The sheriff of Dudley is about to ride off into the sunset. And he’s not about to tell anybody how old he is.
“They don’t need to know,” he said.
Saturday will be Curtis McMillan’s final football game for the Panthers. The longtime strength and conditioning coach will hang up his whistle, ending an era at Dudley that he helped define.
Coach Mac, the lord of discipline on the coaching staff, will leave a quiet void in his wake. The booming voice of Dudley’s sideline, weight room and hallways is retiring.
“This is it,” he said this week as the Panthers prepared for the Class 4-A state championship in Raleigh. “It’s time to walk away.”
McMillan has been at Dudley for 20 years. He has seen the football program rise from challenges and turmoil to make one of the most impressive runs we’ve seen in Guilford County in a generation. The Panthers (14-1) will play Fayetteville Cape Fear at 7:05 p.m. for a chance to win a sixth state title. A win would give Dudley four state championships in 10 seasons.
The titles have a lot to do with coaching. McMillan said Dudley coach Steven Davis doesn’t get enough credit for all he has accomplished in his 16 years as the Panthers coach. They have a lot to do with athletes. Dudley gets some of the best athletes in the area, many of them growing up dreaming of playing for Davis and the Panthers.
But much of Dudley’s success comes from a weight-training program McMillan brought with him from middle school.
“Believe it or not, we had a strength and conditioning program at Allen Middle School,” he said. “We lost two games in five years, and it wasn’t because I was some genius football coach but because we were in shape, especially in the fourth quarter.”
Davis said that when he arrived at Dudley in 2001, he and McMillan realized quickly they needed to have a stronger football team.
“The first time I ever saw Coach Mac, he was in the weight room,” Davis said. “We talked for a minute, and I said ‘Let’s get strong.’ He shook his head, and from that moment on we’ve had a great relationship. He told me he didn’t want to coach football. He wanted to make the football players stronger.”
McMillan had seen Dudley’s players, had in fact coached many of them and had a few in his program at Allen. He knew which kids were lifting and which kids weren’t. And he knew which schools were lifting, too.
“That fourth quarter was where you saw it,” McMillan said. “Strong teams get stronger in the fourth quarter. That’s where you win games. And that’s where you lose games, too.”
Dudley will play one more fourth quarter for Coach Mac, and Davis isn’t sure what’s going to happen next.
“I hate to think about it to be honest,” Davis said. “He’s been doing this for a long time.”
Coach Mac, like so many strong leaders in Dudley’s history, is a father figure to the students and the athletes. He teaches three classes, including a rare high school sports medicine class that has become one of the most popular classes at Dudley.
“That’s his passion,” Davis said. “He’s so much more than just a strength coach. He’s one of the first responders here at Dudley. When there’s something going on, they call Coach Mac and he’s there in a hurry.”
He’s the one who takes players to the doctor, the one who makes sure they get a good meal when they need it, the one who watches their backs when no one else is looking.
Some call him “the old man.” Some call him “Grandpa.” But they all call him Coach Mac.
And not one of them knows how old he is.
“I’ve never told anybody how old I am, and I’m not going to start now,” he said. “Some of these kids, I coached their dad and even their grandparents. I remember when I was 14, I didn’t have a Coach Mac or a Coach Davis to look up to. Now, I’m talking to 14-, 18-year-old knuckleheads and I’m trying to teach them what’s important, not just to do the right thing but why you do the right thing.”
They know his voice, the booming voice of reason at Dudley.
The school will hear that voice for the rest of the year, but the sideline of a Panthers football game won’t be the same. It’s time for Coach Mac to do the right thing now.
“My mom is 91 years old,” he said. “I’m going back and forth to Southern Pines to take care of her, and it’s time to walk away and let someone else do this here so I can be with her. The thing I remember most about my dad was him telling me to take care of my mom.”
And so that’s what he’s going to do.
McMillan will walk away at the end of the school year, leaving a teaching career and a coaching career behind, an entire history of Dudley High School leaving with him.
The old man will stand on the edge of the field one more time in Raleigh and watch the players he helped get stronger play for another state title. And on Monday, he’ll be back in the classroom.
He tells the students it’s important to finish what you start.
So that’s exactly what Coach Mac is going to do.