It was 1984, the inaugural season for Mike DeLong at the helm of Springfield football. Just a couple years removed from his first head coaching gig, the head JV spot in Holland Patent, New York, his hometown, DeLong roams the sidelines in the home opener for Springfield.
The clock slowly ticks down as Springfield’s Don Bolland rumbles inside the Southern Connecticut red zone, Springfield trailing 17-16. With no timeouts left, DeLong delivers a simple message to his quarterback, either throw a touchdown or throw it away. How about none of the above?
The Springfield signal caller is sacked in the backfield, and, unable to stop the clock, Springfield rushes the kicking team out for a game winning field goal attempt. One problem; the block the kicker needs is still sitting on the sideline.
Rushing to the sideline, the block is retrieved and tossed to the holder, only to watch the holder muff the catch, causing the block to roll around on the ground.
Five. Four. Three.
Timeout. Southern Connecticut.
With 12 men on the field, Southern Connecticut is forced to burn a timeout, allowing Springfield ample time to set-up and kick the game-winning field goal, the first win in DeLong’s career.
Now, 31 years later, on those same hallowed grounds, albeit the turf has changed, DeLong roams again, watching as the Union Dutchmen, trailing 20-17, take the field with just 54 seconds left and the ball at their own 20. A pair of long receptions puts the Dutchmen inside Springfield territory, before a 12-yard completion on fourth-and-10 puts the ball at the Springfield 23.
Union’s Nick Casicione lofts one to the back of the endzone, watching helplessly as Springfield defensive back Joey Racioppi pulls in a game sealing interception.
With the victory over Union, DeLong became just the 19th coach in Division III to pile up 200 wins, 188 of which have come at Springfield, while the Pride improved to 3-2 on the season.
“It has never really been a goal,” DeLong said. “Our goals have never revolved around that. My personal goals have never revolved around that. They’ve been trying to win a conference and things along that line. It’s never really been a goal.”
Regardless of the goal, the outcome remains one that has DeLong sitting comfortably at the top of nearly ever record in Springfield history. Over the duration of his career, DeLong has won more games than any of his predecessors even coach during their tenure at Springfield College.
“Obviously, I’ve coached a long time,” DeLong said. “It’s not something that happens very often. Maybe some programs you can get nine or ten wins no matter what you do, but most programs you’ll have years you’ll get good wins and some years you’ll have to battle and that’s part of a football program. You just have to keep plugging away at it.”
DeLong has sent five teams to the NCAA Tournament, including five Freedom Football Conference (FFC) crowns, one Empire 8 co-title, and six Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Championships, while leading the nation in rushing seven times, most recently in 2011, as well as finishing second in 2004, 2009, and 2012.
But that comes from more than just the top man. DeLong is the first one to make sure the credit for the programs success is spread to every facet of the coaching staff.
“We try to train and at whatever level, there’s a number of people that come out of this college that want to go into coaching,” said DeLong. “It’s an important part of our job to recognize that and hopefully they learn things and see opportunities and we can help them along. I think it’s important to have kids that go on to be coach. It’s an important part of our heritage here.”
It’s a heritage that runs deep. From Chris Sharpe’s Melberger Award as the Top Division III, to 11 postseason trips since 1995, DeLong has consistently put Springfield football into the conversation as one of the elite programs in New England and Division III.
“I’ve been fortunate to have been here a long time,” DeLong said. “Every now and then you reflect back. I started teaching elementary physical education in upstate New York, I coached JV football. Every now and again you look back but it’s been a lot of miles. But also you have a lot of things to look forward to.”