In all his years as Concordia’s football coach, his office has never looked quite like this: old trophies on the floor in the corner, waiting for packaging and only a few pictures still hanging, showing bare white walls. It’s a strange sight, but Gerry McGrath is getting ready to move on.
Following the Stingers’ last game of the season (a loss to Sherbrooke on Oct. 26), McGrath gathered the team for a post-game speech. Unbeknownst to them, it would be McGrath’s last. He told them he wanted to spend more time with his family and, after 14 years as head coach, he announced his retirement.
“I think Concordia will become a great football program in the near future,” said McGrath. “I just think at this point it was time for me to move on.”
McGrath has thought about retiring for a while. With three young kids at home, it was time to turn his focus from football to family.
“At this point I need to put my family first,” said McGrath. “But Concordia is a close second and will always be.”
McGrath explained how there’s no defining moment that he his most proud of during the span of his career. Being able to go to work everyday with young men and coaches who were just as passionate about football as he was is all he could have ever asked for.
“The thing that I will miss most is the kids. I work for my players, I don’t work for anybody else,” said McGrath. “I work for the kids I recruit and for the coaches that work with me.”
There’s one thing that hasn’t been packed away in McGrath’s office: a large plaque, hanging on the wall, of miniature helmets inscribed with Stingers who’ve gone on to professional teams, both NFL and CFL. Although he’s proud of seeing his players excel on the field, or achieving their dreams by making it to the pros, these are not the most important things for McGrath as a coach.
“I know I have the players who made the pros on the board, but there are guys that have come through here who didn’t make professional football,” said McGrath. “Some have PhDs or went on to have great business careers and become leaders in their communities. Those things are just as important.”
Coaching was always about much more than wins, losses, and individual stats for McGrath. Not only did he want to be a coach on the field, but a mentor and teacher off it. One of the things that he learnt over the years was how to communicate with the players, that yelling and getting worked up on the sideline only goes so far.
“At the end of the day people will forget scores of football games, but people won’t forget someone who cared about them and was there for them,” said McGrath. “Really at the end of the day that’s enough reward.”
Despite his plans to stay on with the Stingers next year as an advisor, many realized how much he meant to them when he told his players about his decision to step down.
“It’s very emotional,” said senior linebacker Max Caron in a press release after the team’s final game. “For me, Gerry’s been there my whole career. What I love about Gerry is that he really cares […] I’m really going to miss him.”