When Mike Hickman began coaching football as a student assistant on Bobby Bowden’s staff at West Virginia University in the early 1970s, he was wide eyed and focused squarely on achieving within the sport.
Forty-two years later, Hickman is retiring, and the lessons he learned along the way and the impact he created went far beyond the football field.
“I always thought I’d look at the wins and losses, the district titles,” Hickman said. “But it all pales in comparison to the relationships you make with the kids and the coaches.”
Hickman has fully turned over the reins of athletic director at Florida High to Maurice Adams. In 2006, he gave up coaching the Seminoles’ football team, which allowed son Jarrod Hickman to take over and ultimately continue the same level of success.
Last Friday night at halftime of a 24-16 win over Marianna, Hickman was recognized at unexpectedly. Over 100 former players showed up, and a video message from a former player, current Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren, was played for everyone to see.
Then Hickman began realizing the night was all for him.
“It was overwhelming. I had no idea,” Hickman said. “My mom who is 96 was there. My brother and sister flew in. I turned around and saw all these former players carrying a 40-foot banner.”
The sign read “Mike Hickman Stadium.” The school where he spent 20 years now bears his name.
“I know you don’t get honored in a vacuum,” Hickman said. “It’s the players, coaches and support staff that’s around you that makes you look good.”
Hickman’s first job after college was at Elkins High School in West Virginia, where he stayed from 1975-1983. For five of those years he was the head football coach, choosing to leave in 1983 for Tallahassee.
Turns out, Bobby Bowden had put that bug in his ear.
Hickman’s first job locally was a three-year stint as Lincoln’s offensive coordinator. Then for four years he was the head coach at Rickards.
In 1991, Operation Desert Storm called his Army Reserve unit to Iraq. He was given the Bronze Star for his efforts.
When he returned it led to his first stint at Florida High that lasted for eight years, then he got the newly opened Chiles High School off to good start as the first head coach from 1999-2001.
Hickman returned to Florida High in 2002, coaching several more years before relinquishing coaching duties to his son. Over his 29 years, he’s coached basketball, wrestling, softball, track and weightlifting in addition to football.
Over his football career, Hickman accumulated 146 wins, while leading Florida High as athletic director or coach to 19 Final Four appearances and four state titles.
But beyond the accolades, Mike Hickman mentored the kids he came across.
One such player was Bloomgren, who grew up without a father. Hickman became a father to him.
Another was former Florida State defensive back Corey Fuller, now the head coach at East Gadsden, who was at Rickards from 1986-1990.
“He helped shape me into the man I am today,” Fuller said. “It was tough love. I had no aspirations to go to college. I was just playing football, which is what I knew I was good at. He told me I could go to college and play football and do it for free. No member in my family had been to college, so college wasn’t a high priority. When he looked at me and told me, I knew he was serious. From that point on, I never looked back.”
Fuller went on to an All-American career at FSU, then later played nine seasons in the NFL. He said Hickman taught him how to speak in front of a camera. He advised him academically.
Hickman even convinced Fuller to continue playing football when he wanted to quit as a high school freshman.
“I had a bad attitude, but my track coach Willie Williams and Mike Hickman really changed my life,” Fuller said. “They were an instrumental part of my life, and they still are to this day. When I spoke at FAMU last year, those two guys were right there listening. Rickards was rough back then, but he nursed us to young men.”
Mike Hickman’s five married children and 12 grandchildren will keep him firmly entrenched in Tallahassee beyond today as he lives out his life with wife Judy.
And naturally he’ll be found each Friday night during the fall watching the Seminoles play.
He’ll probably even throw an arm around a player afterwards and have a talk with them, man-to-man, ever so father-like.
He doesn’t need a title to continue to do that.
“He was so good at it with Corey and guys at Rickards,” Jarrod Hickman said. “He won a lot of games, but his impact on kids is his greatest asset.”