SYRACUSE — Phil Mishler made a seemingly abrupt change in 2008 when he installed a distinct playing style at Wawasee that featured 3-point shooting over 2-point shooting, end-to-end defense with an accent on gambling, and frequent, often virtual-platoon substitutions.
On Thursday, June 27, he made another seemingly abrupt change, resigning as Warrior boys basketball head coach after 13 seasons.
But just like that move in ’08, it wasn’t abrupt at all, rather carefully considered.
“I just think it’s best for the kids and the program at this time,” Mishler said about 90 minutes after submitting his resignation at noon. “It’s just best overall for the program and my family.”
Mishler said he intends to remain at Wawasee as a physical education teacher.
His wife, Susan, was named Wawasee Middle School principal six weeks ago, coming over from Goshen Middle School. The couple have two daughters, ages 8 and 6.
The Warriors went 5-16 this past winter with a young and injury-ravaged club, their second consecutive losing season, but were 168-126 overall under Mishler.
He led Wawasee to the program’s only back-to-back sectional titles, in 2005 and 2006, the program’s only two 20-win seasons — those same two winters — and the program’s only regional crown in 2005. He added a third sectional title in 2010, each in Class 3A.
“The journey you go on with young men who are learning to sacrifice their time and energy, and in such a high-pressure situation, is an unbelievable relationship builder,” Mishler said. “As I look back on that, and as I think about how players have come back and talked with me, and hung out in a different sense, I know that’s what I will miss the most.”
Mishler said he’s “not closing any doors” regarding a return to coaching at some point, but added that “I was hired at Wawasee before I was a coach, I’m a Wawasee community person, my kids go to school here and my wife’s a principal.”
“He’s just been a wonderful educator,” Wawasee second-year athletic director Steve Wiktorowski said of Mishler, “in that I think he’s been somebody who’s tried to teach kids more about life than basketball and has had his heart in the right place.”
Wiktorowski declined to comment on the search process for a new coach, noting that Mishler’s resignation has not yet been submitted to the school board.
When Mishler introduced his pronounced, up-tempo-based changes in 2008, they came right on the heels of a glorious six-season window in which he and the Warriors had gone 99-40, but he explained that he felt the changes were necessary based on the strengths and weaknesses of the players coming through the program.
Wawasee went 7-14 in 2008-09, but then fashioned marks of 17-8 and 17-6 over the next two winters with its distinctive brand.
The first of those latter two teams upset Fort Wayne Dwenger in a regional semifinal before being edged 88-85 by Fort Wayne Elmhurst in a mesmerizing final, while the second — playing the final 14 games without sophomore star Jake Thompson — lost 67-66 in the Wawasee Sectional final to an ultimately 19-win Columbia City club that added a regional crown.
Hit hard by key injuries again in 2011-12, the Warriors went 10-13 in front of this past season’s 5-16. Each of Mishler’s final two teams finished 0-7 in the Northern Lakes Conference.
“I think Phil has been tremendously dedicated to this program,” said Wiktorowski, a former high school and college basketball coach. “He came in at a tough time and really turned the program around. If you look at his won-loss record, it will match just about anybody else around here over that amount of time.”
Mishler, who has been a teacher at Wawasee for about 20 years and has also coached the boys and girls tennis programs, took over the boys basketball program in 2000. The Warriors had gone 29-77 over the previous five years under three coaches, finishing with a losing mark each season.
Mishler’s 13 years account for the longest tenure in the 45-year history of Wawasee boys basketball. He ranks No. 1 in wins and No. 3 in percentage among the 10 individuals who have guided the program.