Jerry VanHavel made it his goal to be on the sidelines for the long haul when he took over the Mason football program in 1991.
And he’s been true to his word.
VanHavel has been one of the longest-serving coaches in the Lansing area and guided many successful teams in his nearly three decades coaching at Mason.
But now VanHavel is switching gears and taking on a different role.
VanHavel has stepped down from his position to work part-time at NCAA Division III power Mount Union University as a program assistant. The 51-year old VanHavel will be responsible for recruiting in Michigan for a Mount Union program that his son Jarrett is a part of as a player.
“I wasn’t ready to leave here and didn’t want to leave here,” VanHavel said. “I had no intentions of leaving here, but honestly – it sounds cliché – but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work for Mount Union. There’s only one Mount Union. To get that opportunity, I just couldn’t turn it down and decided I wanted to do that and I wanted to be a part of that program.”
The decision to leave a Mason program VanHavel has guided to a 169-88 record, including a 9-2 mark last fall, was difficult. After plenty of personal debate, VanHavel eventually reached the decision to take on the new challenge and has enjoyed the early stages of his recruiting role for the 12-time Division III national champions.
“To say it was gut-wrenching was an understatement,” VanHavel said. “I struggled unmercifully to make the decision. I’d be OK with myself for a day, then the next day I’d wake up and say, ‘No I’m not going to do it and I can’t leave here.’ Then I’d talk myself into it and I would change my mind.
“I’m beyond thrilled to be just a small portion of the Mount Union program. I’m not an important part – I don’t want to overstate my situation – but just a chance to be a little part of it (is great). The torment is to leave our players here. I so love our players and our program that I didn’t want to leave here. I wasn’t ready to, but under these circumstances I chose to do that.”
The Bulldogs won at least eight games nine times under VanHavel’s guidance, reached the state playoffs 15 times and captured their first district title in program history in 2014.
“I’m proud of the fact that everybody here – we did it the right way,” VanHavel said. “We didn’t cheat. We weren’t lazy and we worked hard. Our kids were enthusiastic and they came to work every day. We built a program with parents, players and coaches that I’m very proud of and I want that legacy to live on, and I want our program to be good for years to come.”