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May 2012

May 2012

Letter from AFM - Saluting Mentors

by: John Gallup
Editor and Publisher
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Just about every football coach has had a mentor – someone that has taught him the finer points of the game and had a positive influence in his development as a coach and a person. It’s part of what makes football coaching such a unique profession – the willingness to teach and share information with other coaches.

In AFM’s email newsletter, which you can sign up to receive at, we recently asked coaches to send in their personal stories about the coaches that have been their mentors. We wanted to know what makes a good mentor, why all coaches should be a mentor and, for young coaches, how you can learn from a mentor.

We thought that the following story, sent to us by Head Coach Justin Penner of Mason City High School (IA) about his mentor, Coach Mike Cooper, accurately described the influence a mentor can have off the field.

I have an advantage in coaching that not all coaches have. My first football coaching experience was as an assistant for Coach Mike Cooper at Dyersville Beckman High School in Dyersville, Iowa. Those two years as an assistant of his benefited me for the rest of my life.

If I were smart, I would have worked for Coach Cooper much longer, but I wanted so badly to become a head coach. In my time of knowing him, he has made me a better person, a better Catholic, a better coach, and a better professional. When I look in the mirror as a football coach, I compare myself to him, and I never feel like I can measure up.

Coach Cooper is the reason I got my first head coaching job, he is the reason I am married with kids, and he is the reason I strive to become a better professional, person, and man of God. I still speak with him regularly, and I ask for his guidance. He has helped me through a lot of tough decisions over the years.

When I was prepared to turn down my first head coaching job for a girl that I was dating, he asked me if I loved her – an awkward question from one coach to another, I responded confidently that I did. He told me that I should marry her. I listened, took the job, proposed, and have been happy with those decisions ever since (married 7 years with 2 children).

I will never be able to repay Coach Cooper (I would never call him “Mike” as I have way too much respect for him to do that) for all that he has done for me and my family. All I can do is keep making strides toward being my best and pay it forward. I owe it to him to be an example of a “real man” to my staff and all future young coaches of mine so that they can get ahead in life, too.

Thanks, Coach Cooper, for mentoring me and making me want to become a better person, professional, father, husband, coach, and a man of God. I owe you big!

Isn’t it odd that what makes Coach Cooper such a great mentor has so little to do with football?
Thanks, Coach Penner, for sharing your recollections about your experiences with Coach Cooper. We hope your words inspire other coaches to become mentors to their younger brethren.

We’d like to hear from you about how your mentor helped you to become a better coach and what you are doing to mentor someone yourself. Pass along your personal stories to our managing editor, Rex Lardner at and keep an eye out for more mentoring features – coming up in AFM.

New Online Contributor has a new contributor who will be supplying exclusive articles for AFM subscribers twice a month. He’s Keith Grabowski, Offensive Coordinator at Baldwin-Wallace. You’ve seen Coach Grabowski’s articles in print, including his piece on “Multiplicity” in this month’s issue. Now, starting on May 1 and appearing twice each month, he’ll be writing about his offense and including diagrams of plays, personnel groupings, and various formations.

To make this feature as interactive as possible, we’re inviting your feedback. We welcome your questions and comments directed to Coach Grabowski, who will respond to your input directly on the website. So take advantage of this opportunity to talk to one of football’s brightest young offensive minds – at

                        John Gallup
                        Editor & Publisher


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