Kamiak’s Mack steps down as head football coach

Coaching is teaching in its purest form for longtime educator
By David Pan | Jan 10, 2018
Photo by: David R Pan Kamiak’s Dan Mack is retiring as head football coach after leading the Knights for the last 20 years. Mack has taught and coached in the Mukilteo School District for 39 years.

Maybe it was inevitable that Dan Mack would go into coaching.

The fourth oldest of 13 children, Mack spent a lot of time working with his younger siblings.

“When you’re one of the oldest kids, you do a lot of teaching,” he said. “You learn how to teach at an early age.”

For Mack, teaching and coaching have always gone hand in hand.

“Coaching is teaching in its purest form,” he said. “It’s really an extension of the classroom.”

Last month, Mack made the difficult decision to step down as Kamiak High School’s head football coach.

Mack had been contemplating retirement from his coaching position for about a year. Mack, a Fine Arts and Physical Education teacher, plans to continue teaching at the high school, at least for one more year.

But after 20 years as the Knights head coach, Mack won’t be walking the sidelines any more next fall.

“It was hard,” Mack said of his decision. “Either you leave the game or the game leaves you.”

The last few weeks have been an emotional ride for Mack, especially when he typed his resignation letter to the Mukilteo School District.

The overriding emotion Mack has been feeling is gratitude for his time at the helm of the Kamiak football program and his 39 years in the Mukilteo School District.

“I feel very fortunate and very blessed to be coaching here in the school district and coaching here at Kamiak High School,” said Mack, who took over the program in 1998. “I always felt it was a complete honor to coach these kids. I enjoyed every minute of it.”

When he looks back at his coaching career, which started in 1978 at Endicott High School in Walnut Grove, Washington, Mack said the highlight was being able to coach his son Johnny at Kamiak and later to coach along side of Johnny, who joined the Knights’ staff.

“What a gift to be able to coach your son and have him on your staff,” said Mack, who was inducted into the Washington State Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 2015. “But all the kids that I’ve coached have been important to me and they all had equal value. … I don’t care if you are the No. 90 kid or the No. 1 kid athletically. We love all those kids the same.”

Just as he appreciated every player who came through the program, Mack said that his assistant coaches also were a big reason why he enjoyed his job so much.

“It’s really been fun and I feel very honored that I was able to be around such great coaches,” Mack said. “I was blessed to be around such great men, who love and want the best for kids in this community.”

Former Kamiak freshman coach Dan Hanika first met Mack when they were both attending Central Washington University and they later reconnected in the mid-1970s. Mack always emphasized to his assistants that they needed to put the players first.

“Remember we’re here for the kids,” Hanika recalled Mack telling his staff. “The kids aren’t here for us.”

Mack went out of his way to extend himself to his players or to what he called the Kamiak football family.

“He was never shy about giving his personal number to the kids,” Hanika said. “He was always accessible to the kids.”

Connor Alexander, a 2016 graduate who started at quarterback for Kamiak his senior season, said that he and his teammates felt like Mack treated them like they were his sons.

“He was super inspirational,” said Alexander, who is now at George Fox in Newberg, Oregon. “He was always positive, always encouraging. Even when he’d get on you, he was trying to make you better. There was a positive behind it.”

Mack admitted he isn’t quite sure what he’s going to do with his upcoming free time. He is looking forward to spending time with his sons Johnny and Lucas and his five grandchildren.

He also will have time to work on his music. Mack, who plays the guitar and piano, performs in different venues, from senior centers to charity functions. Mack also plans to go fishing and to do some traveling.

“How am I going to spend my time? I’m still working on that,” Mack said.

Mack finished with an overall career record at Kamiak of 123-72 with 11 playoff appearances. The Knights advanced to the 4A semifinals in 2000.

The 2000 team didn’t have any players who Mack would describe as particular standouts.

“We had a lot of good solid football players that loved the game,” Mack said. “And they were willing to put in the work.”

While it’s easy to judge a team by wins and losses, Mack’s focus instead was on building relationships.

“One of the things I always try to do as a coach is find common ground with the players,” Mack said. “You never want to burn a bridge because you never know when you have to cross over it again. … I think the kids that have been through our program know that myself and our coaches care about them, and not just care about them as football players but really care about them as people. We want to see them grow and be productive citizens in this world.

“Finding common ground, I think that’s a good lesson for everyone and every role in life because we can always find common ground with each other.”

Mack was a coach who was always true to his word.

“He would always back up his words with actions,” Alexander said.

Alexander added that he learned just as much, if not more off the field, than on the field from Mack.

“It was more off the field on how to act as a man and how to be a good person outside of football,” Alexander said.

Prior to coming to Kamiak, Mack was at Mariner High School where he coached football, basketball and baseball. He did all three sports for a long time. During his teaching career, Mack has taught music, English, U.S. history, world history, algebra, leadership and he also was the Kamiak activities director for 10 years.

Much has changed in the coaching profession since Mack first started. Football is now a year round sport and it’s unusual to find a two- or three-sport athlete these days, he noted.

“Back in the day, it was not uncommon to have a lot of kids in three sports or at least two,” Mack said.

Technology also has advanced and changed the way coaches prepare for games.

“When we first started everything was done with yellow pads,” Mack said.

He recalled a time when teams sent out scouts to check out their opponents. Then Kamiak started using 16mm film, which was sent to a company in Seattle to develop. Videotapes and DVDs followed and now everything is online.

“All these young kids coming up through coaching have the technology thing,” Mack said. “But I still, when I break down film or when I look at film, I still use my yellow pad.”

Cellphones and the internet have made it easier for former players to reach out to Mack and his assistant coaches.

“The coaches and I go to weddings and unfortunately some funerals at times. Baptisms we’ve been invited to,” Mack said “It’s so much fun to hear from kids you’ve coached. You never know who you’re going to hear from.

“For me it’s always been about the players and the relationships.”

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