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After two seasons of remarkable success, coach relinquishes reins
For Danny Gieck, coaching and playing sports has been all about hard work, commitment and honor. If something is worth doing, it's worth doing 100 percent.
It was that attitude that largely accounted for the Manitou football program's remarkable turnaround over the past two seasons as the Mustangs, under Gieck's direction, climbed out of the Tri-Peak League cellar in 2011 to make the state playoffs in 2012 and claim the conference championship in 2013.
By the time last fall’s postseason ended, the Mustangs had advanced to the semifinal round of the Class 2A state playoffs. They finished the year with an 11-1 mark, one of the best records in school history.
That same attitude, however, is also the main reason Gieck won't be back at the helm of the football team next season, despite a combined 18-4 record in his two-year tenure as head coach.
"It was getting to the point that I wasn't being loyal to my job (as District 14's director of buildings and grounds) and I wasn't being loyal to the players and my coaching responsibilities," he said. "I just couldn't be two places at one time."
Gieck, a Manitou Springs High School graduate who played on the 1987 Mustang state championship team and later saw both of his children graduate from MSHS, took the buildings and grounds job with the Manitou school district two and a half years ago after working for the city of Colorado Springs for more than 20 years in a similar capacity.
"The nature of our work is not scheduled," he said, describing his job with the district, which entails supervising a staff of 16 employees who oversee the maintenance of five buildings and all the athletic fields. "When things blow up, we have to react."
His coaching experience through the years consisted of mentoring YAL teams for a number of years before helping the football staff at the high school.
"I got into coaching because of the fond memories I had of my high school playing days," he said. "And it was not just the playing. It was how we were treated with the professionalism by the coaches. George Rykovich, Rob Quarry, Abe Suazo — we had some strong role models.
"I decided I wanted to give back to young players what I had gotten, and I also liked the work ethic that a small district can offer."
Describing the football program's turnaround over the past two years, Gieck is reluctant to take the lion’s share of the credit, an honor he reserves for the players and his assistant coaches.
"So much of it is the players," he said. "Programs have ups and downs, peaks and valleys. I came in on a good peak. The 2012 team was a good one; I thought the 2013 team would be in for a tough haul, but they rose beyond all our expectations.
"I couldn't have been prouder. To me, they rose to the level that Manitou football was 25 years ago. They said, 'Hey, we're going to put our differences aside, and when we're on the field, we're going to be a team.' They didn't get caught up in things they shouldn't get caught up in.
"It was a fun ride. I'm really going to miss the players and the relationships we formed. They’re great kids and they’re going to accomplish a lot of things and be successful in life."
Regarding the program’s transition to a new coach, Gieck says he will do everything he can to help, and feels the incoming coach will have plenty of talent to work with, given the nucleus of underclassmen still around.
“The returning players can reach the same level as last year’s team if they work hard,” he said. “They’ve been given the talent. There’s no reason it can’t happen.”
Will he return to coaching sometime in the future?
“We all have to make decisions in life, and this has not been an easy one for me,” he said. “The people who are closest to me know how difficult a decision it was. It was hard, but I knew I couldn’t go on at the pace I was going. I’m going to regroup and think about what next year might bring.
“I’ve preached to my players about the importance of commitment and family. I now need to follow that advice concerning my family. I expect my kids to get married soon and I don’t want to miss that. I want to be there for them instead of telling them I can’t because I have a game to go to.
“Sports is my passion. But if I can’t give it everything I have, it’s not a good scenario.”