I don’t know how quite to say this other than I am not much of anything without Mike Delong. You see I wanted to be a football GA at Springfield College. It was the perfect gig for someone who wanted to get into coaching. You coach football and in return grad school is paid for and a small stipend is rewarded. It’s basically the Harvard for football coaches. Try to find a college or even an NFL team without a Springfield guy in the organization and you will have some difficulty.
Two of my teammates from UNH had GA’d at Springfield. That’s how I first heard about the school and how it provided that first crucial step to launching a career in coaching.
I had landed a spot on the staff at Princeton University. It was a prestigious position but all along I wanted to coach at Springfield. I had applied to Springfield prior to my taking the Princeton job but my undergraduate GPA was a 2.45 and SC didn’t round up when it came to graduate admissions. I took a bunch of courses and did well and finally I was accepted. I left Princeton for Springfield in the autumn of 1994. I GA’d at SC in ’94 and ’95. We played in the first post season game in SC history that last year. I obtained my teaching credentials and coached high school ball for two years but missed the college game. At the urging of SC Offensive coordinator Chris McKinney, Coach D created a part time spot for me at SC. We made the NCAA tourney two of the three years I was there. I then went on to be a head high school coach for a dozen years. Coach D asked me back after I stepped down from my high school position and for the last two years I coached the linebackers at SC. Long story short I have coached under Mike DeLong in the 90’s, 2000’s, and 2010’s. I have literally been by his side through some of the greatest victories and worst defeats in school history.
Why do I mention all of that? Because he has likely been the biggest influence on my adult life. Because I owe him everything. Without him I do not become a teacher, a coach, an author, or a speaker. I do not become a decent father or husband. He taught me how to balance compassion and competitiveness. He taught me initiative and loyalty. He was stern when called for and quick with one of his patented quips when things were getting too intense.
There are far too many of us in the Mike DeLong coaching tree. If I were to name all the names I would surely forget more than a few among the hundreds. But even more important are those among his leadership tree. The countless educators, administrators, business , law enforcement and military leaders who have quietly considered what Coach D might do in a decisive moment. He was slow to anger but held everyone accountable. If you needed a call or a letter for a job, he would be on it the next day. He was what he taught us all to be…consistently compassionate and competitive.
Springfield is not an easy place to be a football coach. Yet Mike DeLong coached at his alma mater for 32 years and won 200 games. That takes a great deal of emotional and intellectual intelligence. He did so without sacrificing his values. He exemplified grace.
Last week he pulled me aside and told me that this season would be his last. I told him he had done an amazing job. He told me that I had helped make that happen. That tells you all you need to know. He has remained humble despite accomplishments that had not been previously achieved nor are likely to be repeated.
Coach, you have made us all better for your presence in our lives, given us incredible opportunities through your advocacy, and trained us all to be men of character who can be counted on no matter the situation. I am grateful for everything you have given us. I owe you the life I now enjoy with my family. I wouldn’t be where I am without you. I’m not alone in that regard. It is my daily challenge to pay that forward. Thank you. I will be forever grateful. -b
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