HADLEY, Mass. -- Just moments after watching his team destroy Hopkins Academy, 27-0, in a mercy-ruled affair, Turners Falls head softball coach Gary Mullins received a handshake and a hug from longtime assistant Mark Sullivan. Mullins' response to the salutation was a bit awkward as such greetings are usually reserved for state championship victories, not regular season triumphs.
It was then when Sullivan whispered into Mullins' ear that Thursday's win was his 600th as Indians coach.
"I was asking myself why is Sully shaking my hand?'' questioned Mullins. "He usually doesn't do that after a game. He said that was my 600th win and I said to him I'm not that old yet am I? I honestly had no idea."
It is not difficult to understand why Mullins was oblivious of the feat. If you understand the man, you also understand the reasons why.
In his 35 years at the helm here, Mullins has never been one concerned about personal accolades. In spite of his growing legacy, Mullins could care less about his own personal accomplishments. In fact, only his assistant coaches and players knew about the milestone and kept it a secret until the final out was recorded.
Mullins took over the Turners Falls program in 1980. He is now 600-136 over that span. The 600 wins are the most, by far, in state history. During that time, Mullins has led the Indians to 12 state championship appearances, winning the title six times. The Indians are just two shy of tying state leader Bishop Fenwick for the most state crowns. His overall postseason mark is an incredible 86-27. Mullins is also the Indians boys' basketball coach and former boys' soccer coach.
Add that up and Mullins has coached 1,650 games at Turners Falls, with an overall mark of 950-662-32.
Yet, he is best known for his wizardry on the softball diamond. Without question, Mullins is the Godfather of Massachusetts high school softball. Say that to him directly, however, and you would most-likely wince and shake his head no.
"I guess the 600 wins means that I have been doing this for a very long time and have had some great players along the way," Mullins said. "I've had some great kids and some great coaches. Basically I've been getting a free ride here because of that.
"I was asked recently if I had to describe Turners Falls softball in one word what would it be? I didn't know what to say and just came up with the word fun. I'm still having fun here. I think we are teaching the girls the right thing here and we've got a good thing going. These girls work hard every day but have fun doing it and play with discipline. I really enjoy what I am doing."
Frankly, the Indians, as a softball program, have reached such a pinnacle that anything less than reaching the state finals yearly is viewed a failed season. That is what this team demands of itself because of the skills and attitude they have acquired from their coach.
"Some of us were here when he got his 500th win when we were freshman and now with him getting his 600th, it's pretty cool that we are all still part of the same team and still playing for him," said senior infielder MacKenzie Salls. "He works harder than anyone I know. He usually stays up until 3 a.m. watching tapes of us swinging and analyzing our swings. He goes to a lot of softball conventions and picks up new things and then brings that information back to us and we, as team, improve immensely because of it."
Inducted into the Massachusetts Softball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1994, Mullins is a flawless tactician when it comes to fundamentals and strategy. Even after his team was well on its way to a victory over Hopkins, Mullins was still vocalizing instruction to his players regarding defensive positioning and hitting approach. It goes without saying that when the game begins, Mullins is totally locked in.
Would it be all that shocking to see him stick around for win No. 700?
"People have asked me when am I going to give this up," said Mullins, who is 63. "My response is maybe when I'm dead. But I think I'll be dead before 700 wins. But right now, I am very fortunate and lucky to have some very good people around me. The one number that really stands out is that I have coached over 1,600 games. That's a lot when you consider I spent 18 years coaching soccer and 30 coaching basketball as well. But for me, it's all about my relationships with the kids and the coaches. There are too many good people to get out of it. I really enjoy it when former players come back to visit and say how are you doing old man? Those people really appreciated their time here and that is what is so important to me."
On Monday evening, prior to the Indians' home game against Mahar Regional, a brief ceremony will be held in Mullins' honor. You can expect it to brief because Mullins would rather place his focus on how his club, presently 4-0, can beat the Senators.
"I'm very happy for him," said Sullivan, who has worked alongside Mullins for 23 years as a volunteer assistant.
Sullivan is also Mullins' next door neighbor. In addition, Sullivan's daughter Danielle, a pitcher, played for Mullins in the mid-2000's and was part of four state title victories.
"We are friends first, next door neighbors second and we coach together," Sullivan said. "Getting 600 wins in pretty nice, especially doing it at the same school. Rollie Massimino once said tradition never graduates and that is the philosophy we have gone with here over the years. The kids who come into this program just want to play for Gary.
"There is a lot of time that goes into this for him. It's not just from March to June. It's 365 days a year. He's never been afraid to change things up in order to make us better. If you take the 600 wins and divide it by 35 years, there are some mind-boggling numbers that Gary has put together over that time. Winning six state titles is great but to get there 12 times, that doesn't come by accident and it shows what this man has meant to this program."