He slowly works his way from one end of the practice field to the other. Quietly, he observes his team go through the drills, occasionally barking out a command. As he watches the kicking team fire extra points through the uprights, coach Mike DeLong bellows, “Show Coach Cerasuolo the magic foot.”
For 30 years, DeLong has paced the sidelines of the Springfield College football field, leading the Pride into battle. With a school record 175 wins at Springfield and 187 overall (DeLong spent two seasons at Maine Maritime, going 12-6), DeLong holds the honor as the winningest active head coach in New England Division III football.
DeLong has led the Pride to five NCAA Tournament births to go along with five Freedom Football Conference and five Eastern College Athletic Conference Championships, as well as one Empire 8 co-title.
“It’s gone by quick,” said DeLong, who graduated from Springfield in 1974. “It’s been great. I don’t really think about it… I would describe it as, it’s not like I’ve been here 30 years, it’s like I’ve been here one year, 30 times in a row.”
DeLong has coached a plethora of star players like Chris Sharpe, who grabbed the 2006 Melberger Award signifying the National Division III Player of the Year. DeLong also coached WWE Superstar John Cena, who often returns to campus to work out with the football team.
And while DeLong has been here for three decades now, Springfield’s defensive coordinator Jack Holik has been here just as long.
“It’s been terrific,” said Holik, who has been an assistant coach at his alma mater for 31 seasons. “It’s more than just a professional thing. He knows I’d do anything for him, I know he’d do anything for me. If we need any help, beyond just football, off the field as well… outside of the professional thing he’s a friend of mine.”
The sentiment is felt on both sides of the lengthy relationship.
“On top of working together, we’re certainly great friends,” DeLong said of Holik. “We can be direct back and forth with each other, neither one of us is afraid to speak our mind, which is good. I think he does a great job with the defense. He’s thoroughly prepared, worries about everything… I’m fortunate.”
While DeLong has experienced success at Springfield, none of his accomplishments have come without hard work and dedication, often resulting in lost time with family.
“When you coach, it puts a tremendous amount of stress on your family,” noted DeLong. “Realistically, people always say that your family always comes first, but that doesn’t really happen in the profession. Your family misses a great deal of what you do…When you don’t come home until 7:30 at night, you miss a lot and it puts tremendous pressure on your wife…she has to do a lot on her own.”
With the amount of time that DeLong has spent coaching, he’s picked up knowledge that helps him better use his time.
“We [stayed late watching films] on Sunday nights and Monday nights. And then I actually figured out when you’re so tired you don’t retain a lot. It’s like studying at 10, 11, 12 at night, you don’t retain a lot. You’re better off using your time better.”
This desire to be as productive as possible has led to more effective practices, resulting in more efficient teams.
“I think he does a great job orchestrating practice,” senior Joel Altavesta said. “He’s just straight to the point to every guy. He does a great job getting stuff done and keeping stuff on track.”
While DeLong has been able to keep the team on track on the field, his dedication to his players has helped keep them on track off the field.
“He’s taught me to always do the right thing,” noted Altavesta, who is entering his fifth season under DeLong. “When I was younger I made a couple mistakes…and he always kept me on the right path, always kept me with the game. I got hurt my sophomore year, and he always kept me a part of the program and kept me going with the team and always showed me that he still cared about me. That’s a big reason I’m still here.”
DeLong has proven his dedication to the game of football and to the players he coaches, remaining in contact with them after they depart the program. For the past 30 seasons, DeLong has called the sideline home, and he doesn’t plan on looking towards the end just yet.
“I haven’t thought that much about [the end],” said DeLong. “I always ask people, ‘Did I forget your name?’ or ‘Am I drooling on myself over here?’ I still enjoy coaching but I haven’t really thought that much about it. Everybody has a last game. At some point I’ll have a last game, but I haven’t put a timeline or anything on it. I think I’ll know when it becomes time for me…I’ll know.”
With no end in sight, DeLong will continue to coach, proving he’s in it for DeLong haul.