The search lasted about a month and a half and included a pool of 50-60 applicants, according to athletic director Scott Thies, before Fenwick hired Rick Malnati to become the new head coach of the boys varsity basketball team.
In the end, a highly touted coach accepting a coveted job already has the Fenwick community abuzz.
"Fenwick is very excited that Rick will be leading our basketball program," Thies said in a press release issued by the school Monday. "Rick is one of the most successful and respected coaches in Illinois. His passion for helping kids become better people through athletics falls in line with the mission of Fenwick High School and it is for these reasons that Rick will be a great addition to the Fenwick community."
Malnati, who was working as an assistant coach at Loyola University and not actively searching for a new coaching job, ultimately couldn't resist the allure of plying his craft at 505 W. Washington Blvd. after he was contacted by Thies.
"Obviously, I'm very excited to have the opportunity to coach Fenwick basketball," Malnati said. "I left a great job at Loyola University as an assistant coach on Porter Moser's staff; however, I felt the chance to enrich kids' lives kids through the educational and athletic opportunities Fenwick offers is very appealing."
Making his mark at New Trier (his alma mater), Malnati's coaching resume is highlighted by the following accomplishments: Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 2000, 2002 and 2005; named top high school coach in Illinois by City-Suburban Hoops Report in 2008; guided New Trier (1996-2008) to a rating as the fifth most successful boys basketball program in Illinois by the Essig Report.
During his tenure at New Trier, Malnati led the Trevians to a fourth-place showing in the Class AA state playoffs in 2002, along with a state quarterfinals appearance in 2000 and a sectional championship in 2005. Malnati's most memorable victory occurred in 2002 when the Trevians shocked a stacked Proviso East squad featuring Dee Brown and Shannon Brown in a supersectional matchup.
Malnati also helped Moser guide the Ramblers to their best conference finish this season since 2006-07.
"I am extremely happy for Rick to be able to once again be a head coach," Moser said in a statement. "Not only was he a valuable member of the staff, but he was also a good friend. Rick has the rare ability to impact people's lives and I know he will do just that at Fenwick."
Off the court, in 1995, Chicago magazine selected him as Chicagoan of the Year for his involvement in opening a pizzeria in Lawndale. Malnati's family owns Lou Malnati's pizzeria.
At Fenwick, Malnati replaces John Quinn who was head coach for 28 years, beginning in 1985. Quinn, too, experienced success coaching his alma mater, including seven Chicago Catholic League championships, 11 regional titles and two sectional crowns.
"I have so much respect for the job John Quinn did at Fenwick," Malnati said. "From my perspective, Fenwick has a great basketball tradition."
Looking ahead to next season, Malnati's coaching expertise, coupled with a strong returning nucleus of talent, should facilitate a relatively smooth transition into a new era for Fenwick basketball.
Fresh off a 18-9 campaign and Class 3A regional championship this season, the Friars return several skilled players, including Division 1 prospects in 6-5 swingman Scott Lindsey and 6-8 center Dan Dwyer along with versatile 6-6 forward Thomas Planek, and defensive aces Keshaun Smith and Josh Carlisle. Michael Smith, who showed tremendous promise as a freshman, also returns to lead Fenwick in the backcourt.
Malnati, who will also work part-time as a physical education instructor at the school, met the Fenwick players on Tuesday.
"I'm looking forward to getting to know these kids, share my vision and also hear about their goals," Malnati said. "Basketball is a passion for me and I'm very competitive. At the end of the day, if I can have some input on changing things for the better with kids, that's more important than how many regional or sectional titles are won."
Malnati also shows flashes of deadpan humor.
"We're also opening a [Lou Malnati's] restaurant in Oak Park in the fall," he said, "so perhaps I'll work as a Maitre d' during the offseason."
Recalling his first encounter with Thies during the '98 Fenwick-New Trier game at Proviso West, Malnati said, "I was focused on trying to contain Corey Maggette," the former Bradley point guard said. "I didn't even have Scott [Thies] on my scouting report."
Fifteen years later Thies had Malnati on his.
This story has been changed to correct the Fenwick basketball team's record for the 2012-13 season.