Lessons on and off the field

October 02, 2023

In this photo from 2012, Mustangs Football Team Head Coach and Education alum Greg Marshall (second from right), stands alongside his sons (from left to right) Tom, Brian and Donnie

His official job title describes him as Head Coach for the Western Mustangs Football Team, but if you ask Greg Marshall what he does for a living, he’ll respond, “I teach football.”

Coaching and teaching often crossed paths throughout Marshall’s career. In fact, getting drafted into the Canadian Football League by the Edmonton Elks is what delayed his entry into Western University’s Bachelor of Education program following his undergrad.

“In hindsight, I probably should’ve done education at that time,” Marshall joked.

Following a highly successful collegiate career with the Western Mustangs, Marshall captured a Grey Cup alongside Edmonton, but numerous injuries would cut his playing career short and set his teaching career in motion.

“I think after the fifth knee operation, I realized teaching is what I wanted to do, and I wanted to get into coaching,” Marshall said.

“So, I applied again.”

Teacher by day, coach by night

Marshall’s face lights up when he thinks back to his time at the Faculty of Education. Not only did he earn his BEd, but he also gained lasting friendships and met his future wife.

He graduated in 1985 and began teaching in Stratford soon after, but football never left his side.

“When I taught in Stratford, I coached football there, often by myself, and then drove the 45 to 50 minutes from Stratford to London and coached at Western,” Marshall said.

In 1989, Marshall continued this restless routine when he began teaching at Catholic Central High School in London, and later St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in the city’s west end.

Overall, Marshall spent just over a decade working as a teacher by day and a coach by night, helping the Mustangs secure two Vanier Cup championships all while developing the minds of countless students.

“It was good, I really enjoyed it,” Marshall says of his teaching career.

“Having my wife as a teacher too was good because we were able to spend time in the summer together.”

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree for the family. Oldest son Donnie, another Education alum, continues the Marshall teaching tradition at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School where he teaches physical education.

In 1997, Marshall began coaching full-time for the McMaster Marauders and later the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Marshall’s first season with the Tiger-Cats earned him the 2004 award for CFL Coach of the Year.

Marshall returned to the Mustangs Football Team’s coaching staff in 2006, before taking over as head coach in 2007, where he continues to cement his coaching legacy.

Lessons on and off the field

As he reflects on his career, Marshall says the similarities between teaching and coaching make the professions almost indistinguishable, which is why he would describe his current role as blending the two.

For Marshall, coaching and teaching share common ground on their ability to mold young people and create a lasting impact.

“I teach my athletes about plays and tackling and blocking and all those fundamentals, but more importantly, I’m teaching them to be good people,” Marshall said.

“We are role models in everything we say and do. How we treat people within the classroom or out on the football field has an impact on those young people that we are teaching or coaching.”

Whether it’s for a young teacher or an aspiring coach, Marshall’s best piece of advice is to “get involved.”

“I can get up and give a pretty good motivational speech if I need to, but that lasts a very small increment of time. What you do over a long time, that builds trust, that builds respect and that ultimately builds relationships,” Marshall said.

“If they know you care and they trust you, then you can make a big impact on them and help their learning and their development.”

Marshall also stresses that teaching and coaching are two professions that should never be taken for granted. Even as one of the most decorated names in university football, it’s obvious that some of Marshall’s proudest moments stem from the achievements of those under his wing.

“When I pick up my phone and I get messages from my former students and student athletes sending me pictures of their first-born child or their weddings or sharing their special moments, you realize the impact you had on their lives,” Marshall said.

“I think that’s the most rewarding thing of all."