Hannah Steelman of Orono (center) accepts her award from Maine Principals' Association representative Mike Haley in this 2015 file photo. Credit: Pete Warner

Mike Haley was known for having a firm grip on the comings and goings in Maine high school football.

The longtime coach and school administrator from Auburn, who died Wednesday at age 75 from complications from diabetes, also was known for his rugged handshake.

“Mike is single-handedly responsible for teaching thousands of men in this state how to properly shake hands,” said Dan O’Connell, head football coach and athletic administrator at John Bapst Memorial High School of Bangor, who worked with Haley at the Maine Football Coaches Association.

“He’d look you in the eye and have a firm handshake to just out of respect show that it meant something. Something as simple as that mattered to him.”

Haley’s life in football spanned generations, from his playing days in South Paris and at the University of Maine to coaching and athletic director/assistant principal stints at numerous schools as well as his work for several statewide organizations.

“Mike was just an icon in Maine sports, and the impact he had on our association was incredible,” said Mike Burnham, assistant executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association. “He was just a man who was always willing to give back and help kids.”

One of Haley’s most recent commitments to football was as executive secretary of the Maine Football Coaches Association.

“Mike just had a way about him that put you at ease no matter what you were talking about,” said O’Connell, who serves on the MFCA’s executive committee and as the group’s liaison to the MPA football committee. “If it was something that was important to everyone in the room and tensions were high, Mike Haley had a way of disarming people so they’d be able to work together.”

And while Haley focused on football’s issues of the day, he also stressed the importance of coaches being involved at the younger levels of the sport.

“He would say to me over and over again as he championed youth football, and he just said it again to me last week, that ‘If you don’t cultivate what you have coming to you, you only have yourself to blame,’” O’Connell said.

Haley was a 1961 graduate of South Paris High School where he starred in football, basketball, baseball, and track and field — earning 15 varsity letters in four years.

He went on to play football and baseball at the University of Maine, where he led the Black Bear football team in rushing in 1963 and co-captained the team as a senior in 1964 while earning all-conference honors once and All-Maine status for three years.

Haley had professional baseball tryouts with the Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates and Minnesota Twins organizations, and a pro football tryout with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League before starting his football coaching career with the first of two stints as an assistant at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine.

Haley then moved on to the high school ranks, beginning in Rockland and also including coaching stops at Stephens and Rumford high schools in Rumford, Waterville, Lewiston, Edward Little of Auburn, Oxford Hills of South Paris and Oak Hill of Wales.

“What made Mike successful as a coach and school administrator was he could get the kid who didn’t have much and needed athletics to understand how important that was and get him squared away, and he could get the kid who had straight A’s and wanted to go on to Harvard Business School to buy into what he was trying to sell, too,” O’Connell said. “He just had a knack for making people feel good and making them feel included when it came to football.”

A longtime basketball official and baseball umpire, Haley also served the MPA in a number of capacities, including as site director for the state ice hockey championships and as a member of several of the association’s sports committees, He chaired the MPA’s football committee during the 1990s and also sat on the association’s basketball, ice hockey, and outdoor track and field panels.

Haley was inducted into the MPA’s Hall of Excellence in 2017.

“Mike helped create the landscape for high school football,” Burnham said. “First with the number of schools where he coached and then an AD and as executive director of the coaches’ association.”

Haley also was active with the Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic all-star game, and he chaired the selection committee for the Frank J. Gaziano Memorial Offensive and Defensive Lineman Awards, presented annually to the state’s top high school senior linemen.

“Mike always had a way of teaching you something when you didn’t even know you were learning,” O’Connell said. “I would not be nearly as involved with football on a statewide level if it wasn’t for Mike. He was gracious with his time, gracious with his wisdom and he was like that with so many people in so many walks of life. It’s a tremendous loss.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...