By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (April 19, 2016) — Mike Copeland doesn’t have any grand tricks up his sleeve, and regardless how revered the Hall of Honor coach is in Stephenville, there is no magic wand he can wave to suddenly make every SHS team a state title contender.
But with Copeland as athletic director, Stephenville has a leader who has succeeded as head coach in most the sports the school offers. They also have a much different leader than from 2000-02, when Copeland was athletic director and head football coach.
“I see my role as doing everything I can to help make our coaches and our students successful,” said Copeland. “I’m in more of a mentor role now. I see myself being a person who has been there and done that. I think I’ve coached nearly every sport we have, and I think I’m a pretty good resource for our coaches. I’m going to try and do everything I can to make every program successful.”
Copeland received unanimous approval from Stephenville ISD trustees at their regular monthly meeting Monday, after being picked as the lone finalist from a crop of six candidates who interviewed for the position. He has served as interim athletic director since February, when Alan Haire resigned to become athletic director and head football coach in Slado, his hometown.
Copeland’s return to the top of Stephenville athletics doesn’t stem from a successful two months in an interim position, but from 40-plus years – all at Stephenville – of dedication and versatility.
Copeland, 68, coached football 40 seasons at Stephenville, winning four state titles in the 1990s as defensive coordinator and a fifth in 2012 as cornerbacks coach. He was head coach and AD from 2000-02, once won nine straight district titles as head coach of girls basketball and has won a total of 14 district championships as head coach of girls track and field.
And that’s not all.
Copeland has also been head coach of boys and girls cross country, boys and girls tennis and boys and girls golf during his time at Stephenville. And he’s still coaching girls track, a sport in which he has guided seven state champions including current senior Bayleigh Chaviers.
“I think it’s important the other coaches see me not only as an administrator, but as a coach. I intend to coach girls track at this particular point in time.” said Copeland. “I know I make an impact on their lives, but they make an impact on my life, too. Continuing to get out there and coach kids is self-sustaining and self-fulfilling, and I enjoy going out to practice in the afternoons and to track meets and being around competitors.
“I think it’s important from an AD standpoint to remain hands on like that because it keeps you in touch with the kids and with competition and the life lessons you can get from it,” he said. “I don’t ever want to get lost in the administrative side of things and not be making an impact on the lives of kids. The day that happens is the day I cease to be an effective leader for our program.”
Not that Copeland will shy away from budgeting or other administrative duties.
“That’s what I’m doing right now is working on our budget so I’ll be ready to meet with all the coaches about it,” Copeland said Tuesday morning, already hard at work in his now full-time role.
Copeland calls participation the biggest issue facing prep athletics.
“Without a doubt it’s participation,” he said. “I think every athletic department needs to do everything it can to give every child who wants to participate the opportunity to do so, and to be coached by good women and men who share that same philosophy.”
Copeland’s perception of the athletics department has broadened considerably in the 14 years since he was last the athletic director.
“I’m a lot calmer person than I was in those days, I think age does that to you. But that doesn’t mean I’ve lost passion for the games, it just means I see them from a different perspective than I used too,” he explained. “I think my people skills are better, and I think my perspective of the program is probably much more broad than it was at one time in my career.
“Whatever I coached, I gave it everything I had every minute I could, and I’m going to try and do the same thing with the athletic director’s job and help us move to another level, whatever it takes,” he continued. “Not just football, for any who are concerned, but every sport, for the better of every child, girl and boy, who comes through our athletic department. That means hiring great coaches who are also great teachers and supporting them and the kids in every way possible.”
Copeland does not believe any of that means reinventing the wheel.
“Our program is healthy. I believe we experienced some level of success this year with every sport across the board. And we’re young in a lot of programs, so the opportunity for growth is there,” he said. “I don’t ever want to stay where we’re at, because I believe you should always try to improve. I want to move to bigger and better things, and one that’s one of the things I’ll be asking our head coaches one-on-one. ‘What are you doing to get better?’”
And getting better doesn’t just mean wins or losses. For Copeland, it never has.
“Wins and losses are important in our business, everybody understands that. But it’s the impact that we have on kids that I care the most about. Twenty years from now when something gets tough in life, I want our athletes to fall back on some of the things they learned in our athletic department at Stephenville High School to get through those times.
“I want to produce productive citizens with good moral values who are competitors. Like it or not, we compete our whole lives for jobs, wives, husbands, all those things. I just think competition is the heartbeat of the society we live in, and you need to learn to be competitive. Athletics gives you the opportunity to learn to be competitive in a healthy fashion, and how to deal with the bad things of life.”
In short, he wants the best for every kid, just as he would his own grandchild.
“When I’m about to hire someone, I always stop and ask myself one question,” Copeland explained. “‘Would I want this person having an impact on my own child or grandchild?’ If the answer is yes, I hire them. If it’s no, I don’t. It’s as simple as that.”
And even while thinking like a grandfather, Copeland says he has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.
“I feel like a kid again. Getting this position and having the opportunity to make an impact on the life of every kid in our program just tickles me to death,” he said. “As long as I have my health and wife has her health, I plan to continue to be the athletic director at Stephenville.”
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