Former Marine serves Raider nation
| | January 31, 2003
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO --
In 1972, the Oakland Raiders went 10-3-1 in the regular season and later lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 13-7 in the first round of the playoffs.
The same year, a 17-year-old from Hornell, N.Y., left home for the Marine Corps.
Little did he know his decision to serve his country would steer him down the path that would eventually lead him to a position with the 2002 American Football Conference Champion Oakland Raiders.
Mike Waufle, defensive line coach, Oakland Raiders, said he has worked hard to get where he is today, and his experience in the Marine Corps helped start him with the tools necessary to succeed.
"The Marine Corps gave me the discipline I needed to accomplish my goals," he said.
As a high school football player, Waufle was heavily recruited by a number of colleges but lacked the grades necessary to meet academic requirements.
Faced with an uncertain future and not willing to give up on his desire to play college ball, Waufle followed the advice of his high school coach straight into the ranks of the few and the proud.
"He told me it would be a good way to straighten up academically and gain some self-discipline at the same time," Waufle said.
Waufle's coach also turned the lights on to another Marine Corps opportunity that appealed to his athletic character.
"He told me about the opportunity to play competitive football for the Marine Corps Football Team at Quantico, Virginia," said Waufle.
Unfortunately for Waufle, his coach's plan met adversity when the commandant of the Marine Corps disbanded the reputable Quantico team shortly after Waufle enlisted.
With the Quantico team out, Waufle would not lose focus on the other advancement opportunities the Marine Corps provided.
He graduated recruit training at Parris Island, S.C., in 1972 and went on to become a military police officer at Marine Corps Air Station, Beaufort, S.C.
According to Waufle, his job as a military policeman was a demanding one, given the challenges presented by the Vietnam era.
His wife of 30 years, Kathryn Waufle, recalled some of her husband's more memorable achievements during those troubled times.
"He was a very good Marine," she said. "At Beaufort, he solved a murder and was responsible for stopping a bank robbery on base."
Given his achievements in the line of duty, Waufle's leaders recognized his potential as a strong leader and promoted him meritoriously.
"After we went head to head with the bank robbers, I went from PFC to Corporal in a blink of an eye," recalled the energetic 47-year-old.
Waufle said the confidence his chain of command had in him helped make his time in the Marine Corps memorable and pleasant.
"I felt wanted and needed in the Marine Corps, and I was very successful. That made my time enjoyable," he said.
After four years of honorable service, Waufle left the Corps focused on his college education and thankful for the intangible qualities he then possessed.
He enrolled in school at Bakersfield College in California, using his GI Bill to help pay his tuition through school. There, he excelled both on the football field and in the classroom.
He played two seasons as a defensive lineman at Bakersfield, leading his team to a national championship in the 1976 Junior Rose Bowl.
With his grades up and a junior college national championship under his belt, Waufle was recruited by Utah State University.
At Utah State, Waufle was the captain of a football team that produced 15 professional football players, and he was a recipient of the Scholastic Athletic Excellence Award.
This award recognizes one athlete out of the entire athletic department for his academic achievements.
"I had it in me, but the Marine Corps gave me the structure and discipline necessary to raise my academic potential," Waufle said about the turnaround in his study habits.
After college, Waufle's future lay open.
He considered the possibility of going back in the Marine Corps to pursue a career as an officer, but instead chose to follow his love for the game of football.
After trying out and being cut from the Dallas Cowboys, he began his coaching career with Alfred University in New York. From there, he went back to Utah State to coach at his alma mater for five years.
Waufle's coaching career thrived as he went on to work as defensive line coach for a number of well-known colleges, including Fresno State University; the University of California, Los Angeles; Oregon State University and the University of California at Berkley.
In 1998, he left the realm of collegiate football to join the ranks of another order of proud warriors-the Oakland Raiders.
When the Raiders hired Waufle, it was a dream come true, according to Kathryn.
"He's wanted to be a Raider since he was 10 years old," she said. "He fulfilled that dream because he's never given up."
As a member of a Raiders team that boasts three consecutive division championships and their first Super Bowl birth in 18 years, Waufle said the pride and esprit de corps he is a part of within the Raider organization is similar to that of the Marine Corps.
There are many parallels within his coaching career and his time as a Marine, according to Waufle. He still applies the values and principles of leadership he learned in the Marine Corps, often referring to the Marine Corps Noncommissioned Officer Manual posted on his desk.
"I consistently refer to it, and I strongly believe in the principles outlined in it," said Waufle. "I know how important it is to lead by example through work ethic and consistency. I believe in treating people with respect, and I'm not afraid to challenge my players."
According to one of Waufle's defensive linemen, his coach's style is very effective and makes for a tight team.
"You'll never meet a more intense coach," said John Pirella, defensive lineman, Oakland Raiders. "I've had a lot of good coaches, and his passion is amazing (in comparison)."
Kathryn said she has seen many players over the years who share Pirella's sentiment.
"He's 200 percent dedicated," she said. "He's always looking for ways to make his players better. They all love him and totally believe in him."
Waufle speaks highly of the Marine Corps, and he said looking back on what it has done for him, he encourages young Americans to take advantage of the opportunities it can provide them.
"(They should) do it," he said. "It's only four years out of a lifetime, and you gain so many experiences that will influence the rest of your life."
The Marine Corps helped start Waufle down a path toward success, and today he is thankful and appreciative of that.
Marines have never been willing to accept defeat, and after a loss in his first Super Bowl appearance, Waufle's Marine instincts will lead him back to the football field next season.
According to Waufle, he will return with an even stronger will, intensity and determination, and hopefully, help the Raiders win another Super Bowl.