By Tony Marquis, Standard Staff
After more than 200 wins, nine state championships and a career that spanned four decades, the architect of one of the state’s most successful high school football programs is retiring.
On Wednesday afternoon, Woodstock football coach Jim McLaughlin told the school’s athletic director he was leaving his post to spend more time with his family.
At a banquet for the high school’s fall sports Wednesday night, McLaughlin got a standing ovation from parents and students after Athletic Director Jeff Thomas broke the news to those in attendance.
McLaughlin, known as Coach Mac, waved to the crowd, but didn’t speak. He had said everything he wanted to his players five hours earlier at an end-of-season meeting.
“It was hard,” McLaughlin said. “Every year it seems that there’s a group of kids that you really like and you hate not to be a part of it, but it had to happen sooner than later — I’m not as young as I look.”
“This is a good time — not many people in my business get a chance to go out like this.”
Senior fullback Ed Doton said he had a “sneaking suspicion” McLaughlin might retire, but he “didn’t want to believe it.”
“There was a lot of shock — there was some sadness as there should be,” said Doton about McLaughlin’s announcement. “I mean, it’s the end of an era.”
McLaughlin leaves behind a prolific program. Since coming to Woodstock in 1981, McLaughlin has helped guide the Wasps to nine state titles. Only MSJ, Hartford and Bellows Falls have more.
Last year, McLaughlin won his 200th career game and this year was arguably his most successful, capping off an undefeated season for the second time in school history with a 38-18 win against BFA-Fairfax in the Division III state championship game. He finishes his career with 211 wins.
“I had thought about (retiring) at the end of last year, but with this crew coming back, I didn’t think it was a good time to put the program in transition,” McLaughlin said. “I wanted to see that team through — it certainly worked out nice.”
Before the playoffs started, McLaughlin told his staff he was going to stop coaching after this season.
“I didn’t want to put any extra pressure on the kids,” McLaughlin said. “I told them because I didn’t want the kids to think that if something went wrong at the end of the season, that was the reason I was leaving.”
Volunteer assistant coach Zach Scott has been on McLaughlin’s staff for 14 years after playing for McLaughlin on Woodstock’s 1997 state championship team. Scott credits McLaughlin with giving him a chance when others wouldn’t.
“Besides my father, Coach Mac has been the most significant male in my life,” Scott said. “He has inspired me to be a morally good person, to work hard, to bring the best out in young men and to hold my head high.”
Assistant coach Ramsey Worrell said he wasn’t prepared for McLaughlin’s retirement, but he knew it was coming eventually.
“It’s almost become a ritual to ask: Is this the year?” said Worrell, who started working with McLaughlin 17 years ago.
Worrell says he doesn’t know who will take over for McLaughlin. At the banquet Wednesday, Thomas said he hadn’t started the process to find a new coach — it was too early. Worrell’s father Chuck, a longtime assistant head coach, assumed head coaching duties for McLaughlin in the late ’80s when McLaughlin left for a couple of years to coach in Connecticut.
On Wednesday, Worrell was only thinking about the man that gave him a career when he was 19 and out of school.
“I came back to practice one day, and I was standing up on the hill above the field, and he looked up at me and pointed, and said, ‘Get down here,'” Worrell said. “I’ve been with him ever since.”
McLaughlin, 66, plans to spend his time off with his grandchildren, his wife and tinkering with his five classic cars.
“My wife says that the falls are really pretty around here — the leaves change — I’ll have to check that out,” McLaughlin said. “My wife has been a great coach’s wife, and if I wanted to continue to coach that would be OK with her.
“I’m sure down deep, she’s happy that we have our falls free now — this will be the first fall since 1960 that I won’t be going to football practice.”
McLaughlin said it’s likely that when next season comes around, he’ll miss the game he loves and knows so well. He normally spends his off-hours during football season thinking of plays, scribbling Xs and Os on pieces of paper, which end up strewn about his home.
“I’ll miss every aspect of it — games, practices, interaction with kids — this is a great game for young men, and I’ll miss being a part of this school’s program,” McLaughlin said.
Coach Jim McLaughlin, center, stands with assistant coaches Zach Scott, left, and Chuck Worrell after Woodstock’s Division III championship win against BFA-Fairfax on Saturday. McLaughlin announced his retirement Wednesday. (Rick Russell Photo)