at Rice):
“He was a long-time dean of students at Bishop Lynch (1984-2001),” Smith Bradley said. “Although he has a thousand wins, he also has impacted thousands of students. I mean, everybody that attended Bishop Lynch was impacted by Andy Zihlman. He’s as impactful in my son’s life as my daughter who’s on the team.
“He didn’t just teach us how to win basketball games. He modeled how to win in life.”
That’s a sentiment that resembles how Zihlman, Lynch Class of ’72, assesses this latest career milestone.
“Probably the most important thing to me, growing up in Catholic schools, being at a faith-based school, is being able to share your faith with those kids,” he said. Zihlman also shares that faith with the parishioners at St. Michael the Archangel in Garland, where he ushers at the 10:30 Mass.
As for that victory number: “I’m not going to downgrade it; it does mean a lot, ‘cause I’ve been blessed with some great teams, great players and great support staff. My family is very excited about this, probably more than I am. The school is, which I’m glad. This is an accomplishment for our program.”
Building a program
Zihlman took over the girls basketball team going into the 1980-81 season, having joined the faculty the previous year and serving as assistant girls coach among other athletic and academic duties. He actually began working at Lynch part time during his college years, which were split between Richland College and then-East Texas State University.
One of his Lynch classmates when he arrived as a freshman in 1968 from St. Paul the Apostle School in Richardson was Teena Muessing, who became his wife months before he was hired at Lynch in 1979. All three of their children (Coleen, Caroline and Kurt) graduated from Lynch, the girls both playing for him.
Lynch had won three state girls basketball titles before Zihlman took over. His Lady Friars won three state championships during his first six seasons, ran off 12 consecutive from 1988-89 through 1999-2000 and, after falling in the 2001 state semifinals, claimed the next nine consecutive.
The aforementioned positon of dean of students, concentrated on discipline. “The toughest job on campus,” he said.
Zihlman didn’t spare the figurative rod for any of his players, including his daughters. When Coleen reported to him that she’d broken a team rule while on a college visit, he suspended her for two scrimmages.
But Zilhman said his interaction with players and all Lynch students away from the gym has contributed greatly to his coaching success. Part of that involves regular visits to the lunch room.
“One of the things that I pride myself on even today is I like to get involved,” he said. “I’m not the greatest coach, but what I’ve learned over the years is how to connect with kids and how to make them feel important and how to make them feel valued.”
On his wrist arm, Zilhman wears a band from the Positive Coaching Alliance that reads: DEMANDING NOT DEMEANING
Zihlman had opportunities to leave Lynch through the years for other high-profile coaching positions at local high schools or in college athletics, the latter which would have required travel and time away from family that Zihlman wasn’t prepared to do.
“I’ve always thanked the Lord – ‘You probably had a reason for me staying here and be here this long,’ ” he said.
Zihlman said he considered stepping aside from coaching a few years ago but was talked into staying by his wife and staff.
And how long will he continue to coach the Lady Friars?
“It’s year by year,” Zihlman said.
Smith Bradley’s youngest daughter, Bryn, will be a freshman on the team next year.
Zihlman’s daughter Caroline wants her father to coach her 2-year-old daughter, Hadley.
“That’s not happening,” he assured.