Coach's legacy of determination Message of belief: Mike McGlinchey is leaving Frostburg because of failing health, but has shown how much faith in one's self can accomplish.

November 09, 1995|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FROSTBURG -- He was given a plaque and a couple of warm hugs that cut through the chilled air. Otherwise, it was business as usual for Mike McGlinchey on Saturday. Only the game mattered. Sentiment would have to wait.

This was the last home game for McGlinchey, 50, coach of Frostburg State's football team. The neural muscular disorder that began attacking his body almost six years ago has drained much of his strength, distorted his speech and left him barely able to lift his arms from his side. Feeling he no longer could perform all the duties of a head coach, he announced his resignation last week.

On Saturday, McGlinchey offered some instructions to his quarterback before the first snap, and gathered his team in an end zone after the final seconds had ticked off. He spoke afterward of missed opportunities and the determination his players exhibited in trying to overcome a 20-point deficit against Waynesburg. He answered every question from reporters, but wouldn't be lured into melancholy.

Feel sorry for himself? There isn't time. At 5-4, the Bobcats are dangerously close to posting their first nonwinning record in McGlinchey's four seasons and the first since 1988. This can be avoided with a victory over Methodist College.

To the coach, that's the primary importance of this game. To the players, especially the seven seniors, there's much more to it than that.

"We want him to go out a winner," said offensive guard Mark Dejnozka. "Let him go out the way he deserves."

"He's done so much for us," said linebacker Vince Stofa, "we want to give something back to him."

McGlinchey disagreed that his players may have been pressing against Waynesburg, trying to do too much for him. After all, the previous week he had challenged them to rise above their mediocrity against Ferrum in what he called "the most important game I've ever coached," and the Bobcats responded with their finest performance in a 21-6 win.

"I knew they would beat Ferrum; they were so focused," he said. "I can't believe a team can be too focused and press. If that was true, they wouldn't have played their best football seven days ago."

The man always could motivate, whether at Salisbury State -- his first coaching stop -- Central Connecticut or Frostburg. He enters a player's life and remains there.

"He's the reason I'm coaching football," said Robb Disbennett, offensive coordinator at Salisbury, where he started every game at quarterback during four of McGlinchey's five seasons there. "Next to my parents, he's the most important person in my life."

McGlinchey's medical condition, which has been diagnosed as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis -- Lou Gehrig's disease -- was supposed to take his life within two years. Disbennett was with him when he got the news. Expecting to see his friend devastated, he instead found him to be determined.

"He was more concerned about his family than himself," Disbennett said. "He would go into the weight room and work out. That's his attitude. There's nothing he can't beat, no game he can't win."

"He's one of the best persons I've ever been around," said Paul Barnes, Frostburg's associate head coach. "Everything is positive with him, and that's probably because of his condition. He has to be positive.

"And he cares about his players more than any coach I've ever been around. If a young man has a problem, Mike talks to him, and he comes away feeling better about himself."

On Saturday, McGlinchey was given a plaque by the Frostburg athletic department, embraced his wife, Marylane, and son, Patrick, then sat on a metal folding chair placed on the sideline at the 30-yard line. He rose for the playing of the school song and national anthem, joined his coaches near midfield and left the chair empty for the rest of the afternoon.

Frostburg's president, Catherine Gira, watched from the upper-level press box. McGlinchey had tried to tell her about his decision to resign before meeting with his players last week, but both were overcome with emotion.

"He's such a wonderful man. I told him he always has a place here," she said.

Not wanting to break down in front of his players, McGlinchey had asked his wife to read a statement he had dictated, explaining his reasons for leaving. They were his words, "from his heart," Marylane said, and they seemed to touch everyone.

"He took us into a classroom after practice," Dejnozka said. "We thought we were going to get yelled out for something. It was a shock to us."

"The emotion in the room was just incredible," Stofa said, "especially for me and the older guys. We know him for what he was, what he did and what he's still doing."

McGlinchey, who has a 90-49-6 record, said he will be "somewhere on the field" next year, lending help whenever he can.

"He couldn't do as much as he did in years past," said halfback Shawn Freeman, "but he still has a great impact on our team."

"He says more with less words," Barnes said. "When he talks, you better listen. The antenna better go up."

Said Stofa: "Shoot, the man's just incredible. He can't express himself on the sideline as easily as he did before, but he does everything else that anyone could ever hope to do on the field. Even more so, just because of who he is."

And because of who he is, McGlinchey will settle for one more victory, without the fuss.

"I'm not looking forward to Saturday," Marylane said, "but at the same time, there will be a tremendous amount of relief because I've worried so much about him this season. Probably at its conclusion, it will be a very emotional time for Mike.

"But what he's most concerned about is he can't tolerate mediocrity. He just wants to know that the message he delivers, that if you believe in yourself, you can achieve greatness, is getting through to the team. He looks at himself now, the way he is, and feels that maybe the message is trapped inside him.

"If he knows it's been recognized, then he can leave in peace."

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