YAKIMA, Wash. -- Jack McMillan made his final rounds on Wednesday, and his second-period physical education class at La Salle took the brunt of it.
“I put them through a pretty tough workout,” McMillan said, “and then I told them, ‘You’re my last class. After 41 years, you’re it.’”
This day came six years later than he expected, but the relationship between McMillan and La Salle grew too deep and lasting for an earlier parting.
Still, at the age of 72 and after nine years at Yakima’s catholic school, the Hall of Fame football coach decided the time had come to retire as teacher, coach and athletic director. His 234 career wins are tied for 12th in state history.
“People had been asking me for a long while, ‘When are you going to retire?,” McMillan said. “It was nothing specific or any one thing. I just knew it was time.”
So after the season finale last month at Burbank, where La Salle rallied with two late touchdowns to win 24-13, McMillan took his wife, Sharon, and his son, Greg, aside on the field and said, “This is it. This was my last game.”
McMillan came from Leavenworth’s Cascade High, where he coached for 19 years and directed the Kodiaks to eight consecutive state appearances from 1993 to 2000. Throughout that time, and beginning with his initial coaching tenure at Brewster, McMillan was a close friend to Quincy’s Bill Alexander, who formerly coached at Bridgeport and QHS and has directed the Earl Barden All-Star Classic in Yakima for 18 years.
“He’s had an incredible football life, and I consider him my mentor to this day,” Alexander said. “For probably 20 years we’d call each other on Sunday night, and when things were bad for me he always encouraged me. He was my inspiration to get better.
“He’s the guy I always wanted to beat, but it was also an honor for me to compete against his teams,” Alexander continued. “As funny as this sounds, of all the coaches I coached against he was the guy who ticked me off the most. I’d have him stopped and he’d figure out some other way to beat me, and that just ticked me off.”
In 2004, McMillan was attracted to Yakima and a small, private school with a football program in its infancy. He was 64 at the time.
“When we finally decided to make the leap, I told Sharon I thought I had three more years in me,” McMillan said. “Well, three years turned into nine. I enjoyed the school, the faculty and the kids so much it didn’t feel like the right time to retire. It was a great experience.”
The feeling was mutual. Under McMillan, La Salle’s football program immediately rose to prominence. The Lightning qualified for the 2B state playoffs six straight years between 2004 and 2009 and earned a second-place trophy in 2006.
That he stayed on at La Salle beyond his predicted three years was remarkable considering his health issues, all since overcome. McMillan, who had four-way heart bypass surgery in 1998, has battled through prostate and bladder cancer in recent years.
“I feel great now, and I’m fortunate to retire on healthy terms,” he said. “Sharon and I are taking a new step, and with 13 grandchildren we’re looking forward to it so much. We’re planning a month in Hawaii in March and like the song says I’ll have my toes in the water, my butt in the sand and a Coke in my hand. And I’m not moving.”