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April 12, 2022

33 Years of Following The Plan w/Mark Bliss

33 Years of Following The Plan w/Mark Bliss

#36. Since 1988, Mark Bliss has coached football at various high school and collegiate levels. During his head coaching career, he has amassed an overall record of 206- 80 losses, won 4 State Championships, along with 2 Semi-final appearances and 2 Quarterfinal appearances. His teams have qualified for the State Playoffs 23 of his 26 years as a head coach. Mark spent seven years at Conway Springs, Kansas where his teams started a 62 game win streak which is the 22nd best win streak in high school football history. Mark’s teams during his career have received national recognition in Sports Illustrated, ESPN Magazine, and Bigger Faster Stronger Magazine. He has coached 3 Top 100 Nationally Ranked teams.  Mark has received the National Federation of State High School Associations Section 5 Coach of the Year and was a National Coach of the Year Finalist. Mark has coached 26 Division I athletes, 8 High School All-Americans,1 ESPN top 300 Player, and 2 NFL Players. Mark is a three time Hall of Fame inductee 2011 Southwestern College Athletic Hall of Fame, 2012 National Single Wing Coaches Hall of Fame, 2017 University of Tulsa Athletic’s Hall of Fame.

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Transcript

Luke:

This is episode 36 of The "I" in Win podcast

Mark:

and then you can, you can make an impact on their lives, knowing that at some point in time, when they walk out the door of your program, They get a chance to go on and be better young men, better husbands, better fathers, better citizens in society.

Luke:

Welcome to The "I" in Win. The schola focuses on why coaches should embrace the journey of impacting lives. I'm your host, Luke Martins. And I have a confession to make. I am a thief. And at times I lack originality. You see, I study successful coaches and then I take what they do and I implement it into my program. And today we have such a coach. So if you're like me, go get your pad and go get your paper and get ready to do some stuff. We welcome mind, coach mark bliss, who is a mass over 200 wins, four state championships during his 33 year career is currently the head football coach at Perry high school in Cedar rapids, Iowa. Welcome Mr. Mark.

Mark:

Well, thank you so much, coach Martins. I appreciate it. Humbled and blessed to be invited to be a part of your, uh, your podcast. And I appreciate you and thinking of me.

Luke:

Absolutely. Thank you for being on. And I want to start with your playing days. I know you had a decorated high school football career as a high school football player in Oklahoma. I'm assuming that's a pretty big Friday night lights type of town that you grew up in. So what was that experience like playing high school football.

Mark:

Well, I tell you what Oklahoma is. It's a lot like Texas, where football. is pretty important on Friday night, growing up And and playing football. And my high school career in the state of Oklahoma was incredible experience. And, uh, you know, some of the greatest memories I have as a player was, playing under those Friday night lights. And it's a pretty neat and, exciting environment growing up in Oklahoma. And, like I said, every Friday night, the stands were full rather if you're on the road or at home. And it's a pretty important sport in the state of Oklahoma brother.

Luke:

And was it that experience that was the motivation behind you wanting to become a coach and a teacher?

Mark:

growing up, I came from a broken home and I had coaches that were sort of my mentors that made sure that I had food on the table and took care of me. I live by myself, my sophomore, junior, senior in high school. And so my coaches were the ones. Made sure I had food and took care of me and did some things. And to this day I still have a coach he's I call him coach still, but he's Dr. Neil Nuttall and, you know, he was the president of two different universities in, in Missouri, and he's retired and lives in Arkansas in Rogersville, Arkansas now. he still comes to, he watches all my games that are streamlined and, he's come to some of my games as a head football coach. And, uh, he's like a father figure. and to this day we still talk to each other about once a week. when I'd walked through the doors in the morning before school started, he'd be the one point me to the home-ec room or their family, consumer science room. He already had him a shake or something for breakfast ready for me and stuff. And then randomly throughout the week, I'd get a phone call and they'd say, Hey, dinner's getting cold. And before I had a chance to say, well, coach, I don't think I need to come over. The home phone was already home. So, what are you going to do? You know, you'd say, well, coaches told me I better come over and eat, so I'd go over and eat. but you know, there's about three coaches that really impacted me in my youth. and, uh, when I, when I, got to the point where I was in college, playing college football and stuff, my college head coach basically asked me when. What I wanted to do with my life. And I just basically told them I wasn't really quite sure. And they asked me if I ever thought about coaching. And, I told him, I said, well, in the very back depth. So in my mind it was, come across it a few times and he told me, he thought I'd be a great coach. And then I sort of reflected back to my, my memories of my youth and the impact my high school coach has had on me. And so being from a broken home and knowing how those guys always stepped up to the forefront to be. Those kind of guys that I needed when I needed to lean on somebody and to this day I still do. they're the primary reason why I got into coaching and, and my college coach as well. basically in a nutshell, it's just the coaches that I was exposed to throughout my high school and college career are the predominantly, the primary reasons why I got into the profession myself and, and I've never looked back and I've, like I said, I've done this 33 years going on 34. Been a head coach for 26 years. And, God's blessed me more than I deserve, but you know, a lot of the success is attributed to the guys that, sorta took a chance on me and never gave up on me and gave me that direction I needed. And if I made mistakes, they were the first ones to let me know. And, and the reasons why. like I said, I can't thank those gentlemen enough. And couple of them have passed away, but you know that, like I said, Dr. Knotel, which is, I still call him coach, uh, when, when his wife, Suzanne answers the phone. If I say his coach there, she knows who I am. I'm the one that calls him coach. But, uh, that's sort of in a nutshell, why I'm in the professional, me and Luke.

