Bill Carlin took a few extra days before officially retiring after 41 years of teaching and coaching.
He knew he was ready to retire before the school year began, but by the time it ended there was still so much to do.
The meticulous Carlin made sure his last class of athletes turned in all of its gear from track and field season, which ended May 22.
“It’s been a good run,” said Carlin, the longest-tenured employee of the Adams Central School District.
Then, he had to pack up his classroom for the summer one final time.
“I’m sure when he cleaned his classroom he was finding stuff from 41 years ago,” cracked Alan Frank, Adams Central activities director. “He keeps everything.”
Frank, who joined Adams Central six years ago, recalled Carlin once showing him where all the football film from the last 45 years is in case someone needs it.
“It’s on a reel, not a VHS tape,” Frank said. “He’s got those all the way up and he’s got all the information detailed. He’s just very thorough.”
Other words used to describe Carlin by his peers: steadfast, loyal, dedicated, organized, honorable.
Another phrase: Mr. Adams Central.
“When you think of Adams Central,” Frank said, “you think of Bill Carlin.”
Superintendent Shawn Scott referred to Carlin as “Mr. Adams Central” due to his character, dedication and influence in a farewell letter Scott wrote to Carlin and shared with the Tribune.
“I can tell you without hesitation the influence you have had on this school district is second to none,” he wrote. “The way you have been a part of shaping and forming the Adams Central District from the inside out is admirable. You are a huge part of why Adams Central is one of the best districts in the state.”
Carlin started teaching math at Adams Central in 1980 and has been integral in developing the school’s culture over the last four decades, working for every superintendent that the Adams Central district has ever had.
Due to his longevity in the district, Carlin found himself working alongside teachers who had once been his students at Adams Central and returned with teaching degrees. He taught many employees of the Adams Central district, including an administrator and 18 current teachers, as well as five current school board members.
From the day Carlin walked into the school, he coached one of three sports: basketball, football, and track and field. He coached in nearly 1,400 events.
Former Superintendent Glen Larsen said he met Carlin when he came to the school district in 1981 and the two worked together until Larsen retired in 2001.
At the time Larsen joined the district, Carlin was an assistant coach for the football program, and the team wasn’t doing well. The football team was struggling to find success on the field, which also hurt recruitment for the program. Instead of 80-85 students coming out for tryouts every year, the number dwindled to 45-50 as students lost enthusiasm for the program.
The football team won one game over the first four years Larsen was at the school and he approached the school board about making a change with the head coaching position. He told the board they needed to have a coach with more experience.
Instead of hiring a new coach, the board elected to ask Larsen to do the job.
“The board said, ‘You were head football coach in the past, why don’t you do it?’ ” Larsen said. “I told the board I would do the head football job. I said we’ve got some really good people who can help, and one of them was Bill Carlin.”
Larsen said assistant coaches like Carlin and others were crucial to making the change work since Larsen still had to fulfill his duties as superintendent.
After three years, the program improved to the point that the team almost qualified for the state playoffs in 1988, but Larsen needed to step back from coaching duties to focus on his superintendent responsibilities.
In 1989, Carlin became the head coach and continued to improve the program.
Twenty-four years later, the Patriots were a powerhouse. By the time Carlin stepped down from coaching varsity football in the spring of 2014, his teams had gone a combined 191-57 and not one finished with a losing record.
Larsen believes Carlin’s ability to connect with students was an important aspect of the program’s success.
“I just think he worked really well with kids on and off the field,” Larsen said. “The kids came first, and that’s just the way it was.”
Carlin’s fellow educators echoed this sentiment.
“Bill Carlin is one of the most steadfast people you’re ever going to meet,” said Toni Fowler, AC’s girls track coach who has spent the last 15 years coaching with Carlin and served on the Nebraska Coaches Association with him.
Carlin’s football playbook reflected that, as well. It was devoted almost entirely to running the football with the Maryland-I offense.
“The classic joke that many who played for him would bring up is the first play of the game was always ‘Blast Right.’ And the second play of the game was also ‘Blast Right,’ “ said former AC running back Jake Fowler. “When he really wanted to shake things up, he would call ‘Blast Left’ or ‘Blast Option Pass Right.’ The playbook was never very big.”
Carlin was old school — ground-and-pound with his offense and hard-nosed with his defense. Although never a state football champion, the Patriots were runners-up in 1993 under Carlin, who led the program to 19 playoff appearances.
“I remember my very first year we made the state playoffs after we lost our first two games of the year,” Carlin said. “We went on a run and got in, and that was pretty exciting because a lot of things had to happen for us at that time. Then it just took off from there. Kids started to believe, and so we turned a lot things around and had a really good run for about 25 years. Shawn (Mulligan) has done a great job (of) keeping it going.
“We’ve never been able to get the big trophies, but I’ve still been very proud of our efforts. Our kids have always competed hard and done their best.”
Scott said he was thankful that Carlin provided enough notice to allow the district time to incrementally find people to take over his duties and roles. Scott said 41 years of institutional memory will be difficult to replace, but he believes there are staff members willing and able to step up to the challenge.
“Bill has set a great example for others to follow,” he said. “He is a great employee and a true patriot for our program. He is a friend to almost every staff member here.”
David Barrett, former principal at the Adams Central High School, said Carlin was crucial in showing other teachers the way the district operated and convincing them to buy into the district’s culture.
“He was always able to put things in a way that other teachers understood,” Barrett said. “Over the years, he was able to help carry those traditions and values on to new staff members as they came to the school. That’s really important to have somebody on staff for younger teachers coming in to learn from.”
While they worked together for the 15 years Barrett served as principal, the two had known each other much longer through their coaching responsibilities. He praised Carlin’s work ethic and commitment to students.
“He’s one of those guys and coaches that everybody respects,” he said. “He believes in doing things the right way and for the right reason.”
And Carlin’s influence hasn’t been limited to Adams Central, either.
The longtime coach has inspired more than a few to follow a similar path to his, such as Blue Hill football and track coach Riley Armes, who played for Carlin.
“I was joking about it with my sister. We were talking about teachers that had an impact on us, and Mr. Carlin was a junior high teacher, a football coach and a track coach,” Armes said. “Looking at where my life took me, I’m a junior high math teacher, a football coach and a track coach. It’s kind of funny how that worked out, but I learned a lot from Coach Carlin.”
Forty-one years of memories will take some time to set in for Carlin, and they certainly don’t all fit in the few boxes he exited the school doors with on his final day.
Many of those memories will fill walls in the halls of Adams Central for eternity on plaques, banners and trophies.
“We’ve come a long ways in the 41 years since I’ve been here,” Carlin said. “I’m hoping I’m leaving it in a little better position than it was when I arrived.”