Mike Loutzenheiser was shaken, upset and disappointed when he was told in 2004 that his Payson High School varsity boys basketball coaching contract was not going to be renewed.
"It was tough, I really didn't know what to do," he said. "It affected my (entire) family."
Reeling from losing a job he had prepared for most of his life, Loutzenheiser decided he would take a year off from coaching, but continue to teach Special Education at PHS.
After spending the following school year in the classroom, he made a decision that would define his life.
"I decided I wanted to move on," he said. "As unfair as I thought it was, it was best for us to build a new life and I wanted to get back into coaching."
His decision to walk away from PHS with his head held high played huge dividends in 2006 when he was offered a teaching and assistant football coaching position at a 1,600-student high school in near Asheboro, N.C.
Following the family's move east, Loutzenheiser learned that adjusting to life in a strange high school and a community, in which he knew few people, tested the former PHS coach's resolve.
"To be honest, I had my doubts," he said. "I wondered if I had done the right thing -- picking up, moving and starting all over. I was raised in Payson, went to high school there and was missing my friends."
Loutzenheiser was buoyed in his quest to adjust to a new life by the unwavering support of his wife, Coreena, and three children.
"Without them, I couldn't have done it," he said.
Loutzenheiser's decision to pull up stakes and move his life was rewarded last week, when the Randolph County School Board selected him to become the new head football coach at the Asheboro high school.
"Since I left Payson, I'd wanted to be a head coach again," he said. "It also was kind of a vindication for me. The school board, the administration and the parents believed I was a good coach."
In earning the head coaching position, Loutzenheiser was selected from a field of 39 candidates from around the country.
"Then they narrowed it to nine and then down to three," he said. "They brought me in for an interview with the district athletic director and offered me the job."
The ordeal was a trying one, especially in light of what Loutzenheiser had endured when his PHS coaching contract was not renewed.
"It was a tense, crazy, long process, but very interesting to be a part of," he said.
Although Loutzenheiser is aware of the turmoil that now throttles the PHS sports programs -- including the reassignment of the athletic director, the basketball team's disqualification from the state tournament, the suspension of six football players for rules infractions and softball coach Curtis Johnson's recent midseason resignation -- he refuses to throw any stings his alma mater's way.
"There is no place in me for bitterness," he said. "I use my energy trying to be the best husband, father, teacher and coach I can be."
Longtime Longhorn sports fans will remember Loutzenheiser as a 1987 PHS graduate who helped the football team reach the state championship, where it lost to Snowflake, 7-0.
In addition to his exploits as a wide receiver, Loutzenheiser was a two-year varsity basketball letter winner. After graduating from Payson High School, Loutzenheiser attended Arizona State University in Tempe, where he earned a bachelor's degree in recreational management and later a master's in Education.
Prior to returning to ASU several years ago to earn his master's degree, Loutzenheiser worked in Payson as a Gila County probation officer.
During his stint as a P.O., Loutzenheiser helped coach the 1995 Rim Country Middle School eighth-grade football team to an undefeated season and the White Mountain League championship. One year later, he coached the same group during its freshman football season and for two years was the junior varsity boy's basketball assistant coach under then-varsity coach Jim Quinlan.
Following Loutzenheiser's appointment, Quinlan said, "He played here, coached here and then got away from it for a while ... I think he's going to be a good, young coach."