By Aaron Swaney Herald Writer
Thirteen years ago, Mark Stewart took up the challenge of rebuilding a languishing program.
Monday he informed that team he feels the need to try it again.
After turning the Meadowdale football team from doormat to perennial state contender, Stewart announced that he is stepping down to take a similar position at Garfield, which went 1-8 this past season and is overshadowed by schools like Skyline and Bothell in Kingco and the school’s own basketball program.
“It’s got potential and you can build something there and the challenge is to see if you can do it again,” Stewart said of the Garfield job. “It certainly would be easier to stay (at Meadowdale). But if I had to pick a time I’d pick a time when I’m looking out at good football players … committed to the program and doing it then instead of when it’s thin.”
When Stewart arrived at Meadowdale before the 2000 season he found a once-proud program in bad shape. The Mavericks were coming off of an 0-9 season and were in desperate need of direction. Stewart provided it and over the next 13 seasons built Meadowdale into one of the biggest football powers in Wesco.
Stewart finished his time at Meadowdale with a record of 87-49 and guided Meadowdale to nine playoff appearances and seven state playoff appearances. This past season’s loss to Eastside Catholic in the quad-district playoffs was the first time the Mavericks didn’t advance to the state playoffs since 2006.
“It’s a huge loss for us not only for our football team but our community,” said Meadowdale athletic director Chris Murphy. “Mark is a coach that understands the bigger picture. He works so well with kids and developing them as football players and helping them become fine young men.”
Many of those “young men” were at a meeting Stewart called on Monday in which he informed them he was starting a new chapter in his coaching career. Stewart said it was an emotional meeting and that he stressed to his now former players that it was up to them to keep Meadowdale football moving forward.
“Some of these kids you’ve known since seventh, eighth grade or Little League and you want to coach them until they leave,” Stewart said. “Obviously it was pretty emotional. There’s no other way to put it. My whole point to them is they are Meadowdale football and it’s on them to keep it going as they will. It’s something bigger than me or them as individuals.”
As for hiring a new coach, Murphy said he plans to officially open the job up to applicants next week and that he’ll be looking to fill the position quickly.
“We want a good fit that can get the program moving again,” Murphy said.
Glacier Peak head coach Rory Rosenbach, who has had a healthy rivalry with Stewart and Meadowdale since the school was established, recounted a story of when he knew Stewart was going to be a formidable opponent. In overtime of a game between the two teams, Glacier Peak ran a reverse that Rosenbach thought would catch Meadowdale off-guard. Instead a Maverick defender was in the right spot waiting for the GP runner and threw him for a 10-yard loss.
“He remembered something from a game he had scouted weeks earlier and was ready for it,” Rosenbach said of Stewart. “That’s when I knew that Mark was a coach that was prepared and had his team ready.”
Rosenbach said he was surprised that Stewart was moving on and felt Wesco was lesser for it.
“He’s a great coach and a fantastic guy,” Rosenbach said. “Garfield is lucky to get him and it’s quite a loss for Wesco.”
For Stewart, who played for the University of Washington as a linebacker from 1979-82, the move to Garfield represents a new challenge and a return to a place he coached and taught at 20 years ago.
“It’s more about the challenge to see if you can go to a place where I think that a lot of coaches would say ‘There’s not this, there’s not that in the city,’” Stewart said. “But be able to go to a place and step up to the challenge and they have young men there who want to play football too. To see if you can bring your experience and get it done there as well.”
But leaving Meadowdale after 13 season, his longest stop as a head coach, will be tough.
“I’ve got great friends here and that made the decision real hard,” Stewart said. “I’ve got great friends here on the staff and I will miss this chapter in my life. But it will also be nice turn the page and take on a new challenge.”