This month we are honoring Craig Mulligan as our August Coach of the Month. Craig has gone above and beyond to grow as a coach and serve his community. Coach Mulligan attended the Soldiers To Sidelines Football Coaching Certification Seminar with the NY Jets in November 2019. Throughout the seminar, he displayed a strong work ethic and genuine curiosity.
After many conversations and reflections, Del Smith, STS Football Director, helped Craig earn a coaching position at Pacific Lutheran University in Washington state. Prior to STS and PLU, Craig took the initiative to immerse himself in the football coaching world by growing a local semi-pro football team called the Tacoma Sabers. He currently serves as the Sabers’ Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator in addition to his assistant coach responsibilities at PLU.
When recalling his coaching journey from the military, Coach Mulligan says, “I discovered my love for football when I was deployed overseas to Iraq in support of the war back in 2006-2007. While at FOB Marez in Mosul, I was able to participate in some pickup football games on Friday night when I wasn’t on a mission. It gave me something to look forward to, something beyond surviving to see the next morning.”
At this time Craig was more interested in playing football rather than coaching. When he returned to the USA, Craig reached out to Otis Sistrunk near Fort Lewis who mentored him and guided him to some local semi-pro teams. “I hit my playing wall very early but dedicated myself to learning as much as I could about adapting my leadership skills to the football field. I’ve been coaching ever since, and I don’t know that I was made to do anything but developing and mentoring people,” remarks Craig.
It took a ton of effort and patience over 9 years for Craig to even make it to this point in his coaching career. “It’s been a long road for me, and I’ve learned much over the years. But it’s a labor of love. This is more than a game to me, it’s a way of life. My parents always told me that to change the world, I didn’t need to carry a gun anymore. I could fight instead to change the way that people see the world around them, and that’s been my mission ever since.”
The military provided many intangible assets that have helped Craig find growth in a tough coaching industry. He told STS, “My military experience has made me more worldly. I have a deeper appreciation for what our country is supposed to represent, and the military instilled in me the core values of leadership: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. I see the world a little differently, and I demand the relentless pursuit of excellence from everyone around me. I learned how to become the standard-bearer, how to lead men, and how to inspire men to follow me.”
This wisdom in leadership has helped Craig shape young men to be better people which he finds to be extremely rewarding. “Most of the players I coach are grown men now. Very few are fresh out of high school with some exceptions. What they say, what they do, means more because there is a meaningful purpose behind it. When they work, it’s to support their families instead of paying for dates. When they take time away from their families to be coached by me, it means something. I’ve had many meaningful interactions with my players because I go out of my way to seek them out. The one that stands out the most to me happened a few weeks ago. I was talking to one of my fullbacks over the phone, and he told me that he looked at me as a father. The love that my players have reflected upon me has been astounding.”
Coach Mulligan says he feels a tremendous sense of pride when he witnesses his players overcoming adversity on the field and in life. He tells a story about one instance in particular. “Everyone in life has their own struggles, and COVID-19 has not helped anyone resolve them. I have a player that started OTA’s homeless and sleeping in his car. He put in the hard work, became a fantastic player, became a captain on our team, and went on his way to earn Player of the Game honors in our very first game of the year. He is an incredible talent, a natural leader, and a fully bought-in player on our team.”
Craig’s story perfectly describes how great coaching can provide a purpose for both the coach and the player. Both are working through very difficult times in their lives. Their connection and mutual respect for each other in pursuit of a common goal present an opportunity to experience deep fulfillment in a time when life is uncertain. For all of Craig’s sacrifice, dedication, and hard work in the coaching world, we are honored to award Craig Mulligan as the Soldiers To Sidelines Coach of the Month for August.