By Marc Pruitt
Mike Muse was feeling proud and understandably drained last Friday night after East Forsyth edged Reynolds to claim the Central Piedmont 4-A Conference regular season championship.
The sinus infection he has been battling was certainly a factor, as was the intensity of the game during the fourth quarter.
The achievement was a joyful moment in a career full of them for Muse, who is in his sixth season as the boys coach at East.
“You’ve done this as long as I have, to win one is always special,” Muse said. “To do it with a true team, and with our two trainers, and our film person, our coaching staff—it’s one group. It does my heart good to know that team basketball is still important and can still win championships. It couldn’t happen to a better group. This group is special. We started the season trying to be No. 1. Nobody believed in us. Nobody mentioned us, and here we are.”
Muse is right where he wants to be. That’s not necessarily measured in wins or losses, though.
For Muse, the relationships he has forged with players during his coaching career that has spanned more than 30 years in numerous sports in high schools around Winston-Salem, he knows there is a much bigger picture.
“I love working with kids and watching them grow,’ Muse said. “I love seeing them become good people in the community and giving back, taking the lessons, they’ve learned through sports to become good citizens. That’s the best part of being a coach. For me, it’s always been about what I’m giving back to the kids I coach and believing in them. I had my own coaches who saw and believed in me. That’s the greatest reward and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”
Mike Muse was destined to become a coach.
His father Tom patrolled the sidelines at Parkland High School for 30 years before his retirement in 1995, winning two state championships along the way.
“We knew that every Tuesday and Friday night, we would be at the gym watching basketball or football,” Muse said. “That’s just what we did and who we were. My mom, Jean, was a teacher. So, we grew up with two teachers and a coach in our house.”
Muse recalled going to Parkland with his dad for practices and playing on the wrestling mats, exploring the hallways, and even drawing up plays on the chalkboards.
“All the role models in my life were coaches and teachers,” Muse said. “We were fortunate that Parkland was full of them, and I got to see firsthand the servant-side of coaches that most students didn’t get to see. I got to walk in to Parkland and see successful coaches and even better people like Mike Grace, Buck Joyner, Steve Shelton, Steve Mock, Jim Webster, Homer Thompson, Jim Moose, Grant Queen, and Tom Cash. Just one right after the other. And I was lucky I got to play for people like Gray Cartwright and Olon Shuler, Ron Jessup, Joe Bill Ellender, and R.P. Lancaster. So, I had lots of great examples growing up. I saw the difference that those people made in people’s lives. I know that impact that they had on my life. God just put coaching in me as part of my DNA. He uses you for a ministry, and this has been my ministry for a long time.”
Muse’s coaching career began as an assistant at Appalachian State under Bobby Cremins and later Kevin Cantwell. Muse returned to Winston-Salem in 1985 and began teaching and coaching at Reynolds.
“People like Doug Crater and Tim White and Will Alexander wrapped their arms around me and were so helpful when I got to Reynolds,” Muse said. “You never forget people who help you along the way.”
He was the head football coach at Reynolds during the 1989 and 1990 seasons, then left for North Forsyth, his alma mater. He coached the girls team from 1991-2000, leading the 1995-96 team to a runner-up finish in the NCHSAA 4-A state championship. He took over the boys program in 2000 until he got the call he had waited 20 years to get again.
Skip Prosser, then the coach at Wake Forest, hired Muse as the Director of Basketball Operations in 2006.
“I had been working basketball camps there for several years and formed a great relationship with him,” Muse said. “We were kindred spirits. We had the same coaching philosophies, we both understood the way you needed to treat people and develop relationships. And I had been interested in eventually getting back to college coaching but wanted the right opportunity. And Coach Cremins and Coach Cantwell gave me the best advice once: ‘it’s not where you work, but who you work for.’ And you couldn’t ask for a better person to work for than Skip Prosser.”
Muse was brought on board and helped usher in a six-man recruiting class that featured Ish Smith, Jamie Skeen, L.D. Williams, Chas McFarland, David Weaver, and Anthony Gurley.
