Mike Covington said he started talking about retiring during the just completed season.
But he wanted to wait on making a final decision until after the Virginia Commonwealth Games finished the weekend of July 24-25.
On Monday, the long-time Potomac head baseball coach let his players know his plans. Meeting at the home dugout at the school’s baseball field, Covington announced he was retiring after 28 seasons. The players received the news with a mixture of sadness and shock.
“It was a lot harder than I thought it would be,” Covington said. “It was not easy. But it was like ripping off a band aid. I have to do this.”
Covington leaves behind an impressive legacy in overseeing Prince William County’s most successful high school baseball program.
“I could not have coached at a better place,” Covington said. “I’ve had great activities directors and principals who let us do our thing.”
Covington was the longest-serving head coach in Potomac's history and the longest-serving head baseball coach in Prince William County history. He was also the county's all-time winningest high school head baseball coach with 469 victories.
A Gar-Field High School graduate, Covington took over Potomac baseball in 1994 as only the Panthers' third head coach since the school opened in 1979.
During his tenure, Covington led Potomac to two state finals in 1996 and 2018. This season, the Panthers finished second in the Cardinal District and lost in the Class 6 Region B semifinals to Battlefield. The Panthers were 9-5 overall in 2021.
From 1995 to 1999, four of Covington's players at Potomac were drafted out of high school: Billy Deck (1995, third round by St. Louis Cardinals), Larnell Hamn (1998, 10th round by New York Mets), Danny Lopaze (1999, 16th round Tampa) and Jose Pabon (1999, 19th round, New York Mets). Deck and Hamn both signed out of high school, while Lopaze and Pabon went to Virginia Commonwealth University.
Those who knew Covington’s thoughts asked him to reconsider especially for the upcoming seniors, but he felt it was time to go for a variety of reasons.
“There are always going to be seniors,” Covington said.
Age was one reason behind his decision. Covington, who retired from teaching in 2017, will turn 61 in September.
The bigger reason, though, was the baseball program’s downward spiral in terms of turnout and the inability to remain competitive. Potomac only had 19 baseball players try out for the 2021 season and, like all of the school’s spring sports, had no junior varsity team.
Covington expects that number to drop to as low as 12 for the 2022 season. Covington said Potomac’s starting nine held its own, but injuries to some of those key players left the team using inexperienced replacements who were better suited for junior varsity.
“I’m not saying anything negative about my kids,” Covington said. “I love my kids. There was a major drop off that’s no fault of their own.”
Covington doesn’t see the situation changing for the better even at a storied program like Potomac. He said other schools like Hylton, Gar-Field and Freedom in the county’s eastern end are in the same boat.
“This has been coming,” Covington said. “This is not about retirement, but about the downfall for baseball. You sound the alarm, but it’s falling on deaf ears.”
Covington attributes the changes to two sources: lack of interest among the student body and the increase in students going to play elsewhere.
“People don’t want to talk about this,” Covington said. “A lot of this has to do with, how can I say this, demographics and the transfer policy. All the transferring going on. It’s tough to compete … I’ve had transfers. We all have. But you have kids who are supposed to be at your school somewhere else.”
Covington felt he did the best he could with what he had to work with. And he couldn’t be prouder of his players’ efforts.
“I’m not easy to play for. I’m very demanding,” Covington said. “We’ve been getting the most out of the least for a while. You get to the point where you are beating your head against the wall. It got to the point where you can’t compete.”
Covington said he will continue to coach in the Commonwealth Games. On July 18, Covington led the North to its fourth straight gold medal and 10th in the last 11 years.
He also kept the door open for a possible return to coaching high school baseball.
“I still love the game,” Covington said. “I need to step away for a while.”