Back in 1990, Valparaiso took a chance on a middle school coach from rival Portage, naming Mike Prow its boys cross country coach.
Twenty-four years later, with 21 state finals appearances, 11 top-five finishes and two titles on his resume, Prow is headed to warmer climes. He is departing Valpo and moving to Sedona, Ariz., where he will teach and coach boys and girls cross country at Camp Verde High School.
"I'm way too young to retire," Prow said. "I'm excited. I'm going somewhere where they want me. It's the perfect situation."
The 56-year old Prow is eligible to receive his pension from Valpo, having completed his 30th year of teaching, and opted to do so before changes in state laws negatively impact his earnings.
"I was retiring at Valpo regardless," he said.
Arizona has been a spring break destination for over a decade for Prow, who has an aunt in Sedona and a daughter who went to college in Tucson. While there, Prow met John Ortiz, a retired teacher transplanted from New York now coaching at Sedona Red Rock High School. Prow spent some time with Ortiz and his team, clerking a meet and attending the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., with him.
"I learned quite a bit," Prow said. "We had a good time hanging out. It was always in the back of my mind, the possibility of moving out that way some day."
Prow actually started sending out resumes last summer and applied at Camp Verde, though it had no openings at the time. Two days after returning from spring break, he received a phone call from the principal about a possible opening, which was confirmed by the end of April.
"I was the only candidate at that point," he said.
After a series of phone interviews and reference checks, a contract was offered. Prow accepted the position last week, notifying Valpo principal Reid Amones on Friday. He announced it to the distance runners after the state meet.
"The timing is perfect," Prow said. "'AC' (Assistant coach Aaron Crague) just got his P.E. teaching license. I want him to get the job. We had a good bunch of seniors this year and last year. The kids got medals. Everybody was excited. I was like, 'OK, let's go.'"
The Camp Verde school board approved Prow's hire Tuesday. Arizona ranks 49th in teacher pay nationally, but with teaching, coaching and his pension, Prow said he will be a little ahead of where he was here financially.
"There weren't any speeches," he said. "I didn't want any of that kind of stuff. I'm not about that."
Prow plans to coach and teach for about a decade and return to the region, specifically Porter County. He headed to Arizona on Thursday to finalize the paper work with Camp Verde, a school of about 450, roughly the size of one grade at Valpo. The girls team only had four runners last year, the boys, eight.
"It's class, so I've been telling everybody, look out," Prow said. "I'll find five kids and get them to run fast."