Luke:

Well, that's the ultimate sign of respect. I still call my coaches coach when I see them. And they're like, just call me by my first day. I'm like, I refuse to do that, your coach to me. So, the, I'm sure you have a lot of your players that still keep in contact with you after coaching for so long as you have. There's no, in my opinion, there's no better sign of respect than the fact that they still do call you coach. And, you've been doing this since 1988, as we've already alluded to. It's been a long career and you've done it at both the high school and the collegiate ranks. Why did you ultimately pick to stay in the high school level?

Mark:

right? When I graduated from college, I had the opportunity to be a college coach at McPherson college in Kansas. And what they call the Kansas collegiate athletic conference was the KCAC. And, uh, there's a gentleman by the name of Dan Thiessen. He took the job. He was a Juco coach in California and right out of college. my college coach sort of pushed my name out there a little bit stuff. And, and, uh, and I'll be honestly, when you're young and you just want to get into the profession, you're willing to take anything and, you know, jump on the bandwagon for about anybody or anything. And, I was able to take the job. My first in college, I was there for two years under a great mentor. Dan Thiessen was a great man of faith and, and coming from California. And, learning about the west coast off fan seven, that stuff that was sort of a popular thing back in the eighties. just, I learned a lot of ball from him, but I learned a lot of skills from them as well in terms of organizational skills and, and having to handle pressure But we took over a program that hadn't. I think two years and I recruited the California. Jucos the Kansas jucos in a recruited Oklahoma and Southern Texas. I was fortunate enough to get my foot in the door and did that for two years. And I coached defensive backs and I was assistant strength, coach myself and another gentleman by coach Roland, uh, were the two guys that basically were in the weight room and stuff during that time. We had a back-to-back seven, I think we were seven and two. And, played in a bowl game, got beat, but I mean, we had a great experience and for him to do the two years that he did the turn that place around, it was a neat experience and I'll never forget that. the thing is I couldn't decide if I wanted to stay the collegiate route, but as you all know, you gotta pay your dues. so that would have been, sort of what I cut my teeth on. And then the opportunity to be a, uh, a high school coach in Colorado was my first head job. So, eventually I worked my way there and, decided high school was probably the route I was going to take. No throughout my journeys in this career and stuff, I've been very good friends with, specific people and, probably one of the closest friends I got was Gus Malzahn that used to be the head football coach at Auburn university. Uh, when gusts took the job at Auburn, he offered me an offensive analyst position on his staff. and I told him I still had three kids in college at that time. And it was just this basically a no go, I couldn't do it financially. It was just no way. But I did tell him that when I do decide to hang up the whistle for good I'd come and hold his headphones for him. So now he's at UCLA. And, uh, and I'll go, I will be as big as cheerleader and stuff, but he is a phenomenal man of faith, a great man. And, and, uh, you know, we talk occasionally about once every other month we'll talk and stuff, but no, he he's a great guy and he ended up, but I've had my options. And some people know this that do know me, that I interviewed for two hours with bill Snyder when he was at Kansas state, I was at a point where we'd, you know, we hadn't lost a game in four years when a position opened up on staff. Offensive coordinator at that time was a guy named Greg Peterson, which he too is a very close friend of mine. We stay in touch with this day and, talk quite often actually. But, uh, he recommended me for a position on bill Snyder staff. And so I went through a two hour interview with bill Snyder and the first hour and a half of it was all the negative aspects of being in the college coaching ranks. And then about 15 minutes of it was the positive things about being a college coach. And then it was 15 minutes of Q and a with me, if whatever questions I had in terms of the followup and good Lord, I was scared to death. Even take the plunge after meeting with them about all the negative aspects of the profession and all the hours and the work that you put into. But it was just one of those things as a calculated risk. But when you're a father of four girls that rely on you to be their father and provide for them, you, always remember that your family comes first. And so if it was just me and my wife or I were single, it would have been a no brainer. But, knowing that I was a man before girls. And they had a bright future ahead of them. And, I didn't want to take any food out of their mouths or take clothes off their back. So I just sort of stayed where I was at and eventually worked my way around to some different places in my career. And a lot of that move was because sometimes your reputation proceeds you a little bit. And then if you've had some success with the state championships and the winning, jobs sort of find themselves, or they, you know, they reach out to you. And if it's a life-changing opportunity where 25, 30, $40,000 raises, that impacts a family pretty fast. So, there was some of those job moves I took was because it allowed me to put more clothes on my kids' backs and, put food on the table and allow them to enjoy a childhood that I didn't get a chance to enjoy very much growing up. I want to make sure I gave them more than what I ever had. So. That was predominantly the reasoning behind my decisions to stay at the high school level. And, plus, like I said, open in the end, it's about relationships. I mean, that is the pure foundation of high school football coach and is about, relationships and, trying to impact the lives of those young man that, puts uniform on for their community and for you as a head coach. So.

Luke:

let's talk, longevity coaches today are feeling burned out. Under appreciated. we're losing more than we're taking in and it's getting to be a problem throughout all sports. So what's the secret to your longevity in there.

