There is someone in Verndale who knows, but I couldn't find them.
When asked who was the football coach at Verndale High School before Mike Mahlen this is what I heard.
"I have no idea," said James Madsen, Verndale superintendent. "I would have to look that up."
Mahlen's wife Sallie didn't now either.
"There was a Seaton that coached for many years, but I'm not sure if that's who Mike replaced," she said.
The last time someone other than Mahlen coached the Verndale Pirates was 39 years, two state titles, 16 conference titles, 11 section titles and, as of last Friday, 300 victories ago.
With the Pirates' 20-8 victory over Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley Oct. 12, Mahlen became just the second high school coach in Minnesota history to reach 300.
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"He didn't say much about it," said assistant coach Tim Seaton. "The other coaches and the players didn't mention it. A few players asked me if this was his 300th win and I told them and it spread through the team. Other than that nobody said much about it."
That's the way Mahlen wanted it. He preaches team ahead of individual. When the opportunity came for the coach to bask in the glory of a remarkable accomplishment, he passed.
"He just said it was nice to have it done," said Sallie. "People were bringing it up all the time, but that's not something he wanted to concentrate on at all."
Mahlen has coached a number of players, many with the last name of Seaton, Kern, Hinkle, Moenkedick, Kneisl, Finck and Youngbauer. Those last names still remain on this year's roster.
When asked if he's mellowed over the years, his wife Sallie said, "Definitely."
"A lot of the players on the team now, he coached their dads and they all say these kids are getting off easy," said Sallie.
While mellowing, Mahlen continues to get results. A lot of that, said Madsen, has to do with the legend of the past and only one losing season in the last 18 years.
"He's not as intense as he used to be," said Madsen. "He's always well prepared for his games and makes sure his kids are. He used to be much more intense as a coach, but there's still that mystique about him. He's mellowed, but the kids still respect him."
This year Verndale remodeled its football complex, bringing in lights, a new concession stand and a new press box. They renamed the complex Mahlen Field.
"He came home and said, 'Oh my gosh they put Mahlen in big letters on the press box,'" said Sallie. "He thought they were just going to do a plaque on the side of the building."
This year Mahlen will turn 60. While he has retired from teaching and coaching other sports, there is no telling how long he will coach football.
"It is football," said Sallie. "He's in three fantasy football leagues. He watches football all the time. It doesn't matter, he'll watch two games at once. He usually watches the Vikings and during halftime and timeouts he's watching scouting tapes."
Throughout his career Mahlen's main concern has not been wins or losses. His players have been his first priority. He has coached 33 all-state and 16 academic all-state players.
"He is so dedicated and loyal to this team and the kids," said Seaton, who has been Mahlen's assistant for 18 seasons. "He really does care about them. He is very appreciative of his coaches and players and the effort they put forth."
Said Sallie: "He cares about them very deeply. He'll come home from practice and tell me somebody has a cold. Or somebody has the flu and that they need to go to the hospital and get checked out. He speaks to the doctors. He personally keeps in touch with them when a player has an injury. When his players hurt, he hurts."
Mahlen said he was most proud of the fact that he has been at one school for all 39 years. He had offers to go to other schools, but Mahlen never had any intentions of leaving Verndale.
"I think it's a remarkable accomplishment," said Brainerd head football coach Ron Stolski, who's also executive director of the state football coaches association. "Coach Mahlen's record speaks for itself. He has had a long history of success. I think it's a tribute to him and all the Verndale kids who have played for him all those years.
"Mike was the state's second recipient of the Power of Influence award. He's been a long-time member and past president of the coaches association. Whenever you go to a clinic or a meeting Mike Mahlen is always there with a strong, quiet demeanor. That's just the kind of guy that he is."
jeremy millsop, sports writer, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5856.
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