“Few people can resist doing what is universally expected of them. This invisible pressure is more difficult to stand against than individual tyranny.” — Charles Dudley Warner, “That Fortune”
The text came as a shock to many: it’s not you, it’s me.
Former Harker Heights head football coach Mike Mullins sent out in a mass text to various players Tuesday morning when news broke of his resignation from his Knights’ post.
With regard to the players and assistant coaches left behind, there is little doubt in Mullins’ sincerity. He hates abandoning them. He hates leaving them two months before the start of the season. He hates feeling like he’s letting any of them down.
But, as in most breakups, he felt he had no other choice.
When asked about relinquishing command of a ship for a guy that’s been a head coach for nearly two decades, Mullins joked that “sometimes it’s good to not be in control.”
That should speak volumes to anybody reading between the lines.
The opportunity — becoming a position coach for former player Lee Fedora at defending Division II-3A state champion Navasota, near a place he’s always considered “home” — might have been too good to pass up for Mullins.
But it is not easy to believe that a head coach of 17 years is just going to take what could be a $30,000-per-year pay cut to become an assistant.
Yet, Mullins only spent a day deciding this was the right thing to do for himself and his family.
In speaking with him Tuesday evening following a long day of responding to concerns and questions from folks, Mullins — of course — said all the right things.
It was a family move, especially with his youngest child, Alyson, starting college at Texas A&M in the fall.
He felt the urge to get back to actual coaching. I was recently told a joke that seems to ring true: “If you want to get out of coaching, become a head coach.”
But all those reasons only serve to point to the one glaring one dripping within the subtext: Mullins was unhappy coaching Harker Heights.
But it had nothing to do with the players or coaches he worked alongside.
Which should clearly be a condemnation of the system he had to work within — namely, the Killeen Independent School District.
Before coming to Heights, Mullins had an 81-59-1 record with 10 playoff appearances as head coach at Cameron, Gilmer and Angleton. But at Harker Heights, Mullins went just 14-27 in four seasons, with just one playoff appearance last year. It was the first time he left a place with a losing record, winning at everywhere he’d been as a head coach and assistant.
Described as a winner by KISD athletic director Tom Rogers when he was first hired back in March 2009, Mullins still couldn’t win at Harker Heights.
Mullins said he doesn’t like to look back when he makes a decision, but in talking with him over the last four years, it was obvious how much he enjoyed his days coaching at “little fish” ponds like Cameron and Gilmer. It wasn’t just the autonomy, but the ability to really affect change as a head coach among the players and community he served.
For some reason, that didn’t seem possible at Harker Heights.
It seems likely that Mullins felt backed into a corner, like he had no other option than to just walk away, for the sake of his family and his sanity.
And for some reason, that wasn’t too shocking.