WEST HARTFORD>> After 15 years at Northwest Catholic, an era is coming to an end.
It’s actually closer to 50 years, but that makes retiring football coach Mike Tyler feel old.
The Tyler family has been a part of Northwest Catholic since 1966 when Mike’s sister first attended the school. Mike graduated with the Class of 1973 and played football while his father, Grant was an assistant coach.
In the late 1970s, Mike came back as an assistant before taking a coaching job at Southern Connecticut State for a few years during the early 80s. After a short stint at UConn, he got out of coaching to start a family.
All four of his children have since attended Northwest Catholic and all played football for him. Nathan and Lucas Tyler, the eldest son’s, both went on to play at Southern Connecticut as linebackers and his daughter Jessica played for four years in high school as a linebacker and wide receiver. Owen, the youngest, is a senior and will be leaving Northwest Catholic with his dad after this season.
“It’s been great,” Mike Tyler said. “My children have always been hard workers on the field and off the field, so it was a joy to coach them. They’re very coachable. They listen.”
Owen and the Indians have put together a pretty good season. They are 10-1 heading into the Class S-Small playoffs following a victory over Rocky Hill on Thanksgiving Week.
Over the last 15 years, Mike Tyler has amassed 105 wins, nine playoff appearances, four Nutmeg League championships and, this year, a CCC Division III West title. He was named Coach of the Year in 2005 and has coached 32 all-state players, including his son Nathan.
But the one achievement that eludes him is a state championship. The closest he ever got was in 2009 when the Indians lost to Hyde in the finals, 21-0. It remains Northwest Catholic’s only state championship game appearance.
“He really knows what he’s doing,” Owen Tyler said. “He listens to everybody, he’s been around everybody, he’s knows guys in the NFL and big time college programs. So he knows what he’s doing and this is his last season. This is all I wanted my whole life, this is all the team wants is to get a state championship for him.”
He has one last chance to win a state championship. Northwest Catholic is the No. 1 seed in the Class S-Small tournament. It faces No. 4 seed North Branford in the state semifinals Saturday at Simsbury High School, 2 p.m.
“We’ll see what happens this year,” Mike Tyler said. “The kids are working hard, we’re determined and we want to win a state championship.”
Mike Tyler got back into coaching in 1997 with then-coach Jack Cochran at Bloomfield, the year eventual NFL all-pro defensive end Dwight Freeney was a senior. The next two years he spent at South Windsor before he got the call from Northwest Catholic, once again.
“It was the perfect timing,” Mike Tyler said. “The coach [of] a couple of years was moving on and I’m a licensed social worker and they had an opening in both spots as a coach and in the guidance department, so it worked out perfectly. I knew everybody here, they called me and said, ‘Hey, we got something,’ and I said, ‘I’m in.’
“I love it. It’s great.”
Over the past two seasons, Nathan and Lucas have joined their father on the sidelines to make things even more of a family affair. Not much has changed, it’s just that dad listens more to the boys’ coaching ideas.
“I think going over game-plans and stuff is a little bit different,” Nathan Tyler said. “Obviously from being a player and being a coach with him, the way we talk about games and stuff like that [is different]. But it’s just been fun and I love football and we’re a football family, so it’s been enjoyable.”
The first love for the entire family has always been football.
“It’s pretty much what we do 24/7/365,” Lucas Tyler said. “We’re always talking football, we’re always watching football games, college, NFL. it’s just what we do.”
Nathan, in his second year as an assistant, said it felt right coming back to coach his youngest brother with his dad.
“He was my coach growing up,” Nathan said. “All the little leagues and stuff, my dad would always be on the sidelines helping out. I’ve always been kind of used to a being a coaches son ever since I was little, but it was fun. We’d watch film at home together and stuff like that, talk about the games — it just made it more fun. I always enjoyed it, that’s why I wanted to come back and help coach Owen, because I knew I always enjoyed it.”
The team is an extended family for the Tylers.
“All of [Owen’s] friends I’ve know since they were younger guys at the summer camp and stuff while growing up,” Nathan Tyler said. “So I’ve know a lot of these guys for a long time and it’s been fun to coach them.”
As these last few weeks of the season wind down, the seniors will be playing in their last game, they will be together for the last time and Nathan keeps telling the players to cherish this opportunity, because that’s what they will remember.
“We always talk about, ‘Remember this time in practice, remember this time in a game. This happened and that happened.’ Those are the most important things,” Nathan said. “Not the wins and losses, but the things that happened in the locker room or out on the practice field and stuff like that.”
Mike will be coaching his final game with his three sons all on the same football field with him.
“I love Northwest,” Mike Tyler said. “It was good to me. It was good to my family and it’s a place where people really look out for each other.”
Northwest Catholic will be without a Tyler for some time, but Owen is sure this isn’t the end.
“I don’t think the Tyler’s are done at Northwest yet,” he said.