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Final whistle blows on Thierolf era

MHS football coach steps down

Staff writer

At some point, coaches no longer look at their extra hours as part of the coaching duties, but as work. That, combined with the desire to watch his children coach at the high school level, drove Grant Thierolf’s decision to retire as head football coach at Marion High School.

“It’s just one of those things that you just kind of know,” Thierolf said. “I’ve always said that when I get tired of being in the weight room every day during the summer, when I get tired of being at zero hour every day, when I get tired of mowing the grass out at the stadium, when I get tired of marking the field and the practice field and getting them ready to go, when I get tired of all the inventory and all that stuff and all the time that goes with it, it was time to quit.

“When you get to the point where you see that as work rather than just coaching, it’s time to get out.”

Thierolf estimated he worked an extra 30-40 hours a week outside of his 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. school day, adding that many people do not understand how many hours of work coaches do for all sports and activities.

“All of our coaches put in a lot of extra time,” he said. “It’s not a big part of your paycheck, but they’re willing to do that.”

Perhaps a more visible mark of hours upon hours of work over the years is a hat.

For those who have seen Thierolf don a pink hat at practices and on the sideline, he actually has a few of them. But, they didn’t start pink.

The formerly red Marion Relays hats are 17 or 18 years old, faded pink from years of covering the coach’s bald head for hours at a time during football and track seasons.

Extra work by coaches is not optional — not if you want a chance to win.

“In most cases, it’s not because they really want to do it — you have to do it,” Thierolf said. “If you don’t you’re at a competitive disadvantage going into the season, because everybody else is doing it. You want to make certain that you’re doing everything you can to give your team the opportunity to win.”

Thierolf’s teams won a majority of their games in his 30 years as the head coach at Marion. They went 185-103, a 64 percent winning percentage, averaging 6.2 wins per year to 3.4 losses.

Thierolf had only five different assistant coaches in those 30 years, with two of them as mainstays of an era. Former assistant coach Mark Meyer resigned a few years ago to focus on FFA, while Jerry Smith’s resignation also was accepted at Monday’s school board meeting.

“There aren’t many programs that can say that, that the coaches had that much loyalty to the program and to the kids,” Thierolf said.

The school board did not discuss Thierolf’s replacement, but the coach recommended the promotion of offensive coordinator Shaun Craft.

“He’s been a loyal assistant,” Thierolf said. “He loves the program, he loves the kids, he has sacrificed a great deal to help the program, and it’s just time. He’s ready for it.”

He said Craft has been with the program for about a dozen years.

“He played here, he grew up here, he went to school here,” Thierolf said. “He knows the system.”

This year’s option offense was one of Marion’s best, with two 1,000-yard senior rushers backed up by two juniors who racked up considerable yardage of their own. But the next coach will have to figure out how to replace 12 graduating seniors.

Thierolf said the team’s upcoming move to Class 1A is appropriate. While he will stay on as a teacher and head track coach, he also will be around to watch what happens on some fall Friday nights. Other nights will be split between his sons’ teams.

Thierolf’s sons coach at Tonganoxie and Buhler, both of which made the playoffs before falling in the first round.

“It would be fun to go watch them coach, to see what they’re doing,” Thierolf said. “You don’t live vicariously through your kids, but we would enjoy doing that for a while.”

His daughter’s collegiate rowing career will be over next fall as her high school teaching and coaching career begins, giving Thierolf another team to watch.

Highlights over the years start with coaching his own sons.

“As a father, the first highlight is coach your own kids, by far,” he said. “I hope that had a positive impact on them. I know it was tough at times. It obviously didn’t scare them away from the teaching and coaching profession. They both understand the obligations and the responsibilities and the joys that go with that.”

Teams from the mid-90s also stood out to Thierolf. The 1994 team went through the playoffs until it fell in the state championship game.

“You’d be hard-pressed not to think back to the mid-90s teams that we had that played in an awful lot of meaningful games and big games, and all the camaraderie that that group of kids had,” he said. “It’s just something that today is kind of hard to replicate.”

While many parents see the value of extracurricular activities in their children’s development, some few are more selfish, Thierolf said. The culture problem is one not limited to sports or to Marion.

“It’s not so much the kids, but I see parents not buying into the team model that that (90s) group bought into,” he said. “You just don’t see that as much today. It’s more about what have you done for my kid, what can you do for my kid, as opposed to how does my kid help the team win best.”

Thierolf said he hopes his players learned the same things he tried to teach his children.

“You hope that they learned how to work, you hope that they learned there’s something bigger than themselves, and that’s the team,” he said. “You hope as a coach that you help them become better citizens, better husbands, better fathers.”

Thierolf said his time coaching was an honor, a privilege, and fun.

“Hopefully they’ve learned some things; they sure taught us a lot as coaches,” he said.

Last modified Nov. 16, 2017

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