Years ago, the great John Wooden wrote a book entitled “They Call Me Coach.”
It was highly appropriate for the legendary UCLA coach, who loved his profession and had no equal when it came to winning championships and teaching life lessons.
Mike Rowinski, who shockingly passed away yesterday morning of a blood disorder, was never as successful as Wooden, but his passion for coaching was just as great and no one could pay him a higher compliment than to call him coach.
This year, Rowinski was on a medical leave from his position as head coach of the Georgetown boys basketball team, where he posted a 95-79 record in eight years, but he’s coached all over. Coaching is what he did.
Rowinski played for Haverhill High, continued as a marginal player at Northern Essex Community College and, after getting a degree in education at St. Ambrose University in Iowa, returned to Northern Essex as an assistant.
From that point, Rowinski was a coach for virtually the rest of his life, at different places on different levels, in baseball as well as basketball.
He became head coach at Northern Essex and posted a 227-70 record in 13 years, usually doubling as the Knights’ baseball coach. He left to coach at Sanborn for three years and then moved to Michigan with his second wife, coaching little New Haven High to a 15-6 record and then leading Harper Woods High School to a 51-7 record in baseball, including a 26-2 mark and state crown his second year.
At Harper Woods, Rowinski also helped with the boys basketball team and then became head coach of the girls team there for two years.
But Rowinski missed the Merrimack Valley and returned, taking a teaching job in Saugus while looking to get back into coaching in the area. He helped out with the Haverhill Recreation youth program while looking for a suitable position.
I remember him calling me periodically to enquire about jobs and he applied several places, including Amesbury and Melrose, before settling on Georgetown, where he won the 300th game of his basketball coaching career in 2008.
For Rowinski, life wasn’t complete unless he was coaching.
“He lived and died for coaching,” said Northern Essex coach Darren Stratton. “When he wasn’t coaching, he seemed lost. He loved the competitiveness and he liked molding young men. And he could relate to kids at any level, which isn’t easy.”
Stratton knew Rowinski’s coaching well. He played for him for two years at Northern Essex and later coached with him in Haverhill.
“He was kind of old school, kind of like a Bobby Knight disciple,” said Stratton. “He wanted you on time, he wanted you to do things right and he wanted to win.”
That last point wasn’t lost on Barry Spears Sr., who was an assistant for Rowinski before taking over for him this year for what was supposed to be temporary.
“He loved to win and he hated to lose,” said Spears. “He had a lot of passion for the game ... he had more passion in one finger than I have in my whole body.’
But Rowinski also loved kids and loved sports in general, which is why he directed the Haverhill Recreation Summer Camp for more than 20 years and loved to talk about both.
Years ago, when I worked at the Haverhill Gazette, I’d give Rowinski a call to ask him a quick question and we’d be on the phone for an hour, talking about specific athletes, teams, job openings and anything else related to sports that crossed his mind.
And you could tell, that while he was obsessed with winning, he also — like any good coach — cared about his players and wanted them to succeed, both on and off the court.
Georgetown’s David Bjork, who had three sons (Chris, Mike and current senior Pat) play for Rowinski, was moved by Rowinski’s concern.
“He supported all of my kids,” said Bjork. “He was a real fair guy. My son, Chris, won the Coach’s Award as a senior. He didn’t get any playing time, but Mike always loved him. He always gave him an opportunity to be a part of it. Mike was a really loyal guy, he respected the kids who worked hard.
“My kids really liked him. Pat was really disappointed and sad when he heard he couldn’t play for him this year.”
At the Georgetown game at Amesbury last night, there was a short tribute for Rowinski and another tribute will be made tonight at the Royals’ home game with North Reading. Rowinski would have appreciated the remembrance.
But there’s a greater honor that he would probably like. Whenever you think of him, think of him simply as Coach.