Mike McGowan, a former Nevada Wolf Pack football player and beloved member of the Sparks High community, died Sunday of heart failure. He was 60.
"As someone once said to me, 'If you don't like Mike McGowan, you don't like anybody,'" Sparks High principal Kevin Carroll told Nevada Sports Net on Wednesday. "He was likeable, humble, a hard worker. There was nobody who didn't like Mike. He was kind of an icon on campus."
McGowan was a four-year letter winner at defensive tackle at Nevada from 1977-1981, playing alongside future NFL star Charles Mann. During his four active seasons, Nevada went 34-12, with McGowan playing on the first Wolf Pack team to reach the Division I-AA playoffs, the 1978 squad that lost to Massachusetts, 44-21. His 1979 team also reached the playoffs where it lost to Eastern Kentucky, 33-30, in double overtime in a game in which Nevada rallied from a 23-3 fourth-quarter deficit to force overtime.
McGowan was on the Wolf Pack's first Big Sky team as Nevada made the jump from DI-AA independent to an affiliated conference. His 1978 team went 11-0 in the regular season and reached No. 1 in the nation for the first time in program history. Equal to his time spent on the field was his time spent getting the field ready for others. Since 2007, he worked at Sparks High as the school's head groundskeeper, Carroll said.
"He was extremely instrumental in maintaining the athletic fields," Carroll said. "He took a lot of pride in that, especially the football field. He did a lot around campus keeping our campus clean and safe and making it a welcoming environment for all of our students."
Carroll, who played football at Reed High in the 1980s when McGowan was a Raiders assistant coach, said McGowan was a great coach and mentor, especially for the school's athletes.
"If you ask the kids, he was a great guy, always talking to the kids, and especially the athletes since he was working on their fields quite a bit," Carroll said. "He also had a really good relationship with the coaches as well. They loved everything he did for them."
McGowan was especially proud of his children, which included daughter, Brianne, arguably the best softball player in the state's history. Brianne led Wooster to four straight state titles and was the 2002 Gatorade National Player of the Year. Playing for Oregon State from 2004-07, she was the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year in 2005 and led the team to the Women's College World Series in 2006. Also an elite hitter, she was a two-time college All-American. She won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2007 World University Games and was a member of the 2004 USA Junior Olympic team. Brianne has served as Nevada's pitching coach since 2017.
"He talked about her all the time," Carroll said. "He was a proud dad, especially when she got the job at UNR."
Carroll said it has been a quiet few days on the grounds as Sparks High without McGowan, but that his time at the school will be long remembered.
"He's going to be missed, definitely missed," Carroll said. "When I announced his passing, I was touched and really surprised at the response from the students. They kept coming up to me saying, 'I'm sorry' and 'What a good guy he was.' He left an impact on a lot of people."