YME's Mike Gaffney announced he is retiring from coaching football at a recent school board meeting. "I became eligible for retirement in the Fall of 2017. I've seen too many teachers and coaches hang on too long because that's all they've done. My time is more valuable now. My wife retired last year. I want to spend time with my wife, my two sons, and daughters-in-law, and I want to spend time at my lake house."
Gaffney went to high school in Villard, one of the districts that makes up Minnewaska now. He played three sports, football, basketball, and baseball, all the way from 7th through 12th grade. During his junior year he ran track as well.
He did some mentoring and thoroughly enjoyed it. His principal encouraged him to look into teaching. Education was a popular career pursuit in his family. One older sibling taught for 15 years before getting married. Another sister was a teacher and principal for 35 years.
He graduated in 1979. He went to the University of Minnesota, Morris, and played football for four years.
He graduated with an elementary education and physical education degree. He looked up to his own coaches both in high school and college, so as he studied education, coaching came pretty naturally in the equation. He spent a 5th year there student teaching, and as part of his physical education degree he was a grad coach for the football team since his eligibility was used up.
In the fall of 1984, Gaffney started his career at YME as a teacher in a 5th and 6th grade combination room. A few years later he went back and got his Masters from the University of Minnesota in elementary education. He's been teaching in this school district, through its changes, since 1984.
His coaching philosophy has evolved over the years. When he started he had the mindset that winning was the most important thing. Later he focused more on the educational aspect of coaching, not just winning regardless of what's going on in the background or sidelines. "Winning is still a good goal, but it's also about what kids can get out of it." Part of what caused the shift was his own kids going through sports, it helped him see the athlete/student perspective.
"You have to love the game. Winning is fun. When I first moved to Granite Falls there were two state championships and a runner up. I thought, 'Geez, this is easy,' but there was a downturn for quite a while. We got back into the playoffs in 2004-05. That was a fun experience. Both of my sons played at that time, that's one of my fondest memories, being able to coach them. We still sit around and talk about it. “
Another memory that stood out is a student gave him a hug and told him, "You kept me from drinking for the last year and a half...I had a drinking problem and you helped me because I wanted to play for you." That really tugged at his heartstrings. From a broader perspective, he likes seeing the growth from freshmen to seniors, seeing them mature, grow from boys to young men.
When asked about what makes a good coach, he reported, " I think a good coach has to have an even temperament. When I was playing if a coach was yelling all the time it just becomes noise. There's a time and place for it but if it's constant the kids won't react to it. You also have to have perseverance, and knowledge of the game. You have to be emotionally tough because a lot of stuff will happen during the year and you have to be able to deal with it. If a kid makes a mistake that's just part of being a high school athlete, you have to turn the page and move on.
I like to talk to kids after the emotions are gone. Nobody likes to get talked down to when something bad happens. If a kid comes off after throwing an interception I'm the last guy that needs to tell them they threw an interception. You can learn from it, but you can't dwell on it...Otherwise people play scared and they won't make plays happen."
Gaffney isn't sure who will become the next coach. He has nothing but praise for all of his assistants, and there's also the possibility of an outside candidate. He hasn't decided about if he's also retiring from teaching. "I don't like to use the word retire, I'm more turning the chapter. I'm ready to move on to whatever's going to happen. I'm retiring from football, I haven't decided about the teaching yet. I'll decide that this spring."