There were many things to admire about Mike Drass, including this – he had a profound impact on hundreds of young lives, and it didn’t matter to him that the impact was felt in Dover instead of South Bend or State College.
Drass – who died on Monday at the age of 57 of an apparent heart attack – was a football coach at Wesley College for more than half his life. He became head coach at the age of 31 and he and his staff turned Wesley into a Division III powerhouse that has played in 13 consecutive NCAA tournaments and has won 10 or more games 13 times in the last 15 years.
With a resume like that, Drass could have easily moved on to bigger and supposedly better things. He could have coached at a higher level and made more money and become more of what most people would consider to be a success. But Mike Drass didn’t want that and he certainly didn’t need that. He was content with where he was and, more importantly, who he was.
Another late and great coach, Tubby Raymond of the University of Delaware, had a similar career. Raymond could have coached at the Division I level or even in the NFL, but he was happy in Newark, just as Drass was happy in Dover. And when you have that kind of loyalty and longevity you get something better than money – you get immortality.
Drass and Raymond got that when their respective schools named their football fields after them, an honor that will live on long after they’ve died. And that kind of respect is truly something that money cannot buy. Bob Clark, the president at Wesley, summed it up pretty well in an interview with WBOC radio.
“Mike was more than a coach, Mike was more than an athletic director – Mike changed lives,” Clark said. “We’re all better people for having Mike Drass in our lives.”
Of course, you don’t have that kind of longevity unless you also have success on the field, and Drass had plenty of that. His overall record was 229-69-1, and not only did his teams go to 13 straight NCAA tournaments, they made it as far as the semifinals six times. Wesley could never quite get over the hump because they would invariably run into the two big powerhouses in Division III football, Mount Union and Wisconsin-Whitewater, who have combined to win 19 national titles and have resources that Wesley simply can’t match.
But Drass and Wesley ruled the D-III world in the Eastern part of the country, and most people don’t seem to understand how hard that is. A Division III team can’t offer scholarships, which means recruiting is more difficult and time-consuming. But Drass’ reputation and success combined to lure many top players to Kent County, including two who are currently on NFL rosters – quarterback Joe Callahan of the Eagles and offensive lineman Matt Gono of the Atlanta Falcons.
Typically, Drass shared his success with is staff, many of whom were with him for years. That includes offensive coordinator Chip Knapp, who will doubtlessly be named to succeed Drass as head coach. The two worked together closely for decades and Drass was always quick to point out that Knapp was as responsible for Wesley’s success as he was.
And when Drass talked about success, he was even more proud of his graduation rate than his won-loss record. Mike Drass wasn’t just a coach – he was an educator, and, as Clark pointed out, the young men who played for him will become better old men because of him.