Before 1969, no human being had walked on the moon, quartz watches did not exist and there were no ATMs in the United States. That was also a landmark year because it was when Mike Copeland was first hired as a coach by Stephenville ISD.
Other than a five-year stretch starting in 2003 when he retired from the school system once before, Copeland has been with the school in one capacity or another ever since then.
But after holding the position as the school’s athletic director since April of 2016, Copeland has decided to retire at age 71.
The first clue about how much Copeland has meant to Stephenville High School is a sign on the building that houses the weight training room. It informs visitors that they have arrived at the Mike Copeland Athletic Complex.
Copeland was a key assistant coach to five state championship Yellow Jacket football teams, and numerous other successful teams at SHS — coaching girls and boys teams along the way.
It’s easier to list the sports Copeland didn’t coach — volleyball, softball and baseball. Copeland left a significant mark in all the other sports he coached — from football to girls basketball and girls track, along with stints coaching golf, tennis and cross country.
Copeland’s longest tenure by far was in football, the sport he coached for 41 years. That included three seasons as head coach starting in 2000, when he led the Yellow Jackets to a 26-9 record and three straight playoff appearances.
Copeland served as the Yellow Jackets’ football defensive coordinator for 25 seasons, including the school’s first four state championship years — 1993, 1994, 1998 and 1999. The 1994 defense he was in charge of ranked as the nation’s fifth-best.
“That don’t happen unless you have real good kids,” Copeland said. “We had kids that were dedicated to work hard enough to have a chance to win.”
Copeland was especially pleased that he was able to coach his two sons, Matt and Mitch, in football.
SHS head football coach Greg Winder was brought in by Copeland as the quarterbacks coach for the Yellow Jackets in 2002. He said Copeland was extremely easy to work with over the years.
“He’s not only a good athletic director, but he’s a people person,” Winder said. “He’s easy to communicate with. When a person like that leaves, it’ll take some adjustments.”
Copeland has also been teaching honors government classes, along with American history.
He said that he learned a few things when he began a 10-year journey of coaching girls basketball, leading the Honeybees to the regional finals six times and earning nine district titles.
“That (girls basketball success) came along way before the football success. Once I started coaching girls, that kind of changed my life,” Copeland said. “I didn’t realize what fierce competitors (girls) were, and how loyal they were. I have fond memories of going to the regional basketball tournament.”
Copeland, an Abilene native and a graduate of Clyde High School, moved to Stephenville in 1965 when he enrolled at Tarleton State University. He played baseball at TSU, and earned his bachelor’s degree in social studies and physical education there in 1969. Copeland completed his master’s degree in guidance and counseling at TSU in 1983.
Copeland’s last day on duty will be June 29. SHS Superintendent Matt Underwood said that interviews to fill the athletic director position likely will start next week. Underwood indicated he is hoping the hire can be made soon enough to allow Copeland to work with the new person a while and make the transition smoother.
As of Thursday, Underwood said he had seen about 30 applications come in, with more likely on the way.
“I’m looking at next Thursday (for interviews)," he said. "I’ve had a lot of interest in the position. I’ve got quite a few (applicants) with experience as ADs.”
Underwood didn’t hesitate to refer to Copeland as a legend — just as many others have.
“Mike has been a steadying hand, especially in my four years here,” Underwood said. “If I have anything to do with it, we’ll try to bring him back in some capacity. He’s a legend — not just in Stephenville. He’s just that kind of quality guy.”
Underwood said that the school will not fill the position of assistant athletic director, which is being vacated by Mike Carroll. He added that the last day on duty for Carroll, who also served as head athletic trainer, will be in about two weeks. Carroll has been hired to be assistant athletic director and head athletic trainer at Graham.
Underwood said that assistant athletic trainer Debbie Winder — Greg Winder’s wife — has been promoted to head athletic trainer.
Copeland said he decided the time was right shortly after Stephenville passed the recent school bond proposal.
“I turned in my resignation a couple of weeks ago. The more I thought about it, I thought it was the right thing to do for the school system,” said Copeland, who added that he and Becky, his bride 51 years, will continue to live in Stephenville — which just happens to be the city where all seven of their grandchildren reside.
Copeland explained that Underwood deserved to have an athletic director who is likely to still be in the job through the three-year period that the bond improvements are likely to take.
“I cannot guarantee them three more years. He needed somebody that was going to be here for the duration,” Copeland said. “I have mixed emotions. When you’ve been doing something as long as I’ve been doing this, the actual decision to quit doing it is the hardest part.
“I’m at peace with it. Mr. Underwood understood, and he was great — and I deeply appreciate it.”
Copeland will continue to faithfully watch his grandchildren participate in various sports, when he’s not enjoying his two primary hobbies — golf and fishing.
“My sweet wife, Becky, she’s watched 10,000 games and followed me all over the place. So it’s time for us to slow down a little,” said Copeland, noting that they will be taking time this fall to make a sightseeing trip to the northeast.
He said he will finally be able to fulfill one of his wife's vacation requests this fall. They plan to fly to Boston so they can witness the leaves changing colors in New England — something that was never possible when Copeland was involved in high school sports such as football.
“I’ve been here through some really good times,” Copeland said. “I don’t have any regrets.
“Sometimes you wonder if you made a difference. From some of the letters and emails I’ve gotten, I feel good about the difference I made in the kids’ lives. They certainly made a difference in my life.”