Mark:

I think a lot of it to an extent is to keep reminding yourself why you're in the profession and, the fact that, uh, I'm also a little bit. I know today you have to deal with a lot of external elements that try to, stick their nose into your program, especially when you're a head football coach. And, you got to protect it as much as you can. And, you know, with that being said, sometimes you make a lot of friends and sometimes you make a lot of enemies and that's just the reality of it. but there's also a couple of reasons why I've moved from job to job because after a year or two years, if the plan, I have a thing that I call the plan, and if it doesn't go according to the plan, there's reasons why I look and sometimes the plan can't be accomplished because of external elements, whether it be parents or booster club members or, board members, or, I mean, there's just, you know, the list can go on and on and on. Um, you know, just a fan base that may not be very supportive. I mean, there's a multitude of reasons and rationale behind it, but, like I said, there's one of those things as a coach, you sit down and, try to analyze where you're at for, you know, at that particular time. And if the time presents itself, And all the negativity is outweighs the positivity. Then as a coach, sometimes you just have to take a hard look at yourself and, maybe look and move on. And, I've done that on a couple of instances, but, majority of my moves were, due to being able to put more food on the table for my kids and stuff. But, there have been a couple of those jobs that I've taken, where a lot of promises were made. And then when I got there, they didn't back any of the promises up. And then it was basically sort of a. snowball effect, where then you compound that with not knowing that the fan base was that bad or parents were that bad. and then you've got sit there and you're just brow beaten every day. My wife She knows if I come in the house and I tell her it it's not fun anymore. She knows I'm looking, but it's gotta be. You know what I'm saying? I mean, it's gotta be fun. And you don't work 60, 70 hours a week during football season and be miserable. And so the experience itself, the coaching profession itself, it has to be fun. And there are places out there believe me, there's, probably more places than not that are great places to coach and raise families and, let you be you. And, uh, that's sort of how I roll and how I deal with it.

Luke:

Well, I mentioned in the intro, your success is amazing. Over 200 wins, four state championships to receive national recognition in sports illustrated, ESPN, and the accolades go on and on with all that being said, why is making an impact on a young person's life? The most important aspect of being an educator?

Mark:

I think a lot of likes is just a reflection of my youth growing up where I didn't have a whole lot of mentorship or guidance. and so with that being said, I sorta felt like I needed to carry the torch. you know, if you can impact lies for all the right reasons, it outweighs all the negativity that may be surrounding you or, clouding over your program or wherever you may be at. but you know, opening the end, it's still about kids and it's about impact of lives. And, I spoke at a clinic few years ago and I don't remember. I'll be honest with you, Joel. I'm getting, I can't remember the year. But at that time, I did a research to where literally, of course every other marriage is, basically ended up in divorce. And so you got tons of young men, I'm wanting to say it was like 60, there's like 62% of the young men that play high school football do not have. that was a national average. And I can't remember where I got it from, but it was like Newsweek magazine because I had a coach, they shared it with me and we were just in utter shock. So about two or three months later when I spoke at this clinic, I thought that was a good time to tie that in. And the thing about it, young man, they, you don't realize just how much they know. role models and, and men that are older, that can be great mentors to them. And coaching is just a natural fit for that, if you can be yourself and you teach them the right ways, coaching the right ways, you can make an impact on their lives, knowing that at some point in time, when they walk out the door of your program, They get a chance to go on and be better young men, better husbands, better fathers, better citizens in society. And that all be in the end. That should be the main primary factor of being a head football coaches is knowing that in the end you're making better men. and you just add to your lineage, you know, your legacy, for every young man that graduates from your program. It goes on and do great things. And then those are the, still those same kids that more times than I will reach back out to you the first two or three years in college. And then the, if you're real lucky, those are the kids that, reach out to you later in life. You know, send you pictures of their first Warner or, on father's day when they don't have a dad, they're the ones that reach out to you, which I still have kids to this day that on father's day, they're reaching out to me. And that means a lot to me, more than you'll ever know. So, people don't get it sometimes, but if you're in our shoes, you get it and you understand.

Luke:

Yes. And I do believe that coaches get into the profession because they want to make that impact that you just described. However, we are competitive people and sometimes that competitive spirit clouds, our mission a little bit. you touch upon this a little bit earlier, but I want to go back. What types of checks and balances do you have in place to keep you on the true mission of what coaching should be about? And that's at impact of kids and relationship with kids.

Mark:

You know, there is such a thing as checks and balances, you know? there's different phases of being a head football coach and just the organizational aspect of it. And then it's the scheme aspect, the game planning aspect, and then the game itself. And then, you have your end season, your off season, but open the end. It is still, we know you have those kids in your program for, four years, if you get the gnome as freshmen, you for four years of your life, you get to be a part of their life. And so it's so crucial and credit. you, take a hard look at yourself and understand that old man, the end, it's still about those young men. and you've got to keep that thing in perspective. And if you can do that, then you know, you're still in it for the right reasons. And I've always told myself if I ever get to the point where it's more about winning than it is about relationships, then that means I've passed the point of no return in this time for me to move on and find something better. because I'll be in the end, like I said, we're, at a crisis. We're at a crossroads in our country with young men that don't have father figures and, it's just a point where, they need us more than we need them. You know, you got to keep her priorities straight and understand the defining hard line is the fact that coaching realistically at the high school level is about developing young men. And then if you can do that on a consistent basis, then, I truly believe that you'll be rewarded for it in the end. And as I've told you, if you do those things the right way and you treat kids. the right way, that one, it usually is a by-product of that. If they know you truly care about. They'll do a lot of things for you. And the bottom line is that kids know if you're phony or not. They have that sixth sense. They know if you're legitimately interested in them as human beings. And if, you are then the more inclined to want to stay in your program and you know, more times than not, they'll do everything you ask them to do.

Luke:

A common trait that I have found amongst the most successful coaches is humility. And I've been blessed to get, to meet a lot of successful coaches at the high school and the collegiate ranks. And I've always just been stunned at their humbleness. Do you think humility is an important part to be a successful coach?

