By Rob todor
There’s one constant source of inspiration for Mount Union men’s basketball coach Mike Fuline, whether he’s in the gym or at home.
It’s family, and it keeps him motivated.
“My father, Dan, sits on the end of the bench and keeps our shot chart. My wife and our five kids are there at the games. My grandmother is always there,” Fuline told the Curbstone Coaches on Monday.
“We preach family to our teams,” said Fuline, who grew up in the Manchester area of Summit County but has many relatives in Lowellville.
“People outside of Youngstown don’t understand [the importance of family]. I remember every weekend, coming to my grandparents house and spending time with my cousins. It killed me to have to go home on Sunday night.”
Fuline accepted the Mount Union job last summer after leading Jackson High School in Stark County for eight years. His 2009-10 team won the Division I state championship.
“People [at Jackson] didn’t understand what I meant about family [at first],” he related. “I basically told them, ‘Until you get it, stay away.’
“But that first year we had a group in eighth grade that had come up together and eventually they were our seniors that won a state championship.”
Ironically, Fuline said the immediate euphoria of being a champion wore off after awhile.
“I wasn’t really happy,” he said. “Here I was, 33 years old, and I’m a state champion coach. How does this happen to me when guys like Joe Fuline [Mike’s uncle and long-time coach at Lisbon and Struthers] and John Cullen [long-time coach at Brookfield and Canfield] never made it? That was humbling, and it bothered me.”
Fuline said he came across a revelation the following state tournament.
“I was sitting in the stands watching a game, and I’m thinking, ‘I don’t know if I can coach high school any more. It killed me not to be out on that floor.”
Then Mount Union came calling — after two 15-hour interviews — and Fuline eagerly accepted.
“Larry Kehres [Mount Union’s football coach and athletic director] looked me in the eye and said, ‘You’re my guy. You’re the one who’s going to turn this [program] around.
“When Larry Kehres, who’s not only a great coach but a great leader, tells you that, you can’t wait to get going.”
The Purple Raiders finished 11-15 this season, but Nate Jacubec, a Struthers High graduate, was named Ohio Athletic Conference freshman of the year. Fuline has a young, but talented core to build around.
“If we get the group who say they’re coming — we’ll know in about a month — I’m very excited for the future,” he said.