Mike Astley has both feet planted firmly on the ground in his first year at Jaguars’ helm
Quarterbacks become head coaches. Linemen become head coaches. Kickers?
They don’t usually become head coaches.
Mike Astley would love nothing more than to give that stereotype the boot.
The guy who used a booming bare foot to stay in the game is keeping both shoes on nowadays. And he’s doing so as the ultimate decision maker on the sidelines as the first-year head coach of the King County Jaguars.
“I have arthritis in my knee, my back is messed up – it told me it was time,” the 38-year-old Astley said. “But my desire to win a national championship wasn’t done.
“This was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
Astley is getting that opportunity with the minor league football power that has come back home to Kent this summer. The Jags spent last season playing in Auburn while French Field on the Kent-Meridian High School campus received a brand new Field Turf surface.
Tonight at 7, they’ll play their second game of the season on that surface when they host the British Columbia Spartans in the third annual Kent Cornucopia Bowl. It also will be the Jaguars’ second game in the North American Football League, regarded as the top minor league in the country.
Astley, who was the Northwest Football League’s special teams MVP and earned league all-star honors as a punter and kicker with the Jaguars last season, is glad to be part of it all.
“If you get the right personnel and bodies, you can make a run,” he said.
Astley certainly has his team going in that direction. Even with what he terms a 50-50 mix of veterans and newcomers, the Jaguars pounded the Kitsap County Bears on June 28 in their season opener, 44-7.
“The first half was more of what we thought it was going to be,” Astley said. (King County had just a 10-7 lead at halftime.) “The second half, it opened up. Luckily, I have some good coaches and they found some more openings in (Kitsap’s) defense.
“This is a bunch of guys with a lot of heart,” Astley said. “If you have a team filled with heart and confidence, you’ll find a way to win.”
Could do it all
During his playing career, Astley used plenty of those two qualities. At Blanchet High School in Seattle, he was never the biggest guy on the field – 5-foot-10 and 207 pounds. But he was definitely one of the most versatile, playing at center, linebacker, and especially, kicker.
“I never left the field,” said Astley, who also spent plenty of time on the soccer pitch, playing goalkeeper for 12 years while growing up.
Astley played football for two years at Wenatchee Valley Community College and eventually transferred to Central Washington University. But just before what would have been his first game as a Wildcat, he was told he wasn’t eligible. Turns out he had too many credits. (He went on to get his degree in criminal justice.)
He eventually had a couple cups of coffee with NFL teams – the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins both gave him tryouts. But Astley found his niche in the Northwest Football League, playing for several teams over the course of 17 years with his trademark bare right foot – a foot that kicked a 57-yard field goal in one game and boomed an 82-yard punt in another.
“Kicking itself doesn’t hurt,” said Astley, who actually filled in as the Jags’ kicker against Kitsap County two weeks ago when their starter was away at a family wedding.
He began to cut his coaching teeth in 2001 as a special teams coach for the Seattle Warbirds.
“I always wanted to be into coaching. That gave me my opportunity,” Astley said.
Another opportunity came along in 2005 when he was helping out the Tacoma Majestics women’s team that eventually became the present-day Seattle Majestics. He remained with that team in 2006. But when their season ended, he still had the urge to put on the pads.
“I knew after that it was time for one more season for me to play. So at the end of 2006, I joined back up with the Jaguars,” Astley said.
Right opening, right time
Having gone out in all-star fashion, Astley figured he’d be a coach from that moment forward. In fact, the Jaguars asked him to be their special teams coach for 2008, and he accepted.
But when head coach Jeff Scott retired from the sidelines, Astley had another thought.
“He called me and said, ‘I have a crazy idea: What do you think of me putting in for head coach?’” team general manager and co-owner Lorrie Rarey recalled. “I hadn’t thought of him as head coach, only because I didn’t think he’d be ready to step in. You don’t want to push someone in right to the front.”
But almost from the moment she hung up the phone, the idea clicked with Rarey as much as it did with Astley.
“He had been head coach of the (Majestics), he knew what was going to be expected of him,” Rarey said. “He carries the torch and carries it very well. It’s all volunteer, and it’s hard to find someone who wants to give up personal time – and he puts in a lot, (which) he also did as a player.”
So far, it seems to be a perfect fit.
“This is finally a chance to show (what I can do),” Astley said. “My guys know me as a kicker and a punter. But what you can pick up as a kicker, going to the NFL, going through the minor league system, watching offensive drills – you can pick up quite a bit. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work. And my staff is top-notch.”
Rarey likes what she’s seeing, too.
“Everyone respects him. He does what he says he’s going to do,” she said. “He puts the best 11 guys on the field and gives everyone opportunities to earn spots.
“I want (minor league football) to have more integrity,” Rarey added. “And he definitely has that.”