Back in 1979, when Patrick Miller and Clint McCrory were getting ready to play their first season of varsity football for Mosley, there wasn't much of a history of success for the program, or really much history at all.
Mosley had played just six football seasons prior and had never won more than four games in any of them. The Dolphins had gone just 7-32 over the four seasons before George Dean arrived in Lynn Haven as the program's second head football coach.
Two years after that, the Dolphins went 10-0 in the regular season and captured the school's first-ever district championship. It was the first of three straight district titles for Mosley that was followed by a string of 38 consecutive seasons without another.
That drought was ended last week when Mosley took a 28-13 victory over Rickards at Tommy Oliver Stadium to move to 8-0 on the year and 3-0 in District 2-6A competition, clinching the league title with a game to go.
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Among those on the sideline for the latest Dolphins district title were the two men who were there for the first, Miller and McCrory, now working as assistant coaches for their alma mater.
"It all comes full circle," Miller, now Mosley's defensive coordinator, said. "Being a part of Mosley's first-ever district championship and then being back here and being able to coach for another one, it's just full circle. It was kind of emotional for me. It just really hit home. The first thing I did after the game was text coach George Dean so that's how much it meant to me. I know it meant a lot to him too."
It was Dean who first turned the Mosley program into a winner, going 5-5 in his first season before posting back to back 10-0 regular seasons in 1981 and 1982. In both of those seasons the Dolphins lost to the eventual state champion, falling to Vero Beach 10-7 in the state final in 1982.
McCrory, who started on both sides of the line for the Dolphins as a player and now coaches the offensive line, said there wasn't much thought given to Mosley High School football before Dean was hired, though it didn't take long for the new coach to make an impression.
"The very first day they brought in the new staff, they brought an old van that didn't have a floor in it and they picked us up at the middle school and brought us up here for spring training," McCrory said. "They picked out five young ones and here we go, the first thing they did was take us to the high school all-star game that summer. They put us in that old van and drove us all the way to Gainesville and he said, 'if y'all stick together and do what we're talking about, y'all will get to play in this' and sure enough both of us (McCrory and Miller) did. That was a big deal back then. The promises that were made, they were kept."
Miller not only made it back to Gainesville for the high school all-star game, he ended up playing college football there for the Gators before going on to get drafted by the San Francisco 49ers and playing two seasons for the San Diego Chargers.
After playing two years in Canada, Miller hung up his cleats and went into coaching, coming back to Bay County and going to work as an assistant for legendary Rutherford coach Steve Hardin, coaching running backs, linebackers, and special teams from 1991-94.
Joining him at Rutherford was his old teammate McCrory, who returned to Bay County himself after playing college football at Troy, where he won two Division-II national championships, before staying on for three more years as an assistant for the Trojans, and then for a brief time working as a high school head coach in Alabama.
The pair worked together on Hardin's staff for four years before Miller left, later going on to coach for seven years at Gainesville High School – four years as defensive coordinator and three years as head coach – while McCrory stayed at Rutherford through the 2003 season, helping the Rams play in two state finals along the way, before eventually ending up at Niceville where he served as offensive line coach for 16 seasons.
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It was there that McCrory met Tommy Joe Whiddon, who served as offensive coordinator for the Eagles for six seasons before before taking the head coaching job at Booker T. Washington in 2019. When Whiddon was named Mosley head coach in January, it didn't take long for him to reunite the old friends and former teammates.
"When I got this job the first person I called was coach McCrory," Whiddon said. "To me he was a Panama City legend. Any time I would ever come to Panama City for whatever reason the first thing anybody would ask me was, 'how's Clint doing?' Not to mention the last time Rutherford was really good was when coach McCrory was their offensive line coach.
"He's a winner, he's always won. He's been to six state championship games, it's in his blood, it's in his DNA."
McCrory didn't need much convincing to come back to Bay County.
"I couldn't wait," he said. "When I talked to coach Whidden and he said he was gonna apply for the job, I started unloading my desk right then and there," he said. "There was no doubt in my mind that he was the right fit for this program. I knew he had the knowledge of the game and I knew how he would run the program. For me it was time to come home. I had that opportunity and I jumped on it. It's fun being here. It's fun to come to work every day."
Whiddon had no prior relationship with Miller, who had just finished his first season back on Rutherford's staff as defensive coordinator when the new Dolphins coach called him at the urging of McCrory.
Like McCrory, Miller was all too happy to return to his alma mater, and he has made an immediate impact on the Mosley defense, which has limited opponents to 7.8 points and 177.3 yards per game this season.
"Coach Miller has done an awesome job," Whiddon said. "Just his work ethic and how he holds our kids accountable and makes them do the right things. Both (Miller and McCrory) are just tough dudes and their toughness bleeds through our entire program. Those guys are just awesome and the thing that makes them elite coaches is their ability to build relationships with the players.
"The greatest compliment you can give to a coach is that your kids play really hard. Our defense, to me, that's the thing they've done. Yes, they've forced turnovers and they've not given up a lot of points, but the biggest thing you can say is they play really hard. It's the same with the offensive line, and that's a direct result of who's coaching them."
The Dolphins are now in the midst of their best season since Miller and McCrory were Mosley players, and with two more victories can match the 10-0 regular season campaigns of those 1981 and 1982 squads.
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Both men said that getting to experience another magical Mosley season together after all these years has made this year extra special.
"There's no doubt," McCrory said. "Coach Miller is one of the greatest people I know. He's done a little bit of everything, he went to Florida, he got to play in the NFL, he was tremendous at everything he did. When you get to be around people like him, that friendship never ends."
Miller echoed that sentiment, calling it "joy" to experience another district championship with the man he referred to as "my brother." However, there's more season to play and more goals to achieve for the Dolphins, including possibly competing for the state championship that eluded Miller and McCrory as players.
"To get to be called district champs is a reward for all the hard work and dedication, but now we're on to something bigger," Miller said. "We accomplished that, it's off our bucket list, but now we want to be 10-0. If we get to 10-0 then we start talking about those next steps in the playoffs and seeing how far this team can go. We crossed off one, now we've got to keep working."
For a program that hasn't won a playoff game in 15 years, even the idea of a state run is pretty incredible. For Miller and McCrory, who have been there as players and as coaches for some of the most successful teams in Bay County history, it's nothing new or unexpected.
"It's very cool, but guess what, we expected that," Miller said. "That's what we've been a part of. Clint was at Niceville and you know what kind of program they've got, we were both at Rutherford with coach Hardin and you know what kind of program that was. We both ventured out on our own and were able to come back and take from our own experiences with learning from successful coaches what it takes to do this. It's very cool that we're winning like this, but that's what we expected. That's what we're about."
This article originally appeared on The News Herald: High school football: Patrick Miller, Clint McCrory, come 'full circle' for Mosley