SportsLocal Sports


Forever a Coach

ALS took Mike Savage's mobility and speech. But it could not take his love for the game of football.
Mike Savage
Posted at 5:53 PM, Nov 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-17 18:44:50-05

BALTIMORE COUNTY, Md. — What makes a coach, coach? For Mike Savage it has always been about love - love of football and love for his players.

We first met Savage back in February of 2020. It was his third year leading the New Town High School Titans in Owings Mills. His team was coming off back-to-back county and regional championships. At 47 years old it was his dream job. His resume led him there. He had won over a dozen regional, state and national titles at the youth level in Pikesville.

After countless triumphs he was facing his biggest setback, one that had nothing to do with the health of his football team but the health of his failing body. He was in the early stages of ALS.

He didn’t know those would be among the final days he would serve as a head coach.

Today Savage, 50, is completely paralyzed. That's what ALS does. It's a degenerative neuromuscular disease with no cure.

"Over the last few years my life has been an uphill battle," he said using a computer to speak. He looks at a device that tracks his eye movements. He choose letters, words or phrases on a screen, which are then spoken by the computer.

He uses a ventilator to breathe and a tube for feeding.

"Considering that I am living with one of the world’s toughest and most deadly disorders, the doctors all say that I am amazingly healthy," he communicated. "I went down to 125 lbs. But now, by the grace of god, I weigh 235 lbs. I am truly blessed."

He spends most of his time at his Randallstown home with nurses and aides by his side. His independence may be gone, but his passion for football still burns as bright as his smile when talking about it.

"Around noon every day I study the game of football for hours and hours," he said.

Savage officially held the title of head coach at New Town High School until last June when upon his return from rehab the school let him know they were going in another direction. Their athletic director told WMAR that decision was not made because of his condition. Mike’s assistant, his cousin William, was promoted to head coach. Mike said no other team will even allow him to help out.

"The game of life is football and it was taken from me. I never quit. I miss it and I love the game, teaching and mentoring."

And inspiring. On this October day he is visited at his home by some of his former players, some who now call themselves coaches.

"I still hear his voice in the back of my mind. It’s funny to me, sometimes I laugh at the kids. They don’t even know what I’m laughing at. But, I sound just like Mike Savage," said 28-year-old Ahmir Lynch, who was coached by Savage in youth football in Pikesville. Lynch now coaches in that same organization.

"Even when I’m outside working out and I feel like quitting or I’m tired I can just hear his voice like, 'Keep going. Keep going.' His famous quote is 'Find a way to win'," added 19-year-old Alvin Dzacka, who was coached by Savage at New Town.

"He is still the same coach," said 30-year-old Khari Knox, who was coached by Savage in youth football. "He shows us that we can’t be a victim to your circumstances or where you are, that you have to push beyond that and what makes you a victor is when you don’t become the victim."

Savage’s football web is woven throughout Maryland and even across the country. But his heart remains with the young athletes in Baltimore County at one school in particular - Milford Mill Academy. That’s where the youngest of his four sons, Brandon, played quarterback. That's where he was about to join the coaching staff before getting the job at New Town. Earlier this week they had him out to practice.

For the first time in months Mike Savage was back doing what he loves to do. He was motivating young men and coaching up the Millers who are in the middle of a playoff run.

"They say you get one chance at being great. Be greater than great and put the state championship ring on your hand," he said to the group of players huddled in front of his wheelchair. "Do it for your little brothers and sisters who are looking up to you and your moms and dads who no matter what always have your back, and for your coaches who take time away from their families to build you soldiers up. Thank you all. Bring it home."

The players and coaches with them responded with loud applause.

"It’s emotional. It reminds me that every day is not promised," said Milford Mill head coach Reggie White, who is also a friend of Savage's. "I almost teared up, man. It’s just amazing that he is still motivating people in his condition."

"I was proud to see him today, proud to see him fight like he thought us to. I was happy to see him," added Milford Mill senior defensive back Marquis Edmond, who played for Savage at New Town before transferring. "I remember the last time I heard his voice. He told me he was proud of me."

What makes a coach, coach? For Mike Savage it’s about instilling pride, fight, resilience and love for the game and each other.

What does he hope for the future?

"I hope to one day be back on the field coaching and looking forward to teaching my grandbabies the game of football and sharing lots of quality and intimate moments with my kids, grandkids and my boys who I have inspired. Soon god will open the door for me. For everyone who closed the door on me, god bless you. Long live Mike Savage."

Follow Shawn Stepner on Twitter @StepnerWMAR and Facebook