• Graham Knight

Mike Toop Set To Retire as Head Coach at Merchant Marine

by Graham Knight

Who says you can't go home?

Don't tell that to Merchant Marine Head Coach Mike Toop. He came home to Kings Point 17 years ago to a program in search of an identity. Along the way, he helped build the character of hundreds of future military men as well as a football program.

His adult life began as a Mariner, and he's set to retire as a Mariner.

Mike Toop starred as a linebacker for King's Point in the mid-1970s. He was a four-year letterman, team captain his senior year, and good enough to get a tryout with two NFL teams.

But he turned to coaching, fulfilling Naval Reserve commitment, first at the high school level, then at the collegiate level. After three stops at small colleges, Toop landed at Penn, where he honed his skills as a defensive genius. In face, his defense was ranked tops in Division 1-AA in 1994 and he was named 1-AA Defensive Coordinator of the year in 1995.

He the became Head Coach at Davidson in 2001, and after four years there he took the helm at his alma mater in 2005.

"The advantage for me," Coach Toop says, "has always been I'm an alum. And even though it was a completely different era, the basic dynamics of the play haven't changed: you've got in dock, you've got academics, you're playing ball, you've got senior year. And I know firsthand the opportunities these guys would have leaving. And I was recruited by Army and Navy, kind of committed to Navy on a visit and turned it down after I visited Kings Point."

The first years back at Kings Point were lean. Even though he became a head coach in 2005, his first winning season didn't come until 2016, but he's going out on a winning note. His last six years have all been winning seasons, including a 8-1 mark at the end of the 2021 regular season, which is tied for most wins in a season in school history.

One turning point for Coach Toop was the decision to go to the triple option offense.

"I think, probably, the biggest mistake I made in coaching was, I didn't go to it sooner," he says. "I'm a defensive guy, and one year I was coaching at Colgate, we're playing Yale. They're running the triple and on three consecutive plays we put a quarterback out to the game. And that's the downside of the triple, is that your quarterback is getting banged.

"We're not D-1, or the other guys, where you're getting slots and you can bring in, you can get three guys and get guaranteed recruits, those types of things.

"So I was always a little bit concerned from that standpoint. But it was 2010, we lost the game 13-6 and should have won it and dropped eight passes and ran for about 20 yards. I walked into a staff meeting the next Sunday, the next day, and I said, 'We're putting in the triple.' My offensive coordinator said, 'You can't do that.' I said, 'I'm doing it,' and we did.

"And we went up and lost 64-0 to Springfield, but then we won four in a row, and ever since then it has made us more competitive.

"I've always been a guy that didn't want big, beefy guys. I want guys that can move and it's tailor-made for this offense."

A recent beneficiary of Coach Toop's decision is junior fullback Matthew Savard, who scored two touchdowns in the 2021 Secretaries' Cup against Coast Guard.

"Coach Toop was probably one of the biggest influences on my life," Savard said, "I think everyone here would agree with me and my teammates would agree you're not going to get a better coach. The guy was amazing. What he's done for the program is amazing. Being a grad from the school, I think, was one of the most important parts of him being the Head Coach. He gets it ... he gets what we go through every day, and he brought the program of guys who really love each other. It's a brotherhood now, and that's all thanks to him."

That appreciation from his players is the reward that means the most to this 45-year coaching veteran.

"I'm an old-school guy and old-school," Toop says, "the warranty on that one ran out about 10 years ago. But I've been fortunate. My guys have listened and they've really bought in."

An old-school guy who got a bit emotional after his team's Secretaries' Cup win.

"It was tough," he said after singing second at Coast Guard, "the last time you hear it. It's, you know, it pulled at some strings."

edited for web by Joe Harman