The first time I met Allen Muir was at a football coaches luncheon before his second year at the helm of the Panthers.
Muir was brimming with confidence about the upcoming season on the gridiron, and by the end of October, had proved there was good reason to be - Lewistown put up a winning regular season at 5-4 before opting out of its final scheduled game to take a District 6 playoff berth. Although the campaign ended at .500, it was by far the most successful season that the program had seen in decades.
Flash forward to last October, and a sunny afternoon I spent watching Muir's team practice before talking to him about the future of the once again struggling group. Muir was just as enthusiastic, just as confident as he had been two years earlier.
If I could explain what it would take to turn Lewistown into a winning team, one that made the playoffs year after year, I suppose I would be the coach. I don't have that knowledge. I don't have that magic.
And Muir? Well, he might have had it - but we'll never know. In what several members of the community feel is a slap in the face to the dedicated coach - and you can count one local sports editor among them - not only was Muir not rehired to coach the team this year, but was explicitly told his application for the job was not welcome.
The words I wrote back in the fall remind me of the Allen Muir I came to respect as a coach:
"... the players on his team are good athletes, something they prove on a regular basis in other sports. And they keep on fighting when the odds - and the history - are stacked against them.
"'Some people say it's learning how to win. Some people say it's an attitude. Basically, it's everything that's up here in your head,' Muir said, pointing to his temples."
By the midpoint of last season, Muir's fourth leading the team, respect was something he - and the players - got very little of. But Muir refused to show contempt for the so-called fans who sat in the bleachers, badmouthing him, his staff, and in the deepest cut of all, his son. He admitted to frustration that he had to listen, and could not allow himself to react.
Whoever comes here to replace Allen Muir - and we presumably know the identity of that person, pending the outcome of a school board vote Thursday - faces the same daunting task. A task that someone with a strong mind and thick skin like Muir's could not complete, one that others who came before him left just as unfinished.
I'd like to think that Muir's tolerance was tested by more than a headline pun in the sports section, which has caused some consternation, and a belief among a few that the local media had it in for the coach all along. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I can understand a few being upset with district Superintendent David Runk's response when asked about Muir as a candidate, but that upset is being directed to the wrong target when it's aimed at a news reporter who happened to cover the meeting.
The simple fact is, no high school coach is under contract for more than a season, and more than a few school districts make incumbents reapply every year. The district stood with Muir through four seasons, and undoubtedly was left with a better program - and better people in the young lives he touched - because of it. But the district is within its rights to make a change, and the best thing the fans - the true fans, who really do want to see a strong football program at Lewistown - can do is support his successor.
I'd be willing to bet that's what coach Muir will do.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.