Mark:

I'd say why humility is without question. I think a vital characteristic of being a successful coach? you know, the thing about being humble is, I think a as. part of the human experience as part of, you know, I truly believe one of the DNA and unique characteristic that a guy can have is the ability to be humble because in life, you know, whether, if you believe it or not, there's times in life where we're going to be humble. And there's times where you're going to be successful. And when those times are successful, you got to make sure you reflect back on those times where you were struggling and got humbled. And sometimes that keeps you in check and keeps your life in perspective, especially from a career standpoint where, you know, I got told that I've been at the highest of highs where we didn't lose a game for four years to where I've coached a team that went one to nine and you've experienced the lowest of low. So those peaks and valleys, those are usually sometimes part of the professional as well. No through that whole experience, you just try to make sure you maintain a humble attitude and have that sense of humility that flows through your veins. And if you do then, you know, I truly also deep down, you know, being a man of faith that, it says in scripture, if you humble yourself, you're big exalted. And if you exalt yourself, you'd be humbled. So I'm one of those guys that never tried to exalt myself. And it's just part of my DNA brother.

Luke:

Well, personal struggle that I have that maybe you can help me with is dealing with the difficult kit. So any advice you have on how to reach those kids? Because even though they are the most frustrating, let's be honest. They're the ones that need us the most. So what advice would you have.

Mark:

You know, the thing about what that question mean. I asked, you know, sometimes kids need us more than we need them within the confines of our program. And, and, uh, you know, through our kids that seem to struggle and stuff, you know, one of the first things that I do as a head football coach, if he's a troublesome kid, you know, more times than not. they've either got an IEP or they got some kind of. A behavior contract or they're labeled this something, so the first thing I usually do is I go talk to a counselor, say, Hey, give me some insight about this show. May I tell you something about them? And counselors sometimes, you know, they won't share a whole lot with you. Once you're in a school long enough, they know who you are and they know you're in there to find out more about that young man. So you can try to find more ways to help them. And so once you sort of find out what makes them tick, you know, what might set them off and, and some of the reasons behind, you know, why he may be why he is then. come to a sense of reality that, you know, you know what I know why he's acting the way it is. And then, you know, basically try to find ways either we told yourself or coaches on your staff just sort of share with them sort of the same kind of insight about that young man's background and in the, you know, between yourself, because it's not, you know, honestly, the kids we've had to deal with my career. It's never been just me versus that kid, helping them get on the right path. The right track you know, in life and stuff, but it's usually been a concerted effort between me and my assistants and trying to find ways to incorporate that kid more in our program or give them more to do, or at least try to find out what makes them tick to where we can, find answers to help them fit in better within our program and, still let them be a part of it. And you know, more times now we've had more kids turn their lives around and then actually just continue to turn their back on us and stuff. So. You know, and the thing is that, also about a fact of being known. It's about peace of mind, where if you have kids that are behavior kids in your program, or kids that are struggling or trying to, you know, they have an identity crisis and they're just struggling, to find themselves, you know, as a coach, you can't turn your back on that. And if you do then shame on you and it's one of those things where you know, that kid may not have anybody else to lean on. And so with that being said, you always gotta make sure good or bad. That's you know, that that kids are where the chillers, their form and stuff. So then at night, when you put your head on the pillow at night, you can go to sleep knowing that, you know, you did everything, you could try to help that kid.

Luke:

There's a couple things you mentioned in your answer, which was a great answer by the way. Thank you for sharing your thoughts that we've already touched upon a one. To me, what I heard in your response was humility. The point that you have to rely on your entire coaching staff to try to reach this kid because. We have to be honest that although we want to save the world individually, not every kids can respond to me as the head coach or you as a head coach, but hopefully there's somebody on your staff. There is an adult there somewhere that for whatever reason that is going to latch onto, and that person could impact that kid. But again, there's that humility piece that know that it just can't be all on you as a head football. And you've done it longer than I have, but I've done it long enough to know that it can't just be all about me. Right. It can't be as a head football coach. You have to rely on your coaches on more than just the X's and O's on exactly the things you're talking about. Gender thing you talked about was not giving up on kids. We have to believe in people because at its core, that's really what this profession. It is about, and if we write and if we don't give up on them and we just continue to stay with them and, and work through whatever issues they're having, because there is always a reason for the behavior, which is what you talked about. Like you go to counselors, then hopefully we could work them through those problems. And at some point maybe it's not by the time they graduate, maybe it's once they're 35, they're going to reach out to you or you're going to bump into them at the mall or wherever it may be. And they're going to just say thank you for not giving up on me. And I would argue that that is one of the most important things that we do as a coach, especially football, because we attract a different type of kid. Let's be honest. And I don't think a lot of people in the building realize that. So I can only imagine all the stories that you have through your 33 years, but I'm assuming that's part of your plan coaches. That is, is that a correct assumption? You have a plan each school you go to. So talk a little bit about. Let's go back to that. Let's talk about the plan. If you could kind of outline your plan a little bit,

Mark:

