MT. PLEASANT – One of the area’s longest tenured and most respected football coaches is calling it a career.
After a 35-year career, longtime Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart coach Rick Roberts officially announced his retirement at his team’s end-of-the year banquet in December.
Roberts, who spent the last 23 seasons at Sacred Heart, ends his career with a record of 202-146-1, including a 164-75 mark with the Irish.
"When you start out as a teacher and as a coach, you’re looking for a job and you take a job on and you grow into loving the sport and the kids that play,” Roberts said. "I figured I’ve coached 1,200 different young men and I can remember most of them. I remember most of the games – the wins and the losses – especially the playoff losses with the tears from the players."
A head coaching career that spanned three and a half decades began in 1978 at Saranac (1978-85) and continued at Vestaburg (1987), Central Montcalm (1988-90) and then finally Sacred Heart.
Through two decades at the small Mt. Pleasant school, Roberts guided the Irish to 17 Mid-State Activities Conference championships, 19 postseason berths and three state semifinal appearances.
Sacred Heart’s crowning achievement under Roberts came in 2010, when the Irish captured the program’s first state championship with a 42-21 win over Saugatuck in the Division 8 state title game.
"I remember walking out onto Ford Field at halftime, leading 35-7, knowing that we had just won a state championship. And the smile on my face – someone said it was unbelievable,” Roberts said.
This past season, Roberts became the 60th coach in MHSAA football history to secure win No. 200, doing so in a 48-7 victory over Vestaburg on Oct. 9.
The Irish will be in good hands next season as Roberts hands over the reins to Jamie Slate. A teacher at Sacred Heart’s middle school, Slate served the previous five seasons as the Irish’s defensive coordinator.
“He’s familiar with the players and the parents, so that’s going to be a nice, easy transition for him,” Roberts said.
As Roberts reflects on his career he takes comfort in knowing the impact he made on his players.
"You think you know what people think about you, but when you read it, and you see, you know, maybe I did touch kids in a different way than just X’s and O’s,” he said.
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