Former Mount de Sales coach Garvin dies

jheeter@macon.comJune 8, 2014 

Mike Garvin liked teaching math just as much as he did coaching football.

Perhaps it was fitting then that Garvin, the architect of the Mount de Sales football program, used simple arithmetic to drive his coaching philosophy. He wanted to stop his opponent from scoring completely and find a way to scratch together points. Some points beat no points.

Garvin, who won three GHSA state championships in a four-year span beginning in 1970, died Sunday after a stint in hospice care. He was 79.

“He would probably tell you he was a math teacher who coached football,” said Mark Farriba, the football head coach at Stratford. “He was pretty good at coaching football.”

Garvin took over as the football head coach at Mount de Sales as a 32-year-old in 1967. He went 163-86-5 in 24 seasons as the head coach. The Cavaliers won GHSA state championships in 1970, 1971 and 1973, going a combined 33-1 in those seasons. He led the Cavaliers to five region championships in the GHSA and another five after Mount de Sales joined the GISA in 1980.

The Cavaliers didn’t have a losing record under Garvin until 1988. He stayed with the team until 1990, retiring at a relatively young 56 and handing the program off to one of his former players, Robert Slocum. Either Garvin or Slocum led the Cavaliers for 46 years.

Garvin held the record for longest tenure for a football coach at a Bibb County school when he retired, and he now shares the distinction with Slocum.

Mount de Sales’ football stadium bears Garvin’s name, and he was a charter member of the school’s athletics hall of fame class. He won The Telegraph’s Sam Burke Award in 1993 for contributions to athletics.

Garvin maintained a full teaching load after stepping away from football and remained the Cavaliers’ athletics director. As athletics director, Garvin oversaw the Cavaliers’ move from the GHSA to the GISA in 1980 in a move designed to save the school money and cut down on travel.

“He was a great, great educator,” said Chester Pierce, a longtime Mount de Sales baseball coach who also coached football for Garvin. “He absolutely loved teaching math. He was a great athletics director, as well.”

Garvin also coached girls and boys basketball and track and field — he coached the Cavaliers to a GISA track championship in 1985. He also led Willingham to a second-place finish in the state wrestling tournament in 1966.

“I don’t think he gave any thought to anything but coaching,” said life-long friend Henry Middlebrooks.

Garvin, who found success in coaching despite never earning a varsity letter as an athlete, started his high school coaching career at Willingham with Billy Henderson. Garvin, Middlebrooks and former FPD and Stratford head coach Bobby Brown all grew up together and went to Lanier, and then they got the chance to work on Henderson’s coaching staff.

“Almost everything we knew came from Coach Henderson,” said Middlebrooks, who lived in the same neighborhood with Garvin and Brown after retirement. “We were all neophytes out there.”

Garvin left the school to take over the basketball program at Mount de Sales, but he was reassigned to lead the fledgling football program.

“He is a Macon native, and we hope he will remain with us a long time,” Sister Mary de Lourdes told The Telegraph in 1967.

He later hired Henderson, who won two state championships as a baseball coach before he landed the head football job at Clarke Central. Garvin implemented the fundamentals he learned from Henderson, and it resulted in almost immediate success.

“Mike is an outstanding teacher and a dedicated individual,” Henderson told The Telegraph in 1993. “He gave me an opportunity to coach again, and I’ve always appreciated it.”

The Cavaliers rolled through the 1970 season after an opening loss to Pacelli. They had seven shutouts on the season, including six straight heading into the championship game against Adairsville. The Cavaliers won 41-18 to earn their first championship.

A year later, Mount de Sales had six shutouts in nine games before beating Adairsville again in the state championship game to cap an undefeated season.

In 1973, the Cavaliers capped their greatest triumph under Garvin by upsetting Commerce in the state championship game. Mount de Sales had just one game decided by fewer than 10 points during the lead-up to the championship game, but Commerce hadn’t scored less than 21 all season.

Commerce jumped to No. 1 early in the season and rolled into the championship game on the legs of Runt Moon, a three-time all-state running back who had the state’s career rushing record.

Garvin designed a new defense, going with a 6-1 formation that stuck all-state linebacker Ben Zambiasi at middle linebacker. The Cavaliers held Moon to 126 yards and out of the end zone completely, and Mount de Sales scored on a touchdown run by Slocum and two more by Zambiasi for a 21-8 win.

“The 1973 team was the most highly motivated group of players that I’ve ever had,” Garvin told The Telegraph in 1993.

Later in his career, Garvin mentored the next crop of football coaches, a crop that included Farriba, Slocum and Barney Hester.

Hester, a longtime coach at Tattnall Square, forged a relationship with Garvin in his first season in Macon. His Trojans upset Mount de Sales, and Garvin sought out Hester and his team on the backside of Henderson Stadium after the game. He told the Tattnall players how proud he was in their growth from one year to the next.

“Coaches don’t do that kind of thing after a game,” Hester said. “We developed a friendship that lasted forever.”

Farriba was a football player at Stratford when he first noticed Garvin. Stratford and Mount de Sales were in different leagues, but they practiced next to each other at Central City Park.

Farriba, like Hester, forged his relationship with Garvin as a rival head coach. Farriba remembered one year that his team wasn’t clicking, and Garvin asked him if Farriba believed in the scheme he was running. Farriba said he didn’t, and Garvin told him to change to something he believed in.

“He knew it would make us better, and we were going to play him,” Farriba said. “He would tell you the truth and would do what was right. I loved that about him. I sort of felt like he was my coach. He may not claim me, but I’d sure claim him any day.”

Garvin attended Lanier, but only because Mount de Sales was an all-girls school at the time. He grew up less than a football field from the school. He told The Telegraph he found his love for teaching math and coaching from former Lanier basketball coach Tom Porter.

Garvin got his coaching start as a student at Mercer. The Bibb County elementary schools had competitive football in the 1950s, and Garvin led Alexander IV to consecutive Pony Bowl championships in 1957 and 1958. His 1958 team allowed two points all season, a sign of things to come from his Mount de Sales defenses. He led a Pony League baseball team to a state championship in 1961.

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