FORT THOMAS, Ky. - One week ago Friday, he was preparing to coach the last game of his legendary high school football career. Only Dale Mueller and his family knew the end was at hand. He told them last year that this season would be his last. No one spilled the beans. If only our government were so discreet.
After 29 years as a head coach, 309 victories including 11 Kentucky state championships, Dale knew when it was time to go. Walking away while you still want to be somewhere rather than it being required is a rare gift bestowed on few people. Fewer still leave on their own terms under their own power. But Dale Mueller’s achievements will endure.
He brings to mind my uncle, John T. Emmett, better known to generations of high school scholars as Latin Jack. Uncle Jack can still do it all - play piano, clarinet and sax - but what he did best was teach. He no longer does in a formal context, but his lessons linger. I asked him years ago why he didn’t become a college professor. More money, more prestige, I thought, but not the rewards that mattered to him.
“I feel I can make the biggest impact on the most people teaching at the high school level,” he said.
Legions of his mentees agree that is where he left his indelible mark.
Dale Mueller was offered the chance to try his hand at the college level, but he too stayed the course. And thousands, that is no exaggeration, thousands of his former players can attest to the impact his decision had on their lives.
More money, more prestige, it was there any number of times, but Dale knew where he needed and wanted to be. And he made his last, best stand at his alma mater, Fort Thomas Highlands, where he rewrote an already impressive record book. A litany of .800 winning percentages makes the Bluebirds the Gold Standard of the Commonwealth. Now Dale will pass the baton after a race very well run with generations of winners in his wake.
For the first time in his adult life, Dale will awake with no game to play, no strategy to plot, no off-season regimen to direct. I doubt he will sleep in. While he has turned the page on one chapter of his life’s work, he’s hardly finished making a difference.