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Honoree planning to share with long list of thank-yous

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At this juncture of his football coaching career, Mike Gillin has delivered 390 pregame pep talks and accrued 283 victories and an indefinite number of lives touched.

Credentials such as these warrant the type of recognition the evening of June 12 promises.

The Indian Creek High School head coach is among 10 people from central Indiana who will be inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame.

“It’s the pinnacle of coaching, I suppose. Something I never really thought about until about a year-and-a-half ago when (former Franklin Central coach) Chuck Stephens mentioned it to me,” Gillin said. “But I’m excited about it.

“I always wanted to prove (the Braves) belong in the upper echelon of football programs.”

The Hall of Fame conducts annual ceremonies such as the one taking place at Primo’s South Banquet Conference Center to honor inductees based on location. Six such events are scheduled between May and July, with a total of 35 people being honored.

Gillin’s group includes former Warren Central High School and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jeff George, who represents Region 7. Gillin is from Region 10.

It promises to be a festive evening for a coach who has brought success to every program he’s touched.

The rural setting where Gillin has built a three-time Class 3A sectional champion at Indian Creek is remarkably similar to where his coaching career began.

A brief stint as a volunteer coach for Dave Enright at then-tiny Hamilton Southeastern led to Gillin becoming an assistant at Monrovia under former Bulldogs head coach Wayne Stahley.

It was around this time Tri-West High School opened.

Tri-West was a mid-1970s consolidation of the high schools from Pittsboro, Lizton and North Salem — three basketball-crazed communities which, according to Gillin, didn’t like each other very much.

Gillin arrived in Lizton in 1979 as a 28-year-old fire-breather prepared to raise whatever roof necessary to ensure gridiron success.

“I was dumb and brash, and, of course, I had been with two pretty good coaches already,” Gillin said, laughing. “When I got to Tri-West I kind of grew with the program. We went 1-9 my first year, 5-5 the next year and then 5-4.”

In 1984 the Bruins captured the program’s first sectional title in Class A, following it up with a regional championship a week later. Old rivalries faded as a community gained a sense of unity through its football achievements.

Gillin’s 11th and final Tri-West club advanced all the way to the Class 2A state championship game in 1989 before dropping a 24-22 heartbreaker to Fort Wayne Luers on a last-second field goal.

Then came another 11-year stint, this one at Decatur Central, Gillin’s alma mater, before the move to Indian Creek.

Preparing for what will be his 14th season with the Braves, Gillin is 117-35 at Indian Creek and 283-107 overall. The latter is the fourth-highest win total among active Indiana coaches and tied for 12th all-time.

Should Indian Creek post at least eight victories this fall, Gillin will hold down the No. 8 spot all by his lonesome.

While it’s true some men are better football coaches earlier in their career than later — or vise versa — Gillin has been successful everywhere he’s been by sticking to a basic three-tiered formula: Know the game, maintain a good relationship with your coaches and players, and continue to evolve with whatever changes the sport presents.

“Mike is fundamentally sound, and he has a great high school offense,” said Devere Fair, the former coach from Decatur Central whose Hawks were quarterbacked by Gillin during the 1967 and ’68 seasons. “He is just a good coach. Mike is well organized in practices, and that’s something that’s overlooked.

“He doesn’t pull things out of the air. And when you get kids on your side, great things can happen.”

No story about Gillin is complete without mention of Fair, 76, who was inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame in July 1986 after coaching at Wabash High School (1963-64) and Decatur Central (1965-72).

In many ways Fair is like a second father to Gillin. And he is but one of many people Gillin plans to thank personally during the induction ceremony.

“All the players and parents who were with me and have been with me at the three schools. The coaches who coached me and have coached for me,” Gillin said. “There’s so many people to thank that you could never name them all.”

On June 12, he’s going to try.

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