when I take over a job, what I typically do, I try to get, a little bit of an insight of what the school is about. You know, of course every coach, when they, when they, uh, basically applying for a job, they try to take an in-depth look at the program, the success it's had over maybe a four or five-year period. And then when you actually, you know, if you apply for it and then you're actually one of the ones they asked you to come and interview for the job, you gotta make sure you have a, precise. Questions that you want to ask in the interview process, just to make sure you get some answers, to the job itself and the potential of the job, because everybody wants to have a job. That's got a lot of potential. You don't want to go take a job. That you get more negative vibes from it, then you get good vibes. Um, so with that being said, you know, if, it feels right and it sounds good, then I, you know, I have no problem at all. Uh, if it fits in with what I want to be, you know what I want to be as a head coach in that particular school district. And, uh, then I'll make that decision with my wife and my kids. And if we take it, then, then I go in jumping in with both feet. And, first thing I typically do, the plan basically is a. As I meet with the current assistant coaches and sort of see where they're at, try to see what kind of vibe I get from them. And, sometimes it may mean you don't want those guys on your staff. And sometimes it means you want those guys and your staff cause you just thoroughly evaluate where they're at and what they have and what they bring to the table. And if it's good stuff, obviously you want to keep them in. and then, you know, obviously schools, if I apply for jobs, I always ask to let them bring me a couple of guys with me. You know that to be a part of the process. And if they'll allow me to bring some guys with me, then those are guys that typically know my system, my scheme, how I work and what makes me tick and in my expectations. And it makes it seem to be a little bit smoother transition, especially when you're trying to reach out to new coaches on your staff and sort of teach them in a short amount of time. It's usually you're hired and, you know, March or April, and then all of a sudden you've, you know, you're blinking and it's already the end of school year. And then you got to get ready for summer pride. And so we try to interact and, and have staffing as best you can and try to lock in and evaluate those coaches that you're about to inherit and make sure you find the strengths and weaknesses of those coaches. And. You know, match them up with their strengths and that sort of one of the biggest priority. So that do right out of the gates. And then after that, you know, basically it's just a lot of, staff meets and stuff. And then, you know, eventually it winds it to the point where, you know, you start doing everything for the kids and you put on a good summer weight program and stuff. And make sure that every coach has his understanding of his, role and his expectations on your staff. And if you can do that, then usually you can hit the ground running and August comes around and stuff. But, but I do, like I said, I I've had coaches that to this day, tease me a little bit where they send me and you're the only coach I know that has a checklist for a checklist. So I'm a guy, that's a checklist guy. So as I go through each month, I guess, specific things that I do and. and I have no reservation sharing that with anybody that may want it stuff. And one of the unique things about being a head football coach is that I've had a lot of my former assistants go on to become head coaches and I've had three of them win state championships. And I've had one that played for a state championship. And so that it gives me the greatest sense of pride, knowing that these are guys that were under my tutelage in some of my heart right out of college. And they were with me for four or five years, and then they got their start and they went on to do great things in their own, you know? And, but the cool thing is that they take a piece of you with them, whether you believe it or not as a head coach, anytime one of your systems goes on to another job, a PCU goes with them because you, you were, you know, you were their head coach. And they were on your staff. And from that time you're with them, just like me, all the things that I learned when I was an assistant were from ed coaches. And so when I took the plunge and got my first head coaching job, the legacy of, of the, the Kurt Neil's and the MC Monroe's, which two, two head coaches I worked for before I took a head coaching job. they were instilled in me. So I know that at some point in time, you, as a head coach, when your assistants go on, you're instilled in them and they'd go on. And if they have a lot of success, you just have that deep sense of pride, knowing that, you know, you must be doing something right. And that too is also part of the plan to where, you know, I don't like my assistants just be assistance. I want them to be ambitious and want to be future head coach. And then with that being said, I do everything I can to help them out in any scheme, whether it be offense defense or special teams, I'm never afraid to give my opinion or my advice So, in a roundabout way, Luke is sort of the plan.

Luke:

Why would like to see those checklists, if you want to share that with me, I'm a, I'm a checklist to do list guy. I so would love to learn from you. So feel free to email me that, and I'd love to take a look at that and I'm sure our listeners would love to see it as well. So.

Mark:

Absolutely brother.

Luke:

Going on to advice. What's the one piece of advice you have for any young or aspiring coach listening who wants to impact lives while also winning on the.

Mark:

it sort of ties into what we talked about earlier and stuff where if you decide you want to be a head football coach, you have to understand that it's a lot of work. And, it's, more work than, than what you think. being an assistant coach, you know, like me, I'm one of those guys, that's a huge family guy. And so I, I just, you know, I believe in quality work, not quantity, so we try to work. Right. So we can get home And spend time with our family. And, uh, being a young guy, that's aspiring to be a head coach, make sure you understand that, uh, that when you become a head coach, they always take into perspective the feelings and the emotions of those coaches are going to be on your staff. you gotta make sure you understand, you got to try to appease everybody, even their wives, you know, and the thing is. It can be tough, sometimes a step, but you just got to try to find that happy, medium as a head coach, for, especially if you're young and aspiring coach and all, if you're young, sometimes you're so full of energy and you can go, go, go, go, go. But, you know, there's a point in your career where you start realizing that it's more than just all that. that, you know, you not only impact the lives of your players, but you also have to impact the lives of your assistance. And that if you can do that, then, then those guys are more inclined to want to work for you and be on your staff. I gotta be honest. I'm going on my eighth year here, I got 18 assistant coaches and 15 of the 18 have been with me all eight years. So that being said, I must be doing something. And you don't, if you got guys abandoning you after a year, then sometimes you got to take a hard look at yourself and sort of see where you're at, but you got to find that happy medium to make sure that you're getting a lot of quality work done, but also find a time to make sure that you're sensitive to their needs as well. Whether it be as a father or husband or whatever it may be. you know, that's probably some of the biggest advice I could probably give young guys is just always be ambitious. Be excited, go after that first job. And then, like I said, if you create the right relationships, you can do it the right way and understand you just gotta be yourself. That's probably the biggest thing that I tell my former assistants, you know, that go on to be head coaches, just be yourself. Don't try to be me. Don't try to be somebody that you may read in a book or see on a movie, you gotta be yourself. And if you're yourself, kids are going to buy into you a lot quicker. And, like I said, they can sense if you're real or phony, but if you're real and you're there for all the. right reasons, then, then, like I said, one, it's usually the bi-product.

Luke:

Well, you've had the type of career and success on the field that many of us hope to have, but let's talk off the field. What is your greatest victory that you could share? A great story to us that happen often?

