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A happy retirement to an utterly good man

New London — Gandhi said this once: "There is more to life than increasing its speed."

Bill George said this the other day: "People say 'smell the roses.' I'm a football coach. What, I'm gonna walk around and be happy?"

Prophets, both.

And now today is the first day the football coach becomes the regular guy, applying Gandhi's mantra of a gentler rate of speed, maybe even forcing himself to smell the roses.

George's last game coaching football at Coast Guard Academy came Saturday on the banks of the Thames, a disappointing 56-41 loss to Merchant Marine Academy, capping a 21-year career at the local military hamlet. George ought to be up for sainthood staying anywhere for 21 years, let alone Coast Guard, where winning is harder than differential equations. Which, ironically, his players must be able to solve in the classroom.

George's story, so much more than football, tugs at all of us. He's Everyman. Everyperson. A walking advertisement to the power of parenthood and how even obsessive football coaches are powerless against the little ones who come into our lives.

Bill George and his wife, Nancy, got started late on the parenthood thing. Nine years ago, they adopted Lila, their now effortlessly adorable daughter who runs the entire household. Lila George changed her dad.

"I've seen a lot of guys, especially in Div. III, hang on a year or two too long," George, the career football wins leader at Coast Guard, said. "Having said that, Lila was the No. 1 factor. I am (going to be) 62 with a 9-year-old and that's playing on my mind. As I told the team, no one wins the race against time, but you can't run scared against it either."

No one wins the race against time. But sometimes, people come into our lives to influence how we use it.

"You can't escape football," George said. "If it's Feb. 12 and the Academy's in session, I'm at the office. There's no escape. The hours get longer. You come in earlier. Now with the Internet, you're watching film before you come in. I've had two brothers-in-law die suddenly. Both younger. Both with no signs. They had children, too. The weeks start to blend. You should be joyous about a game — and you're already worried about the next game. There comes no separation."

Except that God blessed the George family with separation. George can talk all he wants about "no escape," but there's been escape since the day he laid eyes on his little girl. Put it this way: Ten years ago, before Lila, it's doubtful he was interested in being home on time to watch Family Feud.

"Lila's the escape. She's the go-home-and-joke-around and play games. We watch Family Feud now. I find myself racing home to watch it with her now. 'Look the Muldoons! That family is really dumb!' 'Dad, you can't say that word!' ... Being around Lila is a tremendous joy. I like being goofy me. She likes when I'm goofy me. I went home (Monday) and told her I did a cartwheel (at the pep rally). That kind of stuff. I'm not saying that younger coaches don't miss things with their kids as well. But when you start thinking about time, everything circles back to her in a way."

Bill George gives us pause. All of us who obsess about our careers. Winning and advancement. Maybe those of us for whom lines are blurred between what we do and who we are. All of us who seemingly have no time in our days, perhaps running afoul of Gandhi: There's more to life than increasing its speed.

I ponder this stuff occasionally. Like at weddings, funerals, graduations and retirements.

Ecclesiastes tells us to everything there is a season. There is a time for everything. I believe that if we live through principle and faith, life's details work out for us ... in time.

Meanwhile, the gnawing question: What are we doing with our time?

How do we treat people?

Do we help them?

Are we interested in anything beyond our self-interest?

Do we tell the people who mean the most to us what they mean to us?

Are we with the person we're meant for?

Maybe something written in previous paragraphs here was wrong. That Bill and Nancy got started "late" as parents. Nah. They got started right on time. Lila's timing was what it needed to be. And so now is an utterly decent man's retirement. Or is it a rebirth?

"I'm going to miss walking in every day with (assistant coaches) Dana (Fleischmann), CC (Grant) and Ray (LaForte)," Bill George said. "Every day of my life I'm with those guys first thing in the morning. For 20 years. I've been to their weddings. We've raised children together, buried parents together. That's what I'll miss. But otherwise, I know. It's time. It's just time."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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