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Mark Bliss steps down as head football coach at Cedar Rapids Prairie
Will remain at school as a teacher, as he and wife help care for a daughter who is fighting cancer
CEDAR RAPIDS — Being a dad always will trump being a football coach.
So Mark Bliss has decided he will step down as head of Cedar Rapids Prairie’s program after nine years and retire from coaching football entirely.
Bliss, 59, will continue to teach for now at the school as he and his wife, Jill, focus on helping their youngest of four daughters, Emilie, through her fight with cancer. Emilie Bliss, 29, lives in Florida and had a double mastectomy last fall.
A recent doctor’s exam showed cancer is still in her body. She is going through chemotherapy and is on an experimental drug in hopes of eventually making her well again.
“She is the first person I think about when I wake up, and the last person I think about when I go to bed. I know I’ve got a very, very sick little girl. And she’ll always be my little girl,” Bliss said. “She told me she is sicker and weaker now than she was during her previous chemo because it’s an experimental drug plus radiation. Her body has about had it. When your daughter cries and tells you how much she hurts, it hurts you as a dad more than you’ll ever know.”
Bliss said his daughter will undergo more surgeries this fall, and that’s obviously football season. He said he missed some time with his Prairie team late last season in order to be with Emilie, and couldn’t justify missing more.
It wouldn’t be fair to his players.
“I talked to my wife about it, and being a man of faith, you pray about it,” he said. “You just ask God to put into your heart what you should do. I told our players this morning that it’s not fair (to them), it’s not their fault, it’s just the reality of life that has presented itself.
“I’ve got a daughter, she has cancer, and I’ve got to go be a dad. I told them the most important role in their lives would be as a father. I’ve got to be a father to my child. She is first and foremost the thing we are focusing on right now.”
Bliss has been a football coach since 1988 and a head coach for the last 28 years. The Oklahoma native has a 213-84 career record, with previous stops at Edwardsville, Ill., Odessa, Mo., Derby, Kan., Las Animas, Colo, Blackwell, Okla., Naples, Fla., and Conway Springs, Kan.
He won four state championships at that last school. He carved a 50-27 record at Prairie and was a regular playoff participant.
The school already has posted the job opening.
“We’ve got a great situation out here. It’s a great job for anyone who might apply for it,” Bliss said. “We’ve got unbelievable facilities. The football program needs nothing. It’s got anything and everything.
“This is what it is. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done, the hardest decision I’ve ever made in this profession. I love Prairie, I love my job, my wife loves her job out here ... I want the next coach to have more success than I had. I just want that for Prairie.”
But he and everyone else want health for Emilie first.
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