In 1991, Khris Johns sprinted down the Craig Middle School football field with nothing but open yardage in front of him.
Johns, a seventh-grader at the time, watched as the football floated through the air, with everyone, including his coach, Gary Tague, waiting in anticipation.
“None of us were sure he was going to catch the ball,” Tague said Sunday. “He usually didn’t make those plays.”
Johns caught the ball and ran it in for a Bulldogs touchdown. After celebrating with his team, Johns approached his coach on the sidelines.
“He came to me and said, ‘Coach, it was like magic,’” Tague said with a smile on his face. “Khris didn’t go on to play football, because he was a good swimmer. He eventually joined the Coast Guard, but it was moments like his touchdown that makes me love coaching football.”
After 34 years watching his players and his strategies being played out on the gridiron, Tague said he is retiring as the CMS eighth-grade football coach.
“I started to lose a little fire last year, and while it was still enjoyable, it wasn’t as much as it had been,” he said. “I had a sense it was time to step back. I still really love the kids and football is a great game, but it was time.”
The decision wasn’t made lightly, Tague said, as he prayed throughout last season before deciding in mid- to late-October 2010 to step away from the sidelines.
Tague, who cited his enthusiasm for the game as his biggest asset, said that zeal started to wane.
“I was always a really enthusiastic coach and was pretty animated on the sidelines,” he said. “I had a super group last year, and we went undefeated, and as a coach that is a great way to end things.”
A passion for the game
During his student teaching at Brush High School in 1977, Tague started his coaching career as a backfield coach for the school’s football team.
A year later, Tague and his wife, Mary, moved to Craig and he started his stint at CMS.
However, the real inspiration for his coaching career, Tague said, came during his time in the U.S. Army.
“While I was in the Army in the early 70s, I had to decide what I wanted to do,” he said. “I worked with a prison athletic program on my base and I figured if I could work with prisoners, I could work with kids.
“I see now that the prisoners were easier.”
Tague earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physical education in 1977 and started teaching at Moffat County High School in 1978.
From 1984 to 1986, Tague held the defensive coordinator position for the MCHS varsity football team, but his family took him back to CMS.
“I had three little kids that I never saw because being a high school coach takes a lot of time,” he said. “I coached the high school track team, but my passion was always football, and I wanted to continue doing it.”
Tague retired from teaching in 2008, but continued as CMS football coach.
While Johns’ moment represents the hard work Tague and the coaching staff put in, Tague said having fun was always part of the equation, as well.
In the early 1990s, Matt Krump, another of Tague’s players, took a handoff and ran up the field with nothing between him and the end zone.
In a last ditch effort, one of the opponents dove and grabbed a hold of Krump’s pants, pulling them to the ground.
“Matt dragged the kid a couple of yards, trying to keep his pants up along the way,” Tague said laughing. “You could see his butt and he told me afterward he would have scored a touchdown if he didn’t have to worry about his pants.”
Tague said the fun with players would be what he misses most, but also the camaraderie he shared with his fellow coaches.
“You can’t understand if you haven’t coached with a good group, but the joking back and forth was a lot of fun,” he said. “We would put all the time in with the athletes and we all loved to see a kid do it right on the field and come over to us with a grin on their face.”
Todd Hildebrandt will move from the seventh-grade head coach to the eighth-grade head coach and MCHS girls varsity basketball coach Matt Ray will take over the seventh-grade team.
Tague said he will miss being head coach, but he plans to be on the sidelines whenever he can with Hildebrandt and will help announce the high school games.
“CMS is in great hands with Coach Hildebrandt,” he said. “Being a football coach is a very fulfilling job, and I probably have 100 stories from my time coaching, so it was something I really enjoyed doing for 34 years.”
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