“It’s Just Time”
By Will Johnson
GRAPELAND – In 1977, Jimmy Carter was president, the movie “Star Wars” was released, Elvis passed away and Wayne Mahaffey began his coaching career.
Some 42 years later, Carter is known more for his humanitarian efforts, the Star Wars franchise is still chugging along, “The King” is still “The King” and Coach Mahaffey has decided to hang up his whistle and retire.
The Grapeland AD made it official earlier this week and on Thursday afternoon, he took time to speak with The Messenger.
When asked why now would be a good time to hang it up, he laughed and said, “Why not? It’s been 42 years. It’s just time. It’s just a lot harder to make it through the practices and ballgames. It’s just time.”
While Mahaffey reflected on his four decades on the sidelines, he was asked if he could narrow the field down to one specific moment which stood out from all the others.
“It was winning the state championship in Bartlett. Finishing off that ballgame, with me being a first year head coach. You dream of that moment, but to actually see it through…” he trailed off.
“The thrill of finishing with those kids – that was the biggest moment in my career. If I had to point to something second, it would be the last couple of years here because they’ve been really fun,” he said.
As to what he will miss the most about coaching, Mahaffey said, “The Friday night stuff. The competition – the competing, the X’s and O’s, the matching wits against other coaches, trying to prepare and trying to find weaknesses. The strategy of the game – I’ll miss the Friday nights. I don’t think I’ll miss Monday through Thursday too much!”
“I love the game of football,” he added. “I love competing, trying to score and keep the other team from scoring. I just love that part of the game.”
While many players and colleagues know Mahaffey as a football coach, he was able to go to East Texas Baptist College (now University) on a baseball scholarship. When asked how he went from being more of a baseball guy to being more of a football guy, he explained while he enjoyed playing the game of baseball, it was the cerebral part of football which truly appealed to him.
“The mental part of football preparation and the learning – I mean, I’ve been doing this for 42 years and I was still learning things and doing new things this year, because the game changes so much. The game of baseball doesn’t change a whole lot. There are certain things you have to do. There are fundamentals that may change a little over the years, but the game of football has changed so much. Keeping up with all the new innovations and being able to install in your own scheme what you’ve seen and learned, that part of it has always been intriguing. I have always enjoyed the coaching part of football the most but I enjoyed the playing of baseball,” Mahaffey explained.
Dovetailing on the topic of changes to football, Mahaffey said one of the biggest changes to high school football over the years has been the development of the spread offense.
“It changed the game and the way it’s played. When I first started – when I was first here (in the early 1980s) – we were in the I. You were running downhill with a toss sweep and you threw the ball maybe 10 times a game. You had a tight end or maybe two tight ends. Then, I coached the wishbone and then I coached the power I. They started to branch out and coach the split back veer. That got wild and somewhere in there I got exposed to the passing game and spreading people out,” he recalled.
Mahaffey said he incorporated a version of the spread into his offense during his run to the state championship in 1990.
“We played four wide-outs even then and threw the ball for over 3,000 yards. From there, just the love of the passing game with all the little innovations and all the little things you can do – that has been the biggest change in the game,” he said.
Before he arrived in Bartlett, the coach said the program had been in a wing-T offensive scheme for the previous decade.
“They had lost 18 seniors from the year before and didn’t feel like they had wing-T talent anymore. They felt like it was going to be a down year. A guy told me if I can go in there and go 6-4, it would be a really good year. That was not knowing we were going to have multiple sets on offense,” the longtime coach explained.
He said his team used some split-back veer formations he had picked up during his tenure in Bridge City, some I formations used during his first stint in Grapeland and some spread style offenses he learned from another coach at Bridge City.
“The fact that we had so many multiple formations and schemes gave us the chance to utilize some really good talent. Maybe they weren’t wing-T talent, but they were pretty good spread out,” he said.
“It has forced defenses to do a lot of things differently. I remember we used to run a 5-3 defense with five defensive linemen, three linebackers and three in the secondary. You didn’t worry about the passing game. For the longest time, if you could stop the run, most people didn’t have a sophisticated enough passing game to beat you. You had to stop the run and that’s still true today. But now, mixed in with that, is you have to be able to stop both the run and the pass,” Mahaffey said.
Another aspect of the spread, Mahaffey explained, was it got more players involved in the offense “… and it was easier to get more kids to buy into it when you spread it out.”
Changing gears somewhat, Mahaffey was asked about the various coaching stops along the way. He said he started out with stops in Beckville and Kemp, before he came to Grapeland in 1981.
After two years with the Sandies, he moved to Bridge City where he spent eight years as an assistant coach.
“At that point, it was like 12 or 13 years that I had been an assistant. I felt like it was time to get a head coaching job and that’s when I went to Bartlett,” Mahaffey said.
After a season in Bartlett, he moved to Kaufman where he spent three years. From there, Mahaffey went to Wimberley for five years. After Wimberley, he went to Rusk for nine years followed by a stint in Hamshire-Fannett as an assistant football coach and the head baseball coach.
“My daughter graduated from Rusk and my son graduated from Hamshire-Fannett. When we finished down there, we knew it was time to come back up here,” he said.
Mahaffey spent a year at The Brook Hill School outside of Tyler and then returned to Grapeland for the last five years of his coaching career.
“I spent nine years in Rusk, eight years in Bridge City, and seven years (combined) in Grapeland. This has been fun. It really has been a highlight. The state championship was great but there’s three places I really enjoyed coaching out of all of the places I’ve been. I really enjoyed my year at Bartlett because of the kids and the accomplishments. I really enjoyed my time in Bridge City as an assistant. There are a lot of good folks and we met some really good friends down there but other than that, the first time and the second time I’ve been here, I’ve really enjoyed my time in Grapeland,” he said.
Another thing Mahaffey said he will miss is the opportunity to get to know his players. Over the years, he said he has kept in contact with several of his former players and enjoys running into quite a few of his former players from his time in Grapeland.
As to what sports he has coached over his 42 years, Mahaffey has run the gamut.
“Obviously, I’ve coached football. I’ve coached basketball. I’ve coached baseball and golf. I’ve coached track and softball but I don’t think I ever coached tennis or cross-country. Other than that, I’ve pretty much coached it all as both an assistant and as a head coach,” he said.
The one sport he never coached was soccer.
“The only place I was ever at that had it was at Hamshire-Fannett. That was one sport I looked at and said, ‘Ooo, I ain’t doing that!’” he laughed.
A multi-sport athlete at Colmesneil High School, Mahaffey said, “I just love sports. I played baseball from the time I was six-years-old until a couple of years after college. I got a chance to play some semi-pro ball. Sports has always been a part of what I do and something I always wanted to be involved with.”
Before the conversation concluded, Mahaffey was asked what he thought his coaching legacy would be.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “I haven’t spent much time thinking about what my legacy might be. I hope I would be looked on as a coach who tried to do things the right way. A coach who had good relationships with players, set a good example and was a positive influence on their lives and what they were trying to accomplish. I would hope that would be a part of the legacy that I leave. Wins and losses – that’s not the big thing. The big thing is if I had an impact on the lives of people.”
As to his retirement plans, Mahaffey said he plans to stay in the Grapeland area, play with the grandkids, fish, play golf and “… at some point mix in some travel to go see some things we haven’t seen. I’ve always wanted to go and do some things in the fall, but I’ve been busy for 42 years.”
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.