H.S. football: Aylward passes on coaching another year at Mt. Blue

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New Mt. Blue football coach Jim Aylward meets with his team prior to a preseason scrimmage against Spruce Mountain in 2014.

Jim Aylward is looking forward to seeing what a fall Friday night might feel like without high school football.

The longtime skipper recently resigned as head football coach at Mt. Blue High School after serious contemplation over the winter that brought him to to this life-changing decision.

He began coaching the Cougars in 2014.

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For 33 years, Aylward has paced the sidelines and called the shots in all kinds of weather, without ever taking his eyes off the field.

Aylward said there was never a dull moment and enjoyed every minute of the game coaching his players. This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision to call an end to a splendid career.

“I think being a head coach is a great privilege,” Aylward said. “I just saw myself not waking up like it was Christmas morning anymore. For 30 years, I woke up every morning like, ‘Wow, I am the head football coach …’

“I just didn’t have that feeling. I think it is unfair for kids to take a dime from anyone when your passion level, and you look in the mirror, just isn’t there anymore.”

Athletic director Chad Brackett said he wishes Aylward the best, but is sorry to see him go.

“As a coach and as a human being, he is the best that there is, period,” Brackett said. “He wants what is best for each kid. He is a throwback that has kept up with the times.”

Brackett added that there are handful of reasons why Aylward has a strong reputation as a coach.

“The connections that he makes with student-athletes,” Brackett said. “How he gives his assistants the ability to contribute and thrive. His self-reflection and personal responsibility for everything that takes place in his program. He is a legend.

“We understand and agree with his decision, but you don’t get the chance to work with such high-caliber people very often. Jim left a positive mark on Mt. Blue football that will be here forever. I only got to work with him for a very limited amount of time, but he taught me a lot about interscholastic athletics and how to do things the right way. His presence around here will be missed.”

Aylward’s two predecessors at Mt. Blue, Ray Caldwell and Gary Parlin, each led the program for 21 seasons. Caldwell led the Cougars from 1972 to 1992, winning three Class B titles. Parlin took over in 1993 and guided Mt. Blue to a Class A East championship in 2005 and a Class B state crown in 2012.

The Cougars were 13-14 under Aylward in three seasons.

Aylward began his head coaching career at Mexico High School before Mexico and Rumford were combined to form Mountain Valley High School, where he took over the newly created head coaching position.

Under Aylward’s leadership for 25 years, Mountain Valley won four state championships (2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010) and eight regional titles. He collected 200 wins there, and 213 overall.

“That statistic I am most pleased with is the first 23 years at Mountain Valley. Seventeen times we played in the regional championship game,” he said. “I am very impressed and pleased with that. It showed consistency and a lot effort on peoples’ part. Obviously, I coached at two great schools and they were both very fertile grounds.”

There were other considerations to his decision. The Aylwards recently purchased a new summer home on a lake, and his thoughts turned to other passions in life.

“It is just time for me to do things that I just missed in the fall,” Aylward said. “Now, for 33 years, I coached football — 30 years as a head coach and three years as an assistant.

“I’d like to go fly fishing, and go to a fair. Maybe actually noticing the leaves change colors would be nice.”

What kept Aylward on the sidelines all these years was the athletes who made all that hard work and training worthwhile.

“You do it because the kids are so fun to be with. I just felt like it was a fair decision and it is one that I am very much at peace with,” Aylward said. “Football is a great game. The kids are awesome. Great being around people who love the game of football and having chance to work with them — seeing good results, bad results — it don’t even matter. It is the process that counts.

“It is very addicting. But, you know, at 55, I am going to be honest with myself, there are other things I would like to do.”

What’s next

Aylward said that football will never leave him because it was an integral part of his life.

“I would like to give back. I’ll leave it at that,” he said. “I don’t really ever want to be a head coach again. There is a lot of responsibility that goes with that privilege.

“But I could see myself working with a youth team or, down the road, maybe coming back as an assistant for a young coach who needs someone to help him find his way.

“I even thought about officiating or writing about football.

“I definitely plan to give back to the game. The game has been so good to me. But I think my contributions can be in different ways now. I think I can be a good resource down the road.”

Aylward pointed out that football has, in a way, become year-round sport that requires of hours of training in and out of the weight room well before the season begins.

What will he miss about his long and successful stint on the gridiron?

“Friday nights,” Aylward said. “If I could be Brett Favre and only coach on Friday nights, I’d still coach.

“But you can’t do that. On Friday nights at 4 o’clock in the afternoon when I usually have butterflies in my stomach … I am going to miss that. I really will.”

There is no question walking away from Mt. Blue wasn’t an easy decision for Aylward.

“I have worked in two of the great football communities that anyone has to work in,” he said. “I am very pleased to be a small part of it. I am a fan of both schools. I love both schools and I love the kids at both schools. I actually plan to watch them play this fall.

“I had a lot of good things in my life that had to come second come June through November. I would like to put them first.”

Mountain Valley High School head coach Jim Aylward talks with seniors Christian Durland, left, and Cam Kaubris following their state championship win in 2010.

Jim Aylward’s career, by the numbers

213 — Career wins

30 — Total years as a head football coach

200 — Wins at Mountain Valley/Mexico

27 — Years coached for Mountain Valley/Mexixo

 13 — Wins at Mt. Blue

3 — Years coached at Mt. Blue

3 — Years coached as an assistant coach at Oak Hill

17 — Regional finals appearances

8 — Regional championships

4 — State championships

Mt. Blue High School head coach Jim Aylward talks to his players on the third day of practice in Farmington in 2015.

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