The Homer community lost a legend August 16 when Mike Norris passed away at the age of 92.
Norris earned the nickname “Mr. Football” by putting Trojans on the map as he won 141 games, lost 108 and had eight ties in his coaching career from 1954-1984. His teams won three SCL titles and three OSHL Central Division titles and spent six years battling the Southern Tier’s best in the Southern Tier Athletic Conference (STAC), being STAC co-champions in 1973. Norris was also the first coach in the Cortland-Homer series which began in 1955 and saw the first Trojan win in the series by an 18-15 score in 1971.
Three former players and the man who got his coaching start from Norris offered their thoughts and shared some memories of Mike Norris, also know as “Iron Mike.”
“Coach gave me my chance,” current Homer head football coach Gary Podsiedlik said. “I was a student teacher in 1983 and Mike was kind enough to let me be a volunteer coach. I was here two weeks before school started and started meeting students in the building through football. I worked on his staff for two years. It really was a privilege and an honor.
“I was a broke senior in college so he and Patty fed me more than once. Coach taught me a few things a couple of nights each week. We’d have a meal and watch a couple of videos. I fell in love with Homer football because of Mr. Norris. He was a great man. He lived a great life and gave so much to this community, not just on the athletic field, but in so many other ways like the classroom and in the community. I learned so much more than X’s and O’s from him.”
This 2018 Trojan football team will be the last to hear a few words from Norris.
“This team will be the last to have the honor and privilege to meet Coach Norris,” Podsiedlik said. “We had team camp at the junior high school this year and Patty said he was up to having a visit so we had about 50 kids go to his house for lunch and get a few quality words from him.”
Tom Cottrell is a current Trojan coach and played football for Norris.
“It’s sad not only for the football community, but the entire community as a whole,” Cottrell said. “He has been a icon around here for a long, long time. His leadership from a far and back when I was going through school is something we have thrived on. His presence is going to be missed.
“His expectations were high. That’s why the program is what it is and has the continued success that it has. He valued execution, doing things the right way. He made sure all of his players worked to be their best and the teams performed at their very best.”
Cottrell said he had many memories of his playing days, but like Podsiedlik, he got to know Norris on a more personal level.
“His youngest son Billy and I were classmates and good friends,” Cottrell recalled. “I was fortunate enough to know him not just a coach, but as a friend’s father. Both he and Patty were gracious and invited me in as one of their own kids every time I saw them. I feel very fortunate to be a small part of their life.”
Alan Butler played for Norris in the early 1970’s and later spent time covering Norris’ teams while working for the Cortland Standard.
“Coach Norris didn’t get along with everyone, but he was great to me as a player,” Butler said. “He wrote letters for me while I was looking at colleges. He was serious as a coach. and expected you to do your best.
“He was a lifelong resident of Homer. He pushed for Cortland and Homer to play each other in football. He was never afraid of playing bigger schools and he loved that challenge. His legacy lives on as you still see the football team running some of the same stuff.”
As for dealing with his former coach as a reporter, it was a different story.
“He wasn’t the most vocal person,” Butler said. “It was tough to get things out of him. He could be tough, but he did have a great sense of humor as well. He was a great part of this community and the football program.”
Dusty Stillman is a 1975 Homer graduate who had Norris as a football and track coach.
“I was upset when I got the call about Coach Norris passing away,” Stillman said. “It was guys like him and Dick Wagner who were big influences on me. It really was a man’s man. He showed me that discipline and hard work would really pay off. I would think about him all the time and what he meant to him.
“Our class was one of the first to have team get togethers for meals. He started to create that family feeling . He liked the idea of getting together for food and talk.”
Stillman recalled being a defensive player even more so Bob Avery could be healthier as just a offensive player. Avery (1973-74) held the school career rushing (2,629 yards) and scoring (222 points) records until he a surpassed by Alec Bush (2013-2014) with 3,751 yards and 222 points.
While he has good football memories, Stillman told of an experience while being a member of Norris’ track and field team.
“He made sure that I and other guys had good equipment for pole vaulting,” Stillman said. “We were heading to a meet one time and we stopped in Ithaca on the way. Coach got off the bus and came back a few minutes later with a new pole for me to use. That was just one of the things he would do for his guys.”
He is a legend lost, but the memory of Mike Norris will live forever.