Tucked below the Townhouse Conference room, sitting appropriately right next to Stagg Football field is an office. Decorated with more than 20 photos dating as far back as 1974, the photos mark various eras of Springfield College football.
Perched behind a desk in the far corner, staring intently at a computer, sits Mike DeLong. For 32 years, DeLong has sat in that same spot, granted at different locations at different times. It began in Judd Gymnasium until the Admissions office moved down Alden Street, bringing DeLong and the rest of the football offices with them.
DeLong rises and, without a hesitation, points at every single picture on the wall, recalling names of players, coaches, and teams. All-Americans, starting quarterbacks, starting linemen, DeLong doesn’t miss a beat. In one picture, DeLong easily rattles off four names, yet to the naïve viewer, only one number is visible.
DeLong doesn’t need numbers to tell players apart, he knows the players that walk through his office doors or onto Stagg Field.
DeLong glances subtly over one last photo. Framed and signed, sitting in the corner of the office, is a flexing John Cena. “And there’s John,” DeLong says, before smoothly moving on to the next image.
For 32 years, Springfield football and Mike DeLong have been synonyms. With five NCAA Tournament appearances, five Freedom Football Conference (FFC) titles, one Empire 8 co-title, and six Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Championships, the Pride and DeLong have known success.
But after three decades, DeLong is ready for the next step, retiring on November 16.
“I still don’t know now to be honest with you,” said DeLong about when he knew he was ready to retire, “but it’s a decision my wife and I have talked about, have thought about for a while. And it’s time. It’s time for change in our lives.”
DeLong led the Pride to 189 wins, the most of any Springfield College coach, including compiling 201 wins in his career (including 12 in his first head coaching position at Maine Maritime), wrapping up his career as the winningest active head coach in Division III football in New England.
“Mike DeLong during his tenure has done a tremendous job leading the largest athletics program on campus,” Athletic Director Craig Poisson said. “He has been an incredible role model, not only to the football student athletes but to all the students. He is as loyal as the day is long. He is the consummate professional. He is the definition of the Springfield College model of a teacher-coach. The word I would default to if you gave me one word is genuine. Just a quality human being. He will be missed.”
Those same sentiments were echoed from Springfield College President Mary-Beth Cooper.
“In my short tenure with Coach DeLong, I was quickly impressed with his love of the sport and the compassion he showed to his players,” Cooper said in a press release by the college when DeLong announced his retirement. “He will long be remembered as the quintessential teacher coach. Although we will miss his quick wit and quiet leadership, his professionalism and dedication to Springfield College will be forever felt.”
Along with the wins have come awards, including a 2001 Johnny Vaught Lifetime Achievement Award for Head Coaches by the All-American Football Foundation (FFC) and American Football Coaches Associate (AFCA) District I Coach-of-the-Year awards in 2000 and ’03. In 2006, a year in which DeLong guided the Pride to a 10-2 record and a berth into the second round of the NCAA tournament, he earned four Coach of the Year awards. He was named Empire 8 Coach of the Year, NEFWA Division II/III Coach of the Year, AFCA Division III Coach of the Year, and d3football.com East Region Coach of the Year.
“It’s awesome (to be a part of DeLong’s final team),” senior captain Joey Racioppi said. “I’ve been playing sports my whole life and I’ve never had a coach compared to him. His knowledge of the game, of life, his role is so huge. Just to think he wants to go out with us in some way, you can’t really thank him enough to explain your gratitude for what he’s done.”
DeLong, a 1974 graduate from Springfield, was a defensive lineman under Coach Ted Dunn for three seasons before attending the University of North Carolina, serving as volunteer graduate assistant defensive coach. By 1978, DeLong was defensive coordinator at Maine Maritime before becoming head coach in ’79, going 4-5 in his first year at the helm, followed by an 8-1 campaign in 1980 which was the best record in the program’s 35-year history. DeLong was named the New England Coach of the Year by United Press International and The Boston Herald-American while the Mariners won the New England Conference Championship.
In 1981, DeLong returned to Springfield as the defensive coordinator before being promoted to head coach in 1984. DeLong installed the triple option in 1987, going 5-3-1 in ’87 and 6-3-1 in ’88, the program’s first back-to-back winning seasons since 1980-81. Springfield continued to become one of the nation’s most lethal rushing attacks, leading the country in rushing in ’96, ’99, ’00, ’02, ’03, ’06, and 2011, while finishing second in ’04, ’09, and 2012.
While DeLong has etched his name time and time again in the Springfield record books, it’s the impact off the field that will remain.
“The memories are going to be more about the players, the fun that we’ve had,” DeLong said. “The Graduate Assistants in the office, we’ve had a lot of good times that aren’t directly related to winning or losing a game. The guys that you see, those are the things you remember.
“The memory I’m going to take out of the last game will be the players on the field and the guys that were able to get back, not the game. That’s what you’re going to remember. It’s going to be the guys, it’s going to be the players.”
As DeLong has grown older and his career ticked on, the thoughts of retirement slowly made their way to the forefront, but it wasn’t until 2015 that the thoughts got serious.
“These things pop up,” DeLong said as he looked around his office at the pictures that mark the teams, and more importantly the players that he’s led. “I don’t know if you dwell on them, they pop up, then bang bang, and then they kind of grow as you go through. It’s a major decision, it’s not something we haven’t put a lot of thought into. It is a process. It’s not a shoot from the hip type of thing.”
Throughout the year, DeLong showed no signs that this would be the last one. He took over special teams duties for the Pride, watching film diligently and holding the special teams meetings. He never mentioned retirement until the Burning of the Old Shoe, the year-end ceremony where the Pride burn an old cleat while the seniors talk about their memories and experiences as a football player at Springfield. DeLong went last, finally telling the players of his intentions. That senior day would be his final game.
“He didn’t mention it during the season,” said Racioppi. “He came in, he was DeLong. He didn’t show any sense that this would be his last year. He didn’t give any power away. He did his job like he did any other day.”
So what’s next?
“I don’t know,” DeLong said through a smile. “My wife says this is a new adventure, so we’ll see. Maybe I’ll go to Plymouth (to be closer to his daughter and grandson). I do have a longer to-do list than most people; it’s about 30 years long, so I’ll be tackling those as we go. There’s no getting a boat, no Winnebagos. Just trying to take it day-by-day. Who knows, maybe I’ll go to Vermont on my motorcycle and drive around the hills of Vermont.”