NORTH DELTA â€” Mike Ettinger is far from a stranger to the gridiron. Some would say it’s his second home, considering he stood on the sidelines for 22 seasons.
However, the veteran Vancouver Mainland Football League coach is stepping away from the field after spending plenty of time running practices and drawing up plays.
"I don’t smoke, drink or gamble," Ettinger said. "This is my hobby. It gets me out of the house."
After spending more than two decades with a clipboard in his hand, Ettinger knows all about how precious his time is, as coaching has forced him to miss family events. Now a grandfather to a handful of children, the former UBC offensive lineman wants to spend more time with them.
Ettinger started coaching for North Surrey, the same association he played for growing up, when his sons were of age to play football. He spent 13 years coaching peewee and bantam for his former association before deciding to coach the midget team in Coquitlam. After one year with Coquitlam, a midget team became available with North Delta Longhorns, where Ettinger spent the following eight years.
His wife, Ursula, took the journey with him by managing many of the teams he coached. "I definitely see his passion and love for the game. For me, it was a lot of fun," she said.
Ursula added one of the most rewarding things to see is the evolution of some of the players when the season comes to an end.
"At the beginning, they’re all real tough guys. They don’t talk to anybody. They’re all in their little cliques," Ursula said. "By the end of the season… all of a sudden something just clicks. Something just gels with the team and that’s the point that you see these kids. All of a sudden they’re talking to everybody on the team."
One of the key things Ettinger and fellow coach Orlando McCarty established in North Delta was involving every child who wanted to play football, even if they’re from low-income families or an at-risk youth. No matter the personal situation, the pair gave their all to allow every child a chance to put on a helmet and get on the field.
"We make sure that if the kids want to play football, they get to play football," Ettinger said. "Delta is really good for that."
Added McCarty: "He’s the type of guy that if you have an issue, he will do what he can to take care of it."When asked what it was like coaching alongside Ettinger, McCarty joked it was "a headache."
"He always made it feel like we were both head coaches. He always said it was our team," he said. "Any decisions that were made, he would always ask me."
McCarty, who travels from Blaine, Washington to work with Ettinger, has coached alongside his partner for 18 years.Together, they’ve never had a losing season, he noted.
McCarty recalls an instance when Ettinger’s actions really helped the team during an away game in South Delta.
"He called a timeout and went out onto the field with the offence and he came back and he slips and falls. At that time, we were really struggling in the game and he slips and falls back first," said McCarty, noting he may have gotten more mud on himself trying to get up.
"Everybody just laughed. That kind of broke the ice and we came back and won the game," McCarty said.
Despite no longer coaching them, many of Ettinger’s former players still keep in touch with him and he’s been invited to many of their weddings and parties.