When former players and rival coaches talk about Mike Landry, they seldom measure his success as a high school football coach in terms of victories and championships. Certainly, they could. Landry had one of the most spectacular coaching careers in Maine high school history.
In 17 years at Biddeford High School, Landry's teams went 135-37 and won six state championships. His teams never lost in a state title game. After a nine-year break from head coaching, he returned to the head job at Westbrook, where his teams went 3-13 before he was forced to stop coaching because of his battle with melanoma, a fight that lasted two years before he succumbed to the disease.
But to his players and his rivals, Landry was certainly more than just a coach.
Opposing coaches marveled at his strategic brilliance, especially on the defensive side, and his ability to get the most out of his players who were often physically undersized.
Dennis Walton, currently the athletic director at Biddeford, spoke of the life lessons Landry passed on to him, and not just on the gridiron. Walton played for Landry and the two would often talk after school in the locker room, with Landry's words resonating in the young man's mind.
Brian Curit, who played for Landry, coached under him, and then replaced him at Biddeford, said, simply, "I think he set out to make men, not football players."
That's because Landry knew what each of his players was going through. He grew up in Biddeford, knew the expectations that were placed upon its athletic stars, knew how hard life could be.
He was an All-State football player at Biddeford, then went on to earn a degree in education at UMaine, where he was also a three-year starter at defensive end, earning all-New England honorable mention honors as a senior.
His father died while Landry was in the first semester of his freshman year and his mother pleaded with him to come home. But Landry stayed, because he knew to leave would jeopardize his future.
He became a high school teacher and coach, taking over the Biddeford job in 1977 when he was 28. He coached with fire, often yelling at his players and officials, his arms waiving as he raced up and down the sidelines at Waterhouse Field.
It was a demanding, tough-love approach, but it was only part of Landry's style. He could be hard, but he was always the first to congratulate his players on a job well done. And he taught his players to respect not only their opponents, but themselves.
"It was never just about football," said quarterback Gerry Gelinas, who played three years for Landry and, in 1985, became one of four Fitzpatrick Trophy winners to play for Landry. "He taught everyone a lot about life."
Landry is survived by his wife of 35 years, Carol, two daughters, Shelley Landry and Tricia Wallace, a son-in-law, William Wallace, and three grandchildren, Allison, Ryan, and Benjamin Wallace.
Maine Sports Hall of Fame
P.O. Box 2
Cumberland, ME 04021
Phone (207) 807-7666
The Maine Sports Hall of Fame was established in 1972 for the purpose of: 1) appointing and bestowing recognition awards and scholarships to outstanding Maine high school scholar-athletes; and, 2) to formally honor and memorialize Maine athletes and sports figures who have brought distinction and honor to the state of Maine.