“My job was to make sure those six freshman got everywhere they needed to be,” Muse said. “It was like boot camp for me for and for them. If they needed to be at study hall, I was at study hall. If they had weightlifting, I was in the weight room with them. They needed to be on the track, I was out there with them. I also got to sit in coaches’ meetings, arranged travel, did a lot of the behind the scenes things that are necessary to run a college program. It was a dream come true for me, being the local guy in an ACC town at the ACC school. It didn’t get any better than ACC basketball. Coach “Prosser” wanted to get more of the community involved when he arrived, and I think it helped that I was a local guy and had relationships throughout the community and some coaching success at that point. I went in at the perfect time.”
Tragedy struck in the summer of 2007 when Prosser died suddenly on July 26 after going for a morning run on the track at Wake Forest.
Muse discovered Prosser unresponsive in his office.
“You have red-letter days in your life like when you get married, and when your kids are born,” Muse said. “That day was a red-letter day for me as well. My whole life changed that day. It was a devastating day. It changed the course of my life, but it did put a lot of things in perspective for me. It was a wake-up call. I started taking better care of myself and I recommitted myself to Christ.”
Must spent two years as an assistant under Dino Gaudio before he left to take a teaching job at East.
Since the basketball program at East had a coach, Muse became an assistant coach at Mount Tabor with his brother, Andy, and his dad.
“The right doors have always opened at the right time in my life, and the wrong ones have always closed,” Muse said. “I’m really lucky in that regard. I was fortunate that Trish Gainey (former East Forsyth principal) allowed me to go coach with my brother and dad. I’d never been able to work with my dad before and that had always been a dream of mine. Those years I was at Mount Tabor with them, those are periods you don’t trade. They are priceless. Those games and those locker room talks, Sunday afternoons watching film–getting to do that with my dad and my brother is exactly what I needed at that point in my life.”
While coaching with them was a dream, it’s the reverse when he has to coach against them—as he has three times this season.
“It’s hell,” Muse said. “It’s fun to a point. You’re brothers for a lifetime, but for an hour and half, you’re competitors. It’s no different than if we’re playing pickup in the backyard, or Rook around the kitchen table, or monopoly, or whatever else. You’re competing with your brother and you want to beat him and he wants to beat you. When it’s over, you shake hands, you love on each other, and then you go have dinner together because it’s always family first.”
When the East basketball job came open before the 2012-13 season, Muse was ready to dive back in.
“My juices were flowing again because of my time at Mount Tabor,” Muse said. “I was fortunate enough that Trish Gainey hired me to do the job and was blessed to take over the program.”
Must still has his fire to teach and to learn and to grow.
“I’m always trying to further myself as a coach,” he said. “The day you try to so the same ol’, same ol’, you’ll lose your players. If I’m not growing, how can I ask my players to grow? I think that’s important. I’m also trying to grow my assistant coaches. I want my assistants to be able to run their own programs one day. Coaches always did that for me. They always had their arm around me, teaching me and preparing me, and I think that If I’m not doing that with my assistants, I’m not preparing them for their next step. And then I’m not the coach I’m supposed to be.”
One of those assistants this season is Muse’s nephew Adam, Andy’s oldest son.
“To have Adam sitting beside me– to be able to invest in him like my dad did with me, that’s such a blessing,” Muse said. “I always felt a little guilty for not being at North when Adam was playing. I left for Wake Forest right before he played varsity. But being here for him now, playing a small part in his growth as a coach—he’s going to be a good one. That makes this season even more special. Same goes for Jason Anderson and Kevin King and Marc Raye before him.”
Muse said he is in no hurry to step aside.
“This team has rejuvenated me,” he said. “In a ‘me’ world and a ‘selfie’ world, to have a group of kids that are selfless and humble and want to be coached and are as hard-working as they are is a blessing. “We have a great set of parents that support that. It’s not about how many points their kid scores, or how much playing time they are getting—it’s all about how we’re playing as a team. The ‘we’ is greater than the ‘me’, and the success we’ve had in our culture and what we are building is rewarding to me. I still feel like I can make connections with kids. I still look forward to going to practice every day. I still look forward to teaching my classes. As long as the good Lord blesses me with good health, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.”