Mike Frauenheim, who elevated Immaculata High School boys basketball to prominence and guided the Spartans to two state group titles without a Division I player, resigned from his post Monday after 13 seasons.
The 46-year-old Somerville resident is stepping aside to focus on his job in sales with Riddell, the sports equipment company.
“What he did with that program is just remarkable,” said former Mendham coach Jim Baglin, one of the deans of New Jersey hoops. “He is a terrific coach but an even better person. He’ll really be missed in our profession.”
Frauenheim said he would like to return to coaching at some point, but he needed a break after 26 years on the sideline. A former three-sport star at Immaculata in the mid-1980s, he also coached football at the school for several years alongside his father Pierce, an Immaculata sports patriarch who retired in December.
“It’s a difficult situation,” Mike Frauenheim said of the decision. “I love the school and I’ll continue to be a part of Immaculata. It really is something where I feel the timing is just right with my daughter going to college and putting all of my effort into work.”
Though the Spartans had sporadic success on the hardwood in the 1980s and 1990s, the program took off after Frauenheim took the reins in 1999. During 13 seasons they appeared in four Somerset County Tournament finals and three Non-Public A North finals.
In 2008, as a ninth seed, Immaculata won the Non-Public A championship and advanced to the Tournament of Champions semifinals. Much of the cast returned in 2009 and put together a season for the ages, going 27-4, winning the Somerset County Tournament, posting a commanding triumph over perennial power Seton Hall Prep in the sectional final and earning a No. 2 seed in the TOC.
“That game at the RAC when they beat Seton Hall Prep, that was as good a defensive effort as you’ll see in terms of execution, hard play and team morale,” Baglin said. “They broke their will, and nobody does that to Seton Hall Prep.”
The Spartans did it without big-time hardwood talent.
“Mike made Immaculata basketball relevant in the state of New Jersey, and especially in this area,” longtime assistant Ryan McKeever said. “Granted we had great players and great athletes, but those two state runs, I don’t know if that will ever be done again without a Division I player. That was absolutely remarkable. It is big shoes to fill.”
Immaculata athletic director Tom Gambino, who coached Frauenheim in baseball, said, “He’s always had that Frauenheim passion.”
“Michael was always all-in and that’s really why he had to step down,” Gambino said. “He couldn’t really be all-in right now. His job and his family are growing.”
As for a replacement, Gambino said, “We will look within first. We have some good people right below Mike. We’re going to look at what’s best for our kids.”
McKeever seems like a logical choice, having played for the Spartans in the 1990s, coached the junior varsity team for five years and spent the past five as a varsity assistant.
Whoever takes over will step into a much different landscape than Frauenheim entered. The Skyland Conference has blossomed into a haven for quality team basketball, in part because of Frauenheim and contemporaries like Tim Ortelli and Gary Feath, who guided Bridgewater-Raritan and Franklin, respectively, to statewide success in the 2000s. Many of the gyms, Immaculata’s especially, are packed to the hilt on game nights.
“We’ve all gotten better because of those programs, those coaches,” Hillsborough coach Ian Progin said. “It’s elevated the rest of us. I congratulate Mike and wish him the best of luck in the next phase. Good guy, great coach and I definitely learned a lot from him.”
Frauenheim credited the tutelage of mentors Bob Sutton and Wayne Fiorino, as well as the help of his assistants, and took pride in fostering a “front-of-the-jersey” mentality.
“Every year, whether we were talented or not, I thought for the most part we played hard and we played with a passion, and that’s what a lot of my players have taken on to their college life and their professional life,” he said, later adding, “Immaculata was a football and baseball school and somehow we made Immaculata basketball prevalent. I’m proud of that.”