Don Herman brought Friday Night Lights to the Vineyard. Not the book or television series, or the cliche of how much a football team means to a community. No, he literally brought the lights themselves.

Before Don Herman there were no night football games. Presumably there was no thick mustache, either, or Georgia drawl. There had been other coaches and teams of course, but after twenty-eight years at the helm, and on the eve of his retirement, Don Herman is in a class by himself.

When Coach Herman arrived in 1988 he was twenty-nine years old. The Vineyard had been through several losing seasons and the new coach pledged the three D’s: discipline, defense and dollars.

“We’ve rekindled the booster club,” he said in an interview that year. “We’re calling it the MV Touchdown Club and its goal will be to raise money specifically for the football team.”

Over the decades the Touchdown Club raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, enough for the lights, a training room, equipment and more. Coach Herman understood that football was not a game confined to one hundred yards and four quarters.

He arrived as a gym teacher and soon took over the duties of athletic director. But the schedule of coaching and administering became too much and he returned to the gym happily, dispensing his brand of athletic discipline to both players and surprised students unaccustomed to the barking of a compact man given free reign with a whistle. Everyone called him coach, just coach, at the school and around town.

“I think one of the major reasons why I’ve had success,” he said in an interview in 2010 after his two hundredth win, “is the fact that I’ve actually been in the building [school]. You have to coach the individual.”

He explained that ninety per cent of his coaching occurred off the field, coaching the person rather than the player.

This philosophy served both Coach Herman and his players well. Witness the overflowing trophy case, the two hundred-plus career wins, the state championships and the Hall of Fame honors. But statistics are harder to come by in the day to day, and trophies mostly nonexistent off the field. Those results are more like ripples flowing slowly outward over time as high school kids grow up to become adults and parents and mentors in their own right. This growth never happens in a vacuum of course, and lives led off the field are influenced by innumerable factors and people, including parents, teachers, the entire community really.

Still, coaches do play a large role in shaping a future, particularly one who dedicated twenty-eight years to the molding of young muscles and minds. Witness the celebration in Coach Herman’s honor earlier this year at his last home game, when players, parents and friends took to the field at halftime to celebrate what he meant to them.

The lights shine brightly on Friday nights, as well as Saturday afternoons, like it will Saturday at the Island Cup, when Coach Herman leads his team and his community out onto the field one last time. It is fitting that the game will be played against Nantucket, another island and small town where the measure of one man can make such a difference.

The Gazette expresses its thanks to Coach Herman and wishes him a happy and healthy retirement.