Published Sunday, February 10, 2013
By DOUG GORMAN
Northgate High School boys basketball coach Mack Cain is as intense as they come when he’s patrolling the sidelines of a high school basketball game.
Make no mistake about it, Cain wants to win.
He has been known to disagree with officials and show his displeasure with his team as they huddle around the bench during a timeout.
There, is, however, a softer side to the Vikings’ coach — one that shows he really is more concerned with getting his players ready for life after the final whistle than with his overall win-loss record.
So even though the game has changed in the 30 years he has been coaching, it’s always been about more than wins and losses for the coach, who is looking forward to golf outings and trips to the beach after he hangs up his whistle.
Cain is stepping down as boys basketball coach at the end of the season, ending a career that started three decades ago.
But Saturday’s Region 4-AAAAA tournament game against Mundy’s Mill didn’t prove to be the end of the road.
During a 30-year career, Cain has coached a little bit of everything, from swimming to football to golf. He has also served as assistant athletic director at Northgate.
But basketball is where he has made his mark through the year.
Although Northgate ‘s boys haven’t managed a state playoff berth since Cain arrived a decade ago, his arrival was a bit of a coup for Northgate when he was first lured away from Jonesboro High School in Clayton County. Cain has had an amazing run with the Cardinals, leading his teams to the Class AAAAA semifinals in 2002 and to the finals in 2003.
Those Jonesboro teams included brothers Harry and Toney Douglas. Harry is now a wide receiver with the Atlanta Falcons, while Toney plays for the Houston Rockets.
Despite turning those Jonesboro teams into a state power, Cain has no regrets about his decision to put down roots in Coweta County. It gave him a chance to work closer to his sons.
Mack Jr graduated from Northgate two years ago, and Peyton will graduate from the school in May.
“It has been great,” he said. “Being here at Northgate, I have had the chance to be around my sons. I wouldn’t change that for anything in the world. That was really the deciding factor when I decided to make the move.”
Peyton capped his senior year by earning a starting spot on this year’s team.
It was the veteran coach’s passion and high energy when it comes to working with kids that first impressed Northgate High Principal Dr. Therese Reddekopp and helped her realize she had found her new basketball coach.
“You just don’t replace him,” Reddekopp said. “He has meant so much to the school.”
Some wondered why Cain would leave a program he had built into a state power for one that had very little tradition when he first went after the Northgate job.
However, the retiring coach never looked back.
“I have been so blessed since coming here,” he said. “I have worked with so many great people, and been around so many great kids.”
Northgate girls basketball and volleyball coach Matt Trucks admits Cain helped open the door for his own coaching career.
“He is a friend. My Dad coached me throughout some of my younger days and I got to experience that, but Cain was the first true coach that I got to hang around and really experience it. I thought it’s got to be cool what this guy does,” Trucks said.
The two met when Trucks was hired straight out of college as a math teacher and coach at Jonesboro.
“I might still be coaching if I had never met him, but he has been such a great influence in my life. He was really responsible for me getting over here to Northgate,” Trucks said.
When Trucks arrived as the Coweta County school, for a time Cain also coached the volleyball team, but soon realized Trucks was ready to take over.
Cain has also made some lasting friendships during his three decades in the business.
One of the people he has influenced the most is Dan Maehlman, the current coach at Jonesboro. Maehlman was Cain’s top assistant at Jonesboro and now the Cardinals’ head coach, taking over when his former boss left for Northgate.
“He has been more than a mentor to me,” Maehlman said. “I came here from Cincinnati in 1998 and had a month to find a job. He hired me, and helped me make it through a lot of things over the years, including a divorce. He’s not only my best friend, he’s like another father figure. It’s not just about Xs and Os with him. He has helped me handle things off the court, too, including how to handle success.”
One of the things Trucks has learned from watching Cain coach over the years is you can still coach hard and build some lasting friendships in the coaching business.
“Coaching is really one big fraternity,”Trucks said. “The only difference is you don’t pledge or rush, you have to earn it. Someone who has never been in the coaching business may not understand it. That is something I have learned.”
In Cain’s home finale, Northgate knocked off Pike County 57-30 in a non-region contest.
Pike is coached by Cain’s long-time friend Mark Andrews.
“We come from a time when coaches coached against each other, but realized they were in the same business, so you could coach hard against each other but shake hands at the end of the game and still be friends,” Andrews said.
If Andrews learned anything when coaching against his friend it’s that you better be ready.
“You know what you are going to get when you play Mack Cain teams. They are well coached, and they are going to play hard,” Andrews said.
Cain isn’t certain what the next chapter of his life holds, but he knows it will be an adventure.
“I will miss basketball. It has been good to me,” Cain said. “However, I am good with this decision. I have been doing this along time, so it is time to move on.”