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PADECKY: End of a coaching era in Sonoma

By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

SONOMA

Fact is, if Mick O’Meara tried to swagger, if he tried to strut his stuff, walk like a big shot, you know, own the sidewalk, O’Meara would trip, fall down. And there would be Mike Mulas standing over him, laughing, smirking, saying something like, “I bet you’re not going to try THAT again!” And then Mulas would fall to the ground, just so his buddy wouldn’t feel alone down there.

Yes, they are something, this pair: Mulas, the dairyman, the firefighter and O’Meara the biology and chemistry high school teacher.

Disparate occupations but a compelling preoccupation: Football. Mick and Mike joined at the hip by a football, 34 years on the Sonoma Valley High School sidelines together, 34 years in which they moved together in a greased groove, getting close without either of them ever realizing it. It just happened.

So when Mike’s dad, Mitch, the legendary Sonoma dairyman, passed away on March 31, 2012, Mike asked three people to deliver a eulogy. One of them was O’Meara. The reason?

“Because he’s a lot like us,” Mulas said. Working with cows, on a farm, with sweat as your constant companion. All that tends to strip away pretentiousness, entitlement, attitude. In its place there is the honor of an honest day’s work, work that produces something for the community and for Nilda Mulas — Mike’s mom — that feeling of a shared existence doesn’t stop at a barn.

So this Thanksgiving, just like so many others in Sonoma, Nilda will host Thanksgiving dinner.

“Whoever comes by is welcome,” Mulas said. “We always seem to have new people every Thanksgiving.”

As Mulas spoke Tuesday night, O’Meara looked at his friend the way one would look at a mirror. He saw the reflection and he saw himself.

“It was never about us,” O’Meara said of the 34 years he has coached football with Mulas, 29 of them with O’Meara as head coach and Mulas as his defensive coordinator. “Whatever we did, we never intended for it to impress anyone.”

So when I asked O’Meara if his coaching record — 174-135-6 — was accurate, the coach replied, “That’s what they had in the (Sonoma) Index Tribune. So I guess it sounds about right. That’s good enough.”

That’s good enough? Huh? Mick O’Meara and Mike Mulas coached their last football game last weekend and O’Meara gave the impression that he really didn’t know his coaching record, that the 174-135-6 was a nice approximation. Sorta like 174 wins eight SCL titles happen to everyone.

“Those two guys are Sonoma football,” said Joe Elwood, Analy’s athletic director. “That they coached that long, that they were able to keep everything in perspective, it’s remarkable. The lessons they taught their kids are invaluable.”

Work hard, and get used to it, because you’ll need to do the same thing as an adult. If you want to point a finger, point it at yourself. Success is labor-intensive; it’s not waiting to get lucky through a lottery ticket. Mike learned all this stuff from Mitch and Nilda and in the fall of 1979, barely six months after he had graduated from Sonoma Valley, Mulas met this other junior varsity coach who had the same values. They slipped into their friendship smoothly to the point they can’t remember when they started to click. They just did.

“Oh, we’ve had disagreements over the years,” O’Meara said, “but I can’t ever remember us having an argument.”
Now that’s a friendship, but they’ll go you one better, and this is something high school coaches in any sport have never read before.

They’ve never had to deal with an abusive or demanding parent or player.

“No, really, it’s not something we’ve had to deal with,” O’Meara, 59, said. “It has to do with the consequences of a philosophy.”

If the bottom line is winning, O’Meara said, a coach’s life always be held hostage by the won-loss record.

“If you have three losing seasons in a row,” he said, “people will start asking questions and you’ll start to look around (for another job).”

That’s the absolute consequence of winning: You better.

Mick and Mike went at it differently. Be honest. Don’t blow smoke. Work to get better. The score, the team’s record, all that will be what it’ll be. Let’s not daydream, shall we, about Johnny playing in the NFL.

“I told parents that the best way for their kid to get a college scholarship,” O’Meara said, “is to get good grades.”

Be respectful.

“When Mick started coaching here,” said Mulas, 51, “he told the kids, ‘If you don’t embarrass me in front of your parents, we won’t embarrass you in front of your parents.’”

In 1984, O’Meara implemented a player strategy that he used to this day, one that he said minimized parental meddling. He would rotate players every fourth play.

“If you are varsity-ready as a junior,” O’Meara said, “you will rotate after every fourth play with a senior. I don’t even have to tell them.”

“Yeah,” Mulas said, “we tell them all they have to do is count to four. And if they can’t count to four, well …”

Mulas said he believes Sonoma Valley has played more players in a game than any other school in the Empire. The rotation system eliminates the most common parental gripe: My son is unhappy because he isn’t playing.

“Yes, we may not have won as many games as we might have,” O’Meara said, “but Mike and I have always seen football as more than winning and losing.”

They believe sports shouldn’t be more complicated than that. That’s the perspective the Analy athletic director spoke of.

“I think Mike and I are unique,” said O’Meara, referring to their 34 years together as keepers of perspective.
“I don’t know if there has been another situation like ours,” O’Meara said.

When asked if he could see another Mulas-O’Meara pairing that will last over 30 years, O’Meara said the answer could be found in the SCL coaches meeting of the night before.

“Now that we are leaving,” O’Meara said, “the longest tenured coach going into next season is Dan Bourdon of Analy.”

Bourdon just completed his fourth season in Sebastopol.
Through the entire two-hour interview not once did O’Meara or Mulas ever credit themselves. They went out of their way to avoid a pat on the back — unless it was to their friend.

“In Sonoma,” Mulas said, “Mick is viewed at the highest level.”
“When Mike announced he was leaving,” O’Meara said, “there were a lot of broken hearts.”

Those last two paragraphs could be viewed as your typical florid exaggeration. And it would be, except consider the source.

In the days and years ahead, if you happen to bump into Mike Mulas and Mick O’Meara on Sonoma’s streets, you’ll have to ask them if they ever coached football. They’ll never volunteer the information.

 You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.