Since becoming the Upper Arlington High School boys athletics director more than three years ago, Michael Schaefer has been able to persuade Mike Golden to put off retiring and continue his career as Golden Bears football coach.
That is, until the past offseason.
Golden, whose coaching career dates to the late 1970s, informed school administrators that 2013 would be his ninth and final season leading the Bears. It was then that Schaefer, an offensive lineman for the University of Toledo from 1996-2000 who served as UA's offensive line and linebackers coach for all but one season during Golden's tenure with the Bears, realized that he would not be able to convince Golden to stick around for one more year.
"I think you always have a little itch to coach when you're a coach, and if it takes me scratching it, it takes me scratching it," Schaefer said. "I've known for three or four years that he was inching closer to (retirement), but this year we knew it would be the last."
Golden, 58, did not tell his players about his decision to retire until Oct. 30, two days before the Bears' season finale against Dublin Coffman.
"I feel like I've been the Forrest Gump of coaches," said Golden, whose served as head coach at Watterson from 1988-2002 and New Albany in 2004 before arriving at UA in 2005. "My teams have had lots of good luck and usually were overcoming me all the time. You know when it's time, and it's time.
"I've been talked into coming back the last few years. I enjoy the kids so much. I love it, but it's time. That's all."
Golden's coaching career began in 1977 at Our Lady of Peace. He coached there three seasons before becoming an assistant at Watterson in 1980 under Pat Sergio, who went on to coach Centennial from 1987-2011.
Golden guided Watterson to an 8-2 record in his first season as a varsity head coach. He went 127-43 in 15 seasons with the Eagles, leading them to state finals in 1999 (Division III) and 2001 (Division II). But citing a desire to step back from the year-round grind of coaching, he informed his players halfway through 2002 season of his intention to retire.
Watterson, which was 2-3 at the time of Golden's announcement, went on to win nine of its next 10 games that season, including a 28-7 win over Cleveland Benedictine in the Division III state final in his last game with the program.
"To tell you the truth, we knew we were going to win state," Watterson wide receiver Andrew Murray said at the time. "It was sort of (a) storybook ending. I was not expecting that (Golden would retire that year), so when he said that we just knew we needed to change something. I don't think we had a bad week of practice after that."
After taking a year off, Golden return to the sidelines, guiding New Albany to an 11-2 record -- which at the time set the program record for wins -- and its first playoff appearance in 2004. But the lure of the UA job, which came open when Darrell Mayne resigned after the 2004 season, proved too much to resist the next spring.
"I'm a north side guy," said Golden, a 1973 Whetstone graduate. "I've always thought of (UA) as the pinnacle of public education. I wasn't about to turn down an opportunity to be a part of that."
Golden compiled a 65-33 record with the Bears, guiding them to the postseason in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011. UA was 3-5 in the Division I playoffs under Golden, posting first-round wins in 2006, 2008 and 2011. The Bears fell short of a playoff berth the last two years, going 6-4 in 2012 and 5-5 this past season. UA has had only two losing seasons since 1957, finishing 3-5-1 in 1963 and 4-6 in 2004.
In 25 seasons as a head coach, Golden posted a 203-78 record with 16 playoff appearances and a state championship. He earned his 200th career victory Sept. 20 when UA defeated Thomas Worthington 45-7.
Asked to recount the top moments in his career, Golden didn't name a particular game or play.
"I've never thought of my career like that," he said. "The biggest pride I took was seeing the kids I coached growing up every year. I tried to appreciate the journey every season."
UA senior running back and linebacker Chase Greenlee's top memories of Golden consisted of the coach's advice and sayings.
"He always had wise words," Greenlee said. "After every game, he would say, 'Good, better, best. Never, ever rest until your good is better and your better is best.' Sure, you'd see him get fired up and yell sometimes, but win or lose, he was always a very supportive coach and he usually had a pretty calm demeanor. He was always proud of us, win or lose."
According to Schaefer, the search for Golden's successor is ongoing. The job was posted internally before Thanksgiving and applications will be accepted through Friday, Dec. 13.
Golden said he followed this season's playoffs sparingly, mostly focusing on teams coached by personal friends, namely Joel Cutler at Ready, Pat Samanich at New Albany and Brian White at Hilliard Davidson.
Cutler was a UA assistant for 13 seasons before taking the Ready job in January 2012 and still teaches in the UA district. Samanich was one of Golden's assistants during his one season at New Albany.
"Coaches always told me to stay away (from games) because you realize how much you miss (coaching) and you might get to missing it too much," Golden said, adding that he does not plan to coach again.
"Right now, I would say no. I need to take a deep breath. We'll see. I guess you never say never."