The David McMillan era at Durango High School has come to an end.
The longtime cross-country and track and field coach resigned from his coaching positions, ending his eight-year tenure with the Demons.
“I will miss the kids, their parents and the opportunity to affect change in the lives of young adults through high school sports,” McMillan said in an email to The Durango Herald. “I am passionate about advocacy for these kids, smaller schools like ours and the challenges of coaching in a remote corner of Colorado. I am up for any challenges that come my way, but the chance to change a life’s trajectory through true engagement and through high school sports is an ache that right now I just cannot fill.”
One of the big reasons McMillan decided to walk away from coaching was his purchase of a landscaping company, Grasshoppers Landscaping, in March. He said he has expanded the business from four or five full-time employees to 18.
“My attention has gone from coaching and mentoring kids to coaching and mentoring adults,” McMillan said. “... I give work to folks who need second chances to survive in life. ... In doing so, we strive to build resilience, teach life lessons and support families – heck, that’s what I did at DHS for eight years.”
During his time at DHS, McMillan sent dozens of athletes to the college ranks, won several league titles, and in 2015, the DHS boys cross-country team won the Class 4A state title, the program’s seventh championship.
“He worked very hard to bring all these different kids from different social and economic groupings into the fold, so to speak – made them feel all a part of the team,” said Dave Preszler, who served as athletic director at DHS from 2014-16 and is the current coordinator of athletics at the school. “And obviously, the fantastic numbers he had in the cross-country and track programs speaks volumes to that.”
The 2015 season and title, and McMillan’s career at DHS, didn’t come without some controversy.
At the Desert Twilight XC Festival in Phoenix in 2015, some members of the DHS cross-country team were caught with alcohol and marijuana at a hotel room. One athlete was taken to the hospital as a precaution. In the end, seven members of the team were suspended. After the athletes served their suspensions, McMillan welcomed them back to the team.
“On the other end of the athletic spectrum, we have kids who struggle to stay afloat, and the protective factors that they get from sports and from positive relationships with coaches get them through high school and away from some of the destructive factors that swirl around high school kids,” McMillan said. “... One of my transgressions is in giving these kids second and third chances when ‘the system’ would sideline and isolate them. I believe passionately and forcefully in this.”
On the eve of the 2017 state track and field championships, McMillan ran into more controversy. He was suspended from coaching at the meet for what the Colorado High School Activities Associated called conduct detrimental to the organization after McMillan was critical of CHSAA for postponing the meet because of poor weather that had been forecast several days prior to the meet. The postponement came after DHS and several other schools made long road trips to Denver and cost DHS about $2,000 per day during the two-day postponement.
Through the different controversies, McMillan’s primary goal was always to help his athletes grow into well-rounded adults.
“I absolutely respect what Mac did to encourage and give back to the kids,” Preszler said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that his goal in coaching wasn’t surrounded by the wins and losses or level of success, but really was more based on helping these young women and young men becoming good adults.”
McMillan said there were factors beyond his landscaping business involved in his departure from DHS. In the past, McMillan built his programs around finding different challenges for his athletes to keep them involved and interested. Some of those challenges included the out-of-state trips to big meets and frequent road trips to the Front Range to face more advanced competition. He believes support for such programs has dropped off lately.
“We’re proud of (those programs) and I believe this is part of my role as a coach – stretch, dream, achieve,” McMillan said. “I have felt a declining level of support for these types of opportunities and have had to advocate extremely hard the past year and a half to make these happen.”
McMillan still wants to work with different programs and events in the area, if he has the time.
As he has for many years, McMillan plans on taking a crew of DHS athletes to volunteer at an aid station during the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run next month, and he wants to help with some Colorado High Peaks Adventure Camps in the near future.
“At DHS, athletes are not just a number or a statistic. Coaches are not just an extension of the school. Both are integral to what makes DHS great, strong, resilient and forward-looking,” McMillan said.
“I just hope that our administration recognizes this at the grass-roots level because I fear in the roar of funding, counting numbers of participants, they have forgotten ... where strong personal relationships really mattered and where their life trajectories were altered because of what we did in our programs.
“This is what I am most proud about. That and the fact that in our programs, there was a lot of ‘we.’ You may hear otherwise from elsewhere, but this is what I continue to focus on – this is what Dave (Preszler) and I will continue to do, time permitting, for the rest of our lives.”
DHS athletic director Adam Bright could not be reached for comment for this story.