6/30/2013 6:00:00 AM Mueller the players' choice to lead Tigers Input from athletes key to coach's decision to return
Coach Wally Mueller and the Tigers celebrate after winning the state title last fall. Mueller, who moved up from assistant to head coach midway through the season, will come back this season to lead the team. RODNEY HAAS/Miner
KINGMAN - When Wally Mueller took over as interim head football coach last year for Kingman Academy, he said wasn't a football coach.
It's a statement he repeated after the Tigers won the state 4A Charter Athletic Association championship in November, and it's something he stood behind a few weeks later when the CAA named him coach of the year.
At the time, Mueller said his plans were up in the air, that he wasn't sure he would return to KAHS.
But when he walked through the halls of the school with athletic director Shawn Byrne, he kept running into players asking him a simple question: Are you coming back?
"I was on the bubble until I went and committed to Shawn," Mueller said. "The thing that put me over was the kids. The boys that played calling and asking, or they would see me in town and ask, 'Are you going to coach? Please coach!' It made me feel good they wanted me back."
In addition to the barrage of questions, some players said they would not play football unless Mueller was their coach.
"He's a great guy, the kids love him and the kids respect him," Byrne said. "The day that Wally came in the hallway, that day they were all of sudden playing. He just sparked that fire."
Mueller still doesn't consider himself a football coach. But in the hearts and minds of the players and school officials, there's only one football coach they wanted to lead them into a new era and that's Wally Mueller.
"I have no formal training as a coach. I'm just teaching these kids the basic things I learned as a player and sharing that," Mueller said. "As far as the intricacies of the game, there is a lot I don't know and I'm the first to admit that."
But in order to be a great coach, coaching has to go beyond the X's and O's of a playbook or setting up drills in practice. You have to have the respect and admiration of the players, and Mueller has that.
"They follow him," Byrne said. "They just flock to him and that's something that was very important for us."
For Byrne, there was no need to interview any other candidates. He gave Mueller all the time he needed to make the decision. However, when Mueller did decide to come back as head coach, there was some minor issues that caused Byrne to delay officially announcing the hire.
For starters, Mueller was a volunteer assistant coach last year and didn't have to go through the extensive hiring process of a head coach. That includes the application, an in-depth interview process, and writing an essay. But the one snag was trying to get multiple job references on a person who has only had one job in the last 25 years, time Mueller has spent with the Arizona Department of Public Safety. It's a problem that Byrne said was a good one to have.
Mueller, who works for DPS as a criminal investigations detective, said his employer has been very supportive of his decision to return as coach. It's something that was key for him in making the decision.
"My immediate chain (of command) and my two supervisors above me are very supportive," Mueller said. "I'm part of a team here. Adjustments have to be made for my absences when it's required for the school.
"The department as a whole is effected and they are behind me. They support me."
However, it's something that the DPS is accustomed to. Mueller said that he knows a lot of guys who have been involved in Little League and Pop Warner football, including his sergeant, Jamie Clark, who recently helped coach the 9-10 Kingman South Little League All Star team in the recent District 9 tournament.
"They have been great with me and I think a lot of the pressure that I feel from the department is self-induced," Mueller said. "I'm afraid that I'm not getting enough of my work done here. So far nobody has said anything about that. I'm just being very careful of not letting my priorities get out of line. The department has fed my family forever. That's where my bread and butter comes from."
The other thing Mueller's hiring brings is a sense of stability for the team as the Tigers embark on the new challenge this fall of playing in the Arizona Interscholastic Association.
"We are pleased," Byrne said. "With our move to AIA he brings the continuity. Because of this, the players don't have to learn new teams along with learning a new coach."
Mueller is looking forward to the challenges the move to the AIA will bring, including the stiffer competition.
The Tigers section opponents include Camp Verde, Greyhills Academy, Joy Christian, Sedona Red Rock, Williams and Kingman's Lee Williams High, another team in its first year of varsity competition in the AIA.
It's the games against Williams and Lee Williams that intrigue Mueller. He and Williams coach Jeff Brownlee went through the same patrol academy together in 1987 and Brownlee recently retired from DPS after a 25-year career.
Former KAHS head coach Eugene Kramer and assistant Ray Smith coach at Lee Williams.
"I just think the world of those guys," Mueller said. "I hate to oppose them but we will have fun with it. One way or the other, we will have fun with it."
Over the past three years the Tigers combined for a 34-2 record while competing in the CAA. However, with the move to the AIA, Mueller's goal for the team is a .500 record and maybe a playoff spot.
"That's a successful first year for us in AIA football," Mueller said. "Hopefully we can continue a tradition into the new era. We will see what happens. I'm hopeful for a .500 season, but to be honest in the back of mind and in my heart, I'm hoping after 10 games the AIA will sit back and scratch their heads and think, 'Good Lord, what did we let join up?'"
For a man who doesn't consider himself a football coach, he's also very humble when people start to sing his praises.
"It's hard for me to talk about it. I feel like I'm bragging and I don't intend to," Mueller said. "It makes me feel good because what I bring to the kids and to the team is some discipline - self-discipline and team discipline. I'm not a hard-nose guy. I don't sit there and rant and rave and yell and threaten them with laps. I expect a lot more out of them than I would of a regular student at that school."
Opposing coaches won't find a West Coast or spread offense when coaching against Mueller's Tigers this fall. Instead, they'll find something more powerful than that - 11 players lined up on the opposite side of the ball, ready to give every ounce of energy for a coach they revere.
"They believe in me," Mueller said. "I know how these boys felt last year after Coach (Doug) Odum left. They felt like the world turned on them and I think that had a lot to do with them stepping up for me.
"It's those kids who spoke to me about it. They were the guys who weren't going to play, the guys who said, 'If you coach, I'll be back.' That was what pushed me over, what made my decision for me to coach."
Posted: Saturday, July 13, 2013
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I've known Coach Wally almost all my life and what you say about him is pretty much true. He has earned my respect as well as the team's respect. I look forward to this football season. Thank you Coach Wally and Mrs. Lisa for being so giving of yourselves---Kingman and especially the KAOL is better off because of the two of you.
Posted: Tuesday, July 2, 2013
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Wally is the perfect choice to move this program forward. He is personable, confident, authentic, and his knowledge of the game exceeds even his great modesty. He will do well.
Posted: Monday, July 1, 2013
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