When your football team has a great season, the school year tends to go much better.
That’s maybe an old cliche, but one that Atlantic superintendent Steve Barber echoed when speaking on the career of Mike McDermott, Atlantic’s now-former head football coach.
“It was a trying year but we had the best year in a long time. He’s put a lot of time and energy and we wish him well,” said Barber, shortly before school board members accepted his resignation at Wednesday’s meeting.
It was sentiments echoed by Atlantic activities director Andrew Mitchell. He thanked him for getting young men and women involved in the program and the work he’s put in to making it a success.
“My first year here was Mike’s third and watching the growth of kids wanting to play football has been outstanding the last three years,” said Mitchell. “Watching Mike grow as a coach culminating in a heck of a season. Looking at wins and losses is not the most important thing but his handling of the situation with Steele (McLaren, who was injured in an accident shortly before the ‘round of 16’) ... .
“Obviously, we’re going to miss Mike and his demeanor and knowledge, not just in football but outstanding (in other areas). A big thank you,” he continued.
In his resignation letter, McDermott explained the letter was for family reasons. He had previously emailed underclassmen on his team, freshmen through juniors, to talk about his decision.
In both his email to the team and in his resignation letter, he explained that he began playing football as a seventh grader at Schueler Elemetnary School, and talked about the values of hard work, teamwork and responsibility.
“I am truly grateful for the opportunities and experiences the game of football has taught me,” he wrote.
The past season was the most rewarding – an unbeaten Iowa Class 2A District 9 championship and “round of 16” playoff berth — and challenging, due to COVID-19 and the injury of Steele McLaren.
That, plus “34 straight years of never being able to watch the trees turn colors has changed me and the clock is ticking,” he wrote.
He said a desire to watch his son, Cooper, play football at Dakota State University, and his daughter, Callie, play high school volleyball in South Dakota have him wanting to focus on watching them play. Two younger daughters attend Atlantic High School, and he might be focusing more on girls’ athletics in the future.
“It has been a true honor and a humbling experience to work with our youth. I look forward to strengthening my teaching in the classroom and continuing to coach boys and girls tennis,” he wrote.
McDermott took over the program in 2016 and since compiled a 21-24 record. His most successful team was the 2020 campaign, which had a 7-2 record, finished as Iowa Class 2A District 9 champions and made it to the “round of 16” in the state playoffs. He was the district coach of the year.
This past fall was also known for playing on the new turfed surface of the Trojan Bowl, the centerpiece of the $9 million bond issue to improve facilities in the district.
A 1993 Atlantic graduate, this was his second go-around in the program. He served as the offensive coordinator for the 2002 team that won the Class 3A state championship.
McDermott took over for Eric Waldstein, who left after just two years and winning four games. He had coached in the Atlantic Middle School ranks for the previous six years prior to being elevated to the head coaching job.
McDermott is expected to remain as social studies teacher at Atlantic Middle School and as varsity boys’ and girls’ tennis coach.
After the meeting, McDermott said, “I just want to thank the school board and administration for giving me an opportunity. It’s been a good run.”
Besides the obvious highlights – a state playoff and seeing the community support for Steele McLaren – McDermott said it was “just getting the chance to build a program over time. We’ve had a lot of consistency as far as our assistant coaches are concerned. They deserve a lot of credit. The players were a delight to be with every day.”
And with talent coming up the ranks and the new Trojan Bowl facilities in place, McDermott said the future looks bright.
Mitchell said a big task lies ahead in finding McDermott’s successor, particularly with McDermott’s knowledge and background.
The job will be posted, including on Teach Iowa, in the coming days. Mitchell has also spoken with the coaching staff to give them indication about the process.
A committee will be formed. He could not say when interviews will begin, and was hopeful that a candidate would be brought to the board in March.
“We want to give ourselves the opportunity to have of all the coaches that apply for the job to have the best one to have success,” said Mitchell. “I’m assuming we’ll have an internal candidate or two.”