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Players rally around embattled football coach

FOOTBALL: Forest Grove players, coaches and boosters rally in support of Mike McCabe as rumors swirl about the veteran football coach possibly losing his job
by: Nancy Townsley, Forest Grove senior Justin Loranger presents a petition in support of head football coach Mike McCabe to school district officials on Friday afternoon.

As Mike McCabe settled into a chair at the Forest Grove School District office last Friday and prepared to meet with administrators about his future as the school's varsity football coach, he glanced out the window and spotted two familiar faces.

Those faces belonged to Forest Grove seniors Dylan Sullivan and Brooks Baumgartner, who showed up prior to the meeting to hand-deliver a letter supporting McCabe to district Superintendent Jack Musser.

Later, fellow senior Justin Loranger turned up at the district office with a petition signed by over 300 students, urging Musser and other school officials to turn down the heat on McCabe, who is currently negotiating with the district to keep his coaching job beyond next football season.

'I've been taught for my whole life to do what feels right,' Loranger said. 'This feels right.'

Baumgartner and Sullivan echoed that sentiment.

'He is Forest Gove High School in my mind - I think in a lot of people's minds,' Baumgartner said of McCabe, who has taught in the school district for 30 years and coached the varsity football team for the last decade. 'It wouldn't be the same without him.'

'People are upset,' Sullivan added. 'A lot of people.'

McCabe was flattered and even a little embarrassed by the community support he has received since an article in last week's News-Times revealed that some district officials want him gone after next year.

'It's flattering,' McCabe said of the outpouring of support. 'What goes around comes around. I love those guys and I know they love me.

'It's amazing what young people can put into words and actions when they really feel strongly about something.'

No decisions were made at Friday's meeting - which also included high school Principal John O'Neill and Athletic Director Doug Thompson - but the battle lines are clear: McCabe wants the freedom to make his own call about when to hang up the headset; school officials are unwilling to give him any assurances beyond next season.

'I just want to be able to say on my own terms, 'Hey, one or two more years and I'm done,'' McCabe said. 'This isn't about me coaching for five or 10 or 15 more years. This is a couple years at most.'

For his part, Musser said the current situation is largely a misunderstanding, stemming from an assumption that McCabe would be retiring as a coach at the same time he was planning to retire as a teacher (see sidebar, below).

'We give one-year contracts for any coach, and we won't vary from that,' Musser said at Monday's school board meeting. 'Right now it's coach McCabe's decision.'

Prior to last week's events, McCabe had privately floated the idea of retiring from teaching after next school year, but had not talked with district officials about also retiring as the school's head football coach.

Multiple sources have suggested that district officials want McCabe out as football coach because his teams haven't won enough games. Last year the Vikings went 4-5 and were in playoff contention until the final game of the year. Four years ago, the team finished fourth in the Pac-9 League and made the 4A state playoffs, but sandwiched in between have been some lean years.

McCabe broke the bad news to his players last Wednesday, and by Friday Loranger had wrangled nearly 350 signatures for a petition supporting the veteran coach. Loranger also produced an Internet petition supporting McCabe, signed by 136 Forest Grove students and alumni.

In addition to the public showing of support from his current players, a few others stepped forward at Monday's school board meeting.

'We can get rid of coach McCabe, bring in a high-profile coach and maybe get more wins, but that's not what's important,' said Forest Grove junior Eric Laukkanen, who plays soccer for the Vikings. 'The pride I take in our school comes from the kind of people that come out of our school. He teaches people how to be people I want to be friends with.'

'I don't think you can find a better mentor, teacher, friend or just overall man,' said David Rowick, a 2002 graduate of Forest Grove and four-year football player. 'We won three games in the two years I started on varsity football, but I wouldn't trade those for a state title.'

McCabe said discussions with the school district about his future as head football coach remain open, but no decisions have been made.

'We're still trying to work some things out,' he said. 'The lines of communication are open right now. We'll probably talk again in the next few days.'