Mark:

Hm. I tell people a lot that, you know, next to being called daddy, my favorite word to be called. And, you know, my thing is this, that besides, you know, my wife and I we've been married for 34 years, but my wife and I have been together since the eighth grade, she's my junior high sweetheart. So we've grown up together and she's, been with him and we've got four daughters and we've got two granddaughters. And so, you know, that is my greatest victory, from a human standpoint. and I'm just very blessed that I've got them as my family and, through being a coach's wife and being a coach's daughter, you become a lot tighter. The bond is a lot tighter than, some traditional families, to be quite honest with you, you learn to become a very tight entity and, and you understand that you lean on each other even more because sometimes you're the only people you can rely on the most is your family. And, uh, so with that being said, you know, that's probably my biggest victory is probably my family, but you know, my biggest thing, you know, one of the greatest, like I said earlier, some of the greatest accomplishment I had was, former players are still staying in touch with me to this day. And probably one of the greatest, most humbling things I've ever had happened to me was about six years ago, seven years ago, I got a phone call. from one of my former players and his name was Adam bulky, and Adam was a United States Marine and they just finished his second tour in Afghanistan. And they were in the Kandahar region, which was pretty, you know, it was pretty wild there at that time and, and went through a lot of firefights and, um, they were on a us carrier, USS carrier coming back home, come back to the states and they have these satellite phones. Cause I didn't know this until I actually talked to them. They gave him a choice to make one phone call. He could have called his parents. He could have called anybody he wanted to, but he chose to call me. So when he called me and I accepted the phone call, I was just so humbled by that whole deal. And he explained some of the stuff they had already gone through and stuff, and that he just couldn't wait to get back home, to get American food and spend time at home and just, you know, get back to some normalcy and stuff. And sometimes when I hung up that phone, I teared up a little bit just thinking boy, that kid just went through a war. And thought of me and, you know, and I know he loves his mom and his dad dearly and they're friends of ours to this day. But for him to actually do that, to call me when he could have called anybody else, they have sometimes much, you realize just how big of an impact you may have on kids' lives. So, uh, you know, that's probably one of the greatest victories I've had.

Luke:

Wow. That's a, that's a great story. Thank you for sharing that. That is that's powerful. It's one of those, as you're, you're telling me the hairs on my neck are, are rising up. That's a, that's great. And that's the type of impact that I hope to make. And I know that a lot of our listeners hope to make, and, I know that we will, right. It's just, it's just being intentional with that relationship piece that we've been talking to. this podcast and this episode, so let's go on to professional development to wrap up the interview. I could see you have a bookshelf behind you. What are some great professional develop development recommendations you have, it could be a book, a podcast clinics you go to yearly, anything that you could recommend to our listeners who want to be the type of coach that we've been highlighting on this app.

Mark:

Well, look, I tell you what, you know, I was told at a young age by my coaches. Uh, I talked to you earlier about Dr. Nan Nuttall, which, you know, he, he was my high school football coach. When I call him, I still call him coach. And as you said earlier, you alluded to earlier, that is the, ultimate compliment because he was my coach growing up and I have such an immense respect for him and love for him like a father and, but he was one of those guys that kept pounding your head. You know, knowledge is power. Knowledge is power. Knowledge is power. That'd be, instead of became an avid reader at a young age. And, uh, I've never really looked back, but I've always tried to find, you know, your life can get so busy sometimes, but usually over the Christmas break and spring break. And just some time when you can find time, to just find some, some you time, I call it you time, which is my time, but I try to find a book or two that I think may enhance my abilities as a coach. And, as a person too, make sure that I keep staying on the right track and maybe hopefully maintain the success that I've been very blessed to have been a part of, uh, in my career. So I buy books and the three that I've got right now, I've got one that's called let them lead. And it's basically, it's a, it's a less a book and leadership from what they basically say is America's worst high school hockey team. So this guy took over the worst high school hockey team in the nation. And he basically found a way to let them lead. So I've got that book right here. I haven't started yet. These are all brand new books. So then the second book had just got about a month ago. I have not started it yet. It's called. And I don't know if anybody's heard of that stuff, but basically it's just about, you know, all the work you got to put in, when no one's watching, which is basically one of those models that you hear all the time, or you see all the time on the internet, you know, whether it be in, you know, Twitter or whatever it may be, but that's what you do. Uh, you know, not being under the lights, that's what you're doing in the dark that helps you get. And this is a book that I'm looking forward to reading as well. And I got this the other day and it's an older book, but it's still one that I have not had, but I've sort of glanced through it, read it. It's called the greatness. The 16 characteristics of a true champion is what I've got. so it's by Don Yeager. He's an old, you know, he's an author, he's written tons of books. I've actually got a few of his books that he's written, you know, from the middle nineties, late nineties. And so I, uh, you know, I read that this is the one. book that I just finished was called seven men. I don't know if you've ever seen that before, but it's called

Luke:

read that one.

Mark:

WhatsApp.

Luke:

I've actually read that one.

Mark:

Oh, you have. It's a good book.

Luke:

Yeah.

Mark:

a very good, but it's, it just talks about seven men that impacted history of mankind. And when you read on some of those, you start realizing, wow, I didn't know that, you know, you find certain things out about certain people and, and it sort of column. I actually, I believe among, Pope John, Paul's the one that I'm on. That that's part of the book for the space that he talks about the story and the life of Pope John Paul. So basically that's what I did is those are the books that I've got recently, but I do, I've got tons of books and I'm one of those guys. You know, every year I buy a, that glacier clinic pass, for my coaches, I buy that form to where they got the ball and all the videos and stuff online. So I basically tell my coaches if they don't get better, that's not on me, it's on them because I give them tons of access to materials and, and things to read and videos to watch. And, and a lot of times, if I read a book that I really, really like, I'll go by. You know, especially to the younger coaches on my staff, you know, I've got two or three guys that are, you know, in their mid twenties that are on my staff. So with them aspiring to be great, you know, be great coaches and maybe be head coach someday. If I think the book is a worthy read, then I'll go buy it. And that will give it to. And, uh, just tell him, I say, Hey, you gotta read this as pretty good book. So I'm always open to that. You know, that's just so my advice for guys that are head coaches, if even though if you read a book that you go, wow, this is pretty impactful. don't be afraid to go buy them and, and, you know, get five or six copies or more and give them to your staff. I do that. I've done that numerous times throughout my career.

Luke:

Well, thanks for sharing. I share the same passion with you. I'm an avid reader myself. And, I, think it's something that a lot of people miss out on and it kills me. I'm an English teacher, at my core and young people just do not have that joy of reading, which just kills me. so do you ever, in addition to your staff, do you ever buy a book for you want maybe your senior class or maybe your whole team to read and do like a book.

Mark:

I know that I've got some coaching buddies set have bought some of those John Gordon books, you know, the quick reads and stuff, you know, like the energy bus and some of the other things. I know that they've done that, but we do what we do over years. We take our seniors on a leadership retreat and, uh, you know, in places I've been to, we would take them on a two or three day retreat. Well, where we're at here in Iowa. No here in Cedar rapids. There's not a whole lot of things to go see or do around here. So what we do is we take them to a casino and it's called Riverside casino and it's about 30 miles south of that. But they have the best buffet and the Eastern side of the state of Iowa. So what we do is we go rent one of their conference rooms and then myself and my coaches, we all have PowerPoints and it's a leadership conference and a character conference. So our coaches all do a PowerPoint and they do a presentation to our seniors and just sort of lay the groundwork of, you know, our expectation of them as seniors, but also just sort of lay the foundation. I'm understanding that they're on the threshold of becoming men because they've only got one more year. And then they they're out on their own, whether it be college military or, tech school or whatever it is I may choose. But, you know, with within the time that we have left together, we try to lay a foundation for our seniors and we take them and every coach speaks and, and I've been really, really blessed in my career. So when the unbelievable assistant coaches I've had that, we'll do a 15, 20 minute presentation. That just knocks you out of your socks. And I'm one of those guys where I actually take notes for my own coaches. Um, like I said, I'm humble enough to say, you know what, I'm not better than anybody else in the room and I'm don't have any ego. So if I can find something or you know, that they may share with their seniors, that may make me a better man overall, then by all means I list. Now I'm receptive to it. So, but we do that stuff with our, with our seniors and stuff and, and, uh, in the hopes that it makes them better. that's probably one of the biggest things that we do. And, sometimes we will give them like, coach Dostal my defensive coordinator, Jim and I have known each other 28 years. So we wanted to coach together before we retired. And like I said, we're going into your eighties. but he has a guy that does exactly that, where he will find certain articles that are worth reading and he will give them to our players and he's our defensive coordinator. So sometimes they may be the defensive side of the ball. Sometimes they'll might be our captains. He will make sure that every one of our seniors get something to read. And so, yes, that's. within our guidelines of what we might do. I know as a staff and if we can find something to help our young men become better, you know, not only as an athlete, but as an individual and maybe I, you know, maybe spark an interest, you know, mentally in, in, help them a little bit with their intellect, you know, may actually help them become a little bit more intellectual and, and learn something. So, you know, I teach our players all the time. There's a, I call it the tripod. And that tripod represents three legs of your life. That's the mental, physical, and spiritual aspect of your life. And that every day of your life, you got to find ways to keep those three legs standing. And if for some reason, you know, you're teetering and you become, to a point where you don't invest yourself in one of those three aspects, then one of those legs become weak and they toppled. I just call it the mode of mediocrity, if you don't really focus on those three aspects of your life, and then one of those layers are going topple, then, basically become average. And, God didn't put us on this planet to be average. I truly believe that all my heart. And so that's something I try to preach to our players and even my assistants all the time.

Luke:

Well, thanks for sharing that. That's exactly why I wanted to have you on. And I agree wholeheartedly with what you're saying in between the reading and the mental, the fit, the tripod. I'm going to steal that analogy. I said at the beginning, Thief. I'm going to steal that, to be honest with you, because I completely agree that that's what we should be doing as a coach. And I tell my players all the time, you know, who here wants to be a champion, they'll raise their hand. And I tried to explain to them, you have to be a champion and everything that. You can't just win on the field. You have to win and everything that you do. And I know you would agree with that sentiment as well. And that's something that we have to teach all of our young people we come in contact with, because I think that's a lost art for sure. People just think you could, go sit in class, kind of be a slug, but then you're going to turn it on one of the Friday night lights go on. No, that's not the way it works. You got to turn it on all the time and, and keep it up. So, thanks for sharing those nuggets. And I, and I have to go back to this. Gus smells odd thing before. One of my good friends is a UCF grad and he is the most diehard UCF fan you'll ever meet. He grew up in south Florida. He did things completely backwards. I moved to Chicago, most Chicagoans moved to south Florida. He grows up in south Florida, moved to Chicago. I still, I, I bust his chops all the time. Like, what are you thinking? But anyway, Huge UCF fan. So I have to ask on his part, you need to get me in touch with Gus Malzahn. I need to get coach miles on, on this podcast because you would make my friend, the happiest person in the world that I have crossed smells on on his podcast and talk to them because boy, I'll tell you, you've never met a more diehard UCF fan, at least in the Chicago land area that my buddy Russell, you have to get me in co you have to get me in touch with coach mills onsite.

Mark:

Well, you know, I remember when Gus, when he was the offensive coordinator at, uh, at Auburn, he, uh, called me up the night. They beat South Carolina and the, in the sec championship game and they knew they were going to play for the national championship. And he called me up late at night and asked me if I were interested in wanting to go to the camp. I said, absolutely. I said, you let me know. And whatever it costs, I'll do what I can to try to carry his. NA I just wonder if you want to go to the game. I said, yeah, I'd love to go to the game. Well, I tell all I had to pay for his plane ticket and, uh, I got a chance to go down and watch cam Newton in the Auburn tigers won a national championship I got a chance to go watch and practice. I got to go into the war room with them gusts, let me come in with him and stuff. And, like I said, I got to watch him coach his very last high school football game. We were on the clinics, be concerned together, back in the high school, we were winning state championships about the same time when he was at Springdale, Arkansas. And, uh, he wound up, you know, going to the university of Arkansas and didn't want to go to university of Tulsa. Well, I played football for university of Tulsa I went to one of their clinics and guests have me the OSI there. So I was excited. So. First words out of his mouth. Cause we used to swap highlight films when he was a Springdale and that he just goes, where's my highlight films. And I just started laughing. I said, you're a big time. You don't want anything from me. He goes, no, I'm dead serious because I like watching your stuff. And so I just have to have a DVD in my briefcase and I gave it to him. I say, you happy now. He just had the big smile on his face. And, and uh, and then, like I said, he did the things he did at Tulsa. They led the nation tears on her own points per game and total offense. And then went to Auburn and, did the things that he did there. I wouldn't be in the head coach. There he is one of the most humble, one of the most down to earth, guys that you would ever know and ever meet. And if I ever texted him, he always responds and he's never considered himself bigger or better than anybody else. And that's one of the most unique and one of the greatest qualities of him as a man. Yeah. And, uh, you know, like I said, he's offered me a job before, but having three kids in college at the time, I just said at some point in time, I'll come and hold your headphones for you. When I retire, I don't, I don't have to be anything, but I do love the man dearly. He's a good man. And he's in it for all the right reasons. You know, both from a high school's perspective and a collegiate perspective, he's a player's coach. you know, I'll see what I can do. I'll see what, if we can figure something out, brother.

Luke:

Well, Hey, I love to hear that about him. It's always good to hear that inside story on people. Because again, I do believe in people, I do believe in coaches and I do think we get into this profession for the right reasons and sometimes get led down a clouded path. So I'm glad to hear that he maintained his why. And yeah, I mean, feel free to tell him about the podcast The "I" in Win. I would, I would love to talk to coach so appreciate that and appreciate your time on this podcast. I really enjoy talking with you. And if any of our listeners would like to get in contact with you and kind of pick your brain about the plan or how to develop coaches or develop relationships with their players, what'd be the best way from the.

Mark:

I'll tell you what Luke, what they can do is they can email me if they want it's at M it's all lowercase. It's M bliss, B L I S s@crprairie.org org. And that is my school email address. And if they want to email me there, um, and I can, give them any resources. I got more than happy to help out any way I can truly mean that.

Luke:

Well, thank you for sharing that. And thanks for sharing all of your time on this episode. I know that a lot of people are going to come with a lot of value after listening to this over the past 50 minutes. So thank you for your 33 years of service and hopefully, uh, 30 more years. Right? Who knows?

Mark:

He never met.

Luke:

you get to, hopefully, like we said before, Go be an assistant coach. You, you deserve it. You've put in your time. After whenever you decide to walk away and, get the, just go coach kids not deal with all the external stuff. So thank you very much, coach. Appreciate all your time.

Mark:

So God bless. Have a great night.

Mark Bliss Profile Photo

Mark Bliss

Head Football Coach

Mark Bliss is a native of Medford, Oklahoma. As a player at Medford High School, Mark led the Cardinals to multiple state playoff appearances and garnered All-Conference, All District, and All-State Honors. As a senior, Mark was Northwest Oklahoma’s Football Offensive Player of the Year and an Adidas High School All-American. After graduating from Medford High School in 1982, Mark attended Tulsa University in Tulsa, Oklahoma on a football scholarship. He later transferred to Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas where he led his team to the 1984 National Semifinals, #3 National Ranking, and two Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships. Mark graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Education and later earned his Master’s Degree in Secondary Administration from Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva, Oklahoma. Since 1988, Mark has coached football at various high school and collegiate levels. During Mark’s head coaching career he has amassed an overall record of 206 wins and 80 losses. During that span his teams have won 4 State Championships along with 2 Semi-final appearances and 2 Quarterfinal appearances. His teams have qualified for the State Playoffs 23 of his 26 years as a head coach. Mark spent seven years at Conway Springs, Kansas where his teams started a 62 game win streak which is the 22nd best win streak in high school football history. Mark’s teams during his career have received national recognition in Sports Illustrated, ESPN Magazine, and Bigger Faster Stronger Magazine. He has coached 3 Top 100 Nationally Ranked teams. Mark has received the National Federation of State High School Associations Section 5 Coach of the Year and was a National Coach of the Year Finalist. Mark has coached 26 Division I athletes, 8 High School All-Americans,1 ESPN top 300 Player, and 2 NFL Players. Mark is a three time Hall of Fame inductee 2011 Southwestern College Athletic Hall of Fame, 2012 National Single Wing Coaches Hall of Fame, 2017 University of Tulsa Athletic’s Hall of Fame.

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Mark has been married for 33 years to his childhood sweetheart, the former Jill Kretchmar of Medford, Oklahoma. They have four daughters: Ashlie 31, Emilie 28, Kaylie 26, and Natalie 24 and two granddaughters Emma 4, and Mila 1.