John "Mike" Michael Utter

December 15, 1953 ~ April 19, 2022 (age 68)


“No one is actually dead until the ripples they caused in the world die away…”

– Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man


John Michael Utter of Fort Walton Beach, FL, who went by Mike but answered to Coach Utter, Coach, or just plain Utter, caused a lot of ripples in his lifetime.  He touched the lives of family, friends, and the kids he coached and taught, influencing many in ways they still carry with them and pass on to others.

He was born to Jack and Eunice Utter on December 13, 1953, in Augusta, Georgia.  His intro to sports came early, when he met Arnold Palmer at the young age of one.  Golf, however, was too civilized; he needed a more physical outlet for his enthusiasm.  After his father’s death when Mike was three, Eunice moved with him and his 18-month-old sister, Sue, to be closer to the large Preachers clan of the Samson/Enterprise/Geneva area of Alabama.  There, with a lot of encouragement from his uncles Lamar and Reubin, he developed his love for anything sports, but particularly football.  He grew up in the era of Paul “Bear” Bryant and Joe Willie Namath.  He played football, basketball, and baseball at Samson until 1970, when the family moved to Pell City, AL, where he became a Pell City Panthers quarterback.  Inspired by coaches from his own school years, particularly Coach Pete Rich and Coach Mike Battles, he decided to pursue coaching as a career.  After graduating from Pell City in 1972, he attended Marion Institute for two years and Jacksonville State University for the last two, on full football scholarships.  He completed his schooling with a Master’s in Education from Jacksonville.  His coaching career started in Alabama, with a stint in Mississippi, before he settled in Fort Walton Beach, where he recognized that he had finally come home.  During his tenure in the Florida school system, he taught at Bruner and Destin Middle Schools, before retiring from Choctawhatchee High School in 2016