By Collin Atwood
Springfield College opened its doors in 1885 and it has been the home to incredible athletes and athletic accomplishments ever since. The College has built a reputation for being a top-notch athletic school. Due to the athletic excellence at the school, the Springfield College Athletic Hall of Fame was established in 1972 by the graduating class of 1933.
Since then, the College has had very talented individuals be inducted into its Hall of Fame. Some of the more notable ones include James Naismith, Frank Wolcott, Leslie Judd, and John Cena.
Whether they changed the sports world forever or were just great at the game they loved, they earned their spot in Springfield’s hall of fame. This month, six more lucky and deserving candidates will finally have the spotlight on them as they get inducted into the college’s athletic Hall of Fame. One of those lucky six is legendary football coach, Mike Delong ‘74.
Delong was inducted into Springfield College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2020, but COVID-19 forced the celebration and induction to be moved to 2021. Delong and the five other Springfield College alumni will be celebrated on Oct. 30 at 7:00 p.m.
Before landing on Alden Street, Delong attended high school in New York where he was a four-sport athlete. It was those times as a kid where he realized he wanted to pursue a career in coaching and teaching.
“I always loved to compete and to play and it’s what I did as a kid. Coaching, to me, is just highly competitive teaching,” Delong said.
Once he realized that he wanted to be a coach, Delong had to find the right school for him to pursue his dream. No other school on his shortlist of preferred destinations was above Springfield College.
“It’s the best physical education program in the country and I believed it and I still do. Springfield was always going to be the best fit for me both academically and as a person.”
Before spending 32 years as a football coach for the Pride, Delong joined the pack as an undergraduate and played under coach Ted Dunn as a defensive lineman. After graduating from Springfield College in 1974, Delong spent some time away from the school before making his return in 1981.
He returned back to his high school, Holland Patent Central High School, as the head wrestling coach and assistant football coach. He would stay there for three years before going to the University of North Carolina for his masters degree. At the same time he was a volunteer graduate assistant coach the year that North Carolina went to the Liberty Bowl.
Following that, he accepted a defensive coaching position at Maine Maritime where he began his historical collegiate coaching career. After one season, he was promoted to head coach, and in two seasons, he was able to record the best season that the football program had ever had with a record of 8-1.
That accomplishment led to Delong being named the New England Coach of the Year by United Press International and The Boston Herald-American. After making history in Maine, it was time for Delong to share the love at Springfield College.
“It’s a place people want to come to. I wanted to come back to Springfield because it was just a great program. I thought I would learn a great deal coming back,” Delong said.
When he returned he started out as the defensive coordinator under head coach Howard Vandersea who had a career record of 42-36. Delong would end up being promoted to head coach in 1984 and that’s where he would stay for the next 30 years.
During his time at Springfield, he was able to make history again and again. In 1998 Springfield had a 9-2 record and reached the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament for the first time in program history. Delong was responsible for many more winning seasons as the head coach.
He led the team to multiple NCAA tournaments and even won five Freedom Football Conference titles, one Empire 8 co-title, and six Eastern College Athletic Conference Championships. Because of his success, he has won numerous Coach of The Year awards from many different leagues and associations.
He would retire in 2015 and finish with 201 wins, which is the most by any Springfield College coach in history, but he didn’t do it alone.
“I’m going in on the backs of a lot of people and I’m very appreciative of them. Yeah, they throw my name out there, but I represent an awful lot of guys who put in an awful lot of work in that program.”
Delong had a lot of personal accolades, but none of them are as important to the history of the school as much as his coaching style was. Delong implemented Springfield’s triple option offense in 1987 and it is still used to this day. The Pride won seven rushing titles with that offense under Coach Delong.
“Every coaching situation is different, but at Springfield we just had great guys from staff to assistants and everybody around campus,” he said. Delong will be a part of Springfield College forever and he is grateful for the time spent here. “Just being around those people was such a positive atmosphere and I didn’t think there was any place better,” Delong added.
After dedicating decades of his life to Springfield College, it is time for him to be recognized for the great coach, mentor and teacher that he is. On Oct. 30, the college will be celebrating 130 years of football at Springfield College.
From 11:00 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. the department will be recognizing the historical football teams of the college’s past and honoring former defensive coordinator, Jack Holik, as well as Delong. The Springfield College Athletic Hall of Fame Reception will take place in Judd Gymnasia from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Then, it will be time to induct Delong and the other inductees into the Hall of Fame as deserved. Delong will be joining a lot of big names and also familiar faces.
“It’s humbling and it’s an honor because you have to remember I had all of them in class. They were all my role models and my teachers. They were all legends to me and still are.”
Photo: Springfield College Athletics