Michael Talley is a legend in Michigan. As a high school basketball player, he led Detroit’s Cooley High to three state championships and was named Michigan’s Mr. Basketball in 1989. He went on to play college basketball at the University of Michigan, his final two seasons with the “Fab Five”.
After playing pro ball in Germany, he returned to Michigan where he coached at three high schools and won three state championships.
“I came home and committed myself to coaching. You have to give back,” he said.
Now he’s the head boys basketball coach at Flagler Palm Coast High School.
“It just kind of worked out the way it was supposed to,” FPC athletic director Scott Drabczyk said.
Talley practically knocked on FPC’s front door. Tired of the cold weather in Michigan, he decided to move to Florida and chose Palm Coast.
“I just fell in love with the community and also being so close to Flagler Beach,” he said. “We were driving around, and I saw the high school. I said, ‘That’s a nice high school, and it’s only 12 minutes away.’”
It was serendipitous that FPC had been looking for a new head coach since the end of April when coach Derrick Williams informed administrators that he was resigning to move back to Alabama.
“It was a wonderful thing,” Talley said of the opening. “I pray a lot, and I was really praying for a place that was close to home.”
It took a while for Talley to make the move and get cleared by the school district. He arrived about a month after school started, and on Oct. 30, the first day of practice, he was still learning names.
But his players knew who he was, even if they had to look him up.
I had a couple of guys say, ‘You played at Michigan?’ I say, ‘Yeah, I played at Michigan. That was a long time ago. But hey, I'm a pretty good coach.'"
— MICHAEL TALLEY
“I don't really talk about it much,” Talley said. “I had a couple of guys say, ‘You played at Michigan?’ I say, ‘Yeah, I played at Michigan. That was a long time ago. But hey, I'm a pretty good coach. I just want you guys to trust me and trust the process, and we're going to be OK.’”
He doesn’t know how long the process is going to take. The Bulldogs were 7-18 last year. But he proved at Michigan that he can be patient. He averaged 11 points per game as a sophomore. The following year, five highly touted freshmen arrived in Ann Arbor and took over all five starting spots on the team. Talley remained with the program as the Wolverines, led by the Fab Five, advanced to two consecutive national championship games.
Winning has always been a part of Talley’s DNA, from Cooley to the University of Michigan to his coaching career. In 1999, his first year on the bench at Pioneer High in Ann Arbor, his JV team went undefeated. The following year he moved up to varsity as an assistant, and Pioneer won a state title.
As a head coach, he led the Academy of Business and Technology in Melvindale, Michigan, to state championships in 2009 and 2010. He turned the program around at Ecorse High School and then returned to Academy of Business and Tech.
“Developing kids and developing programs are something that I've been doing for a very long time. And I'm excited to be here at FPC,” he said.
Johnny Hampton, who is now with his third head coach as an assistant with the Bulldogs, said FPC is lucky to have Talley leading the program.
“As late in the game as we went, we were blessed,” Hampton said.
“It was a pretty long process with that vacancy,” said Drabczyk, who was hired as AD in the summer. “But we couldn’t be more happy to have Coach Talley with us. He’s a high level coach. With his playing background and pedigree and his ability to build relationships, it is pretty cool for our kids to be coached by him.”
Talley said he likes building programs from the ground up.
“Our goal is to win one game at a time; that’s all we can do,” he said. “You don’t want to have any preconceived notions on how many games you’re going to win. You just want to get better. I really enjoy the kids here and the effort they’re giving. They’re extremely smart. I think this is the exact kind of place that I wanted to be.”