Mike Haley, who made an imprint on Maine high school football, died Wednesday.
Haley was a longtime coach and administrator at several high schools throughout the state. He was best known for his 25 years as a football coach, particularly in Androscoggin and Oxford counties.
Haley had stints as the head coach at both Stephens and Rumford high schools in Rumford — “I was the last coach at Stephens and the first coach at Rumford,” Haley told the Portland Press Herald last year — as well as Lewiston, Edward Little and Oxford Hills.
“Mike Haley was probably one of the best people that I’ve ever known in my life because he held everybody to a task, and did it with humor, as well,” said current Edward Little football coach Dave Sterling,who played for Haley at EL in the late-1980s. “He knew how to push people to go beyond what they expected in life, and also make them feel like they were giving back to something bigger than themselves.”
Haley graduated from South Paris High School in 1961. While there, he earned 15 varsity letters in four sports — football, basketball, baseball and track and field.
He went on to the University of Maine, where he played football and baseball. He was a co-captain for the Black Bears’ football team and received All-Maine honors three times and All-Yankee Conference once.
After college, Haley had pro baseball tryouts with the Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates and Minnesota Twins, and a pro football tryout with the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes.
He started a career as a coach and educator as an assistant coach at Maine Maritime Academy. He then went to the high school ranks, starting in Rockland before two years in Rumford as the football and baseball coach.
After three years at Waterville, where he coached football, golf and gymnastics and also served as athletic director, Haley became the head football coach at Lewiston in 1975. He also was the school’s athletic director. He coached the Blue Devils for three seasons, compiling a 13-13-1 record.
While at Lewiston, he and his teams faced off against rivals Edward Little, led by legendary coach Lawrence “Doc” Hersom.
“He (Doc Hersom) thought he was a great coach and he always referred to Coach Haley’s teams, and how well prepared they would be and how well coached they would be,” said Lawrence High School coach John Hersom, Doc’s son. “I’m sure Coach Haley was thought of that way by a lot of the coaches.”
Hersom added: “My twin brother (Dirigo Coach Jim Hersom) and I were playing for my dad at Edward Little when Coach Haley was coaching at Lewiston. Those were some very close rivalry games and Coach Haley was one of the top coaches in the state.”
Haley then went to Maine Central Institute, where he was the football coach and filled many other administrative roles.
In 1985, he became the coach of his one-time rival Edward Little. In five years, the Red Eddies went 16-26, and he led them their best year of the decade, a 6-3 record in 1987.
Sterling remembers practicing on the parking lot of the Auburn Esplanade for an entire season while the EL track was being built, and how hard Haley worked the Eddies. But he also recalls the humor that the coach brought to the grueling practices.
For instance, when the players were doing push-ups, Haley would start singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from the play “Oklahoma.”
“That songs sticks with us all to this day,” Sterling said. “Even friends now, if we’re going to have coffee or something, we’ll break into that song.”
Sterling said that Haley was against swearing, except in extreme situations, so instead he used words like “banana” and “zonk.”
“If somebody did something wrong, he’d yell, ‘You banana,’ or, ‘You zonk,” Sterling said. “You’d see someone, you’d yell across the room, ‘You zonk,’ you knew who played for Mike Haley because they’d all start giggling.”
While at Auburn, he coached not only Sterling, but also Edward Little principal Scott Annear and athletic director Todd Sampson.
“When the news hit today, and I had heard through the grapevine, I went to those two guys, and the three of us got emotional,” Sterling said. “He affected all three of us so much.”
Haley went back to Maine Maritime to serve as defensive coordinator.
After that, he served as athletic director or assistant principal (or both) at a handful of schools, including Leavitt Area High School.
He returned to the sidelines as Dave Wing’s defensive coordinator at Oak Hill for a few seasons.
He also was involved in statewide organizations, including time as the chairman of the MPA Football Committee in the 1990s and several years as the executive secretary of the Maine Football Coaches Association.
“He was always thinking of coaches and what their needs were and was super-organized with the meetings he would conduct,” John Hersom said.
Just as Haley coached several sports, he also was on the MPA committees for several, including ice hockey, basketball and outdoor track and field. He also officiated basketball for 30 years and umpired baseball for 25.
Haley was inducted in the Maine Principals’ Association Hall of Excellence in 2017. The MPA also has named its coach of the year award after him.
Steve Craig of the Portland Press Herald contributed to this report.
Defensive coordinator Mike Haley addresses players for the East team after a Lobster Bowl practice in July 2002. Haley, who coached at Edward Little, Lewiston, Oxford Hills and in Rumford, died Wednesday (Portland Press Herald file photo)