The 67-year-old man driving around Yankton three weeks ago in a vehicle with Iowa license plates wouldn’t have caught your attention.
Nobody would’ve known who he was.
He could’ve told you his name and you still wouldn’t have known. He was, at that time, just another average visitor to Yankton.
It was Mike Woodley.
“Nobody knew who I was,” he said.
Unless you were an avid follower of NAIA football, the name wouldn’t have meant anything. But don’t worry, you’ll get to know that name. He’s the first head football coach at Mount Marty College.
On that day in mid-May, however, Woodley was just a man visiting town.
He had, pretty much at the spur of the moment, told his wife in their home in Des Moines, Iowa, that he was driving five hours to Yankton, South Dakota. He wanted to explore the community.
“She rolled her eyes at me,” Woodley said, with a smile, following his introductory press conference Wednesday on the MMC campus.
“There was no sense wasting anyone’s time if I didn’t personally feel comfortable.”
You see, at the time of that random journey, Woodley — who had built Grand View University into a national power — had not been officially offered the position at Mount Marty, nor had he set up any kind of official tour of the campus or town.
He did it all on his own.
Woodley visited a local store, to get a feel for the people, he said. He visited Riverside Field at Bob Tereshinski Stadium (he was impressed with the infield turf). He drove through the Mount Marty campus. He walked into Cimpl Arena. He saw the coach’s offices. He stopped by Bishop Marty Chapel.
He saw it all.
And what he saw sold him.
Woodley was, in short order, agreeing to take the reins of a new football program. Again. He did the same thing 12 years ago when he was hired to start Grand View’s football program from scratch.
“That’s the reason I’m doing this,” Woodley said Wednesday. “This is all about trying to do this again.”
Hearing that should excite every Mount Marty fan and every football fan in Yankton.
Woodley’s track record speaks for itself.
During his 11-season tenure at Grand View, Woodley’s teams were a combined 93-35, a combined 54-10 in conference games, reached the NAIA playoffs six straight years and won the 2013 NAIA national championship.
As Woodley headed into the 2018 season, he had told his son Joe (one of his assistant coaches and now the head coach) that it was going to be his final season at Grand View, Joe told me Wednesday.
“He never did say he’d be retiring,” Joe said. “I never got that vibe. He wanted to stay in football somehow.”
A post on a popular football coaching website in early April set the stage for Woodley’s next move.
The way Joe remembers it, he and his father and another of the Grand View assistants were out to lunch one day when Woodley randomly mentioned that Mount Marty was adding football and was in the market for a head coach.
“All of a sudden, he says, ‘I should take a look at that job,’” Joe said. “I didn’t really take him seriously, to be honest.”
There was something there, though. Joe could sense it. Perhaps it was the way his father mentioned the Mount Marty opening. Perhaps it was the idea of a new, yet familiar, challenge.
Either way, something told Joe that maybe his father wasn’t kidding.
“I remember thinking, ‘He’s probably just crazy enough to do it,’” Joe joked.
“He’s still got some energy left in him,” the son added. “He loves competing and he loves game days. He’s still got that in him.”
Joe later traveled to Yankton with his father on another occasion, and it didn’t take long for the son to realize there are factors in place to make Mount Marty a winner.
“It sounds like a football community,” Joe said. “We drove by the stadium (Crane-Youngworth Field), and it’s awesome.
“You know it’s a football stadium when you don’t see a track around the field,” he joked.
And this football-crazed community will, in just two short years, have college football again — Mount Marty will play a full Great Plains Athletic Conference schedule in 2021, which is a year earlier than previously announced.
It won’t take long for Woodley to become a familiar face and a familiar name in this town.
He won’t be an unknown when he walks into local stores.
He’ll be the Mount Marty football coach.
He’ll be the man responsible for generating buzz and excitement for Mount Marty, and in turn the football program. After all, that’s the point. Athletics provides a way for a university or a college to become visible and reach a wider audience.
“Those Saturday afternoons at a football game and building those connections with your community that way are huge steps,” MMC president Marc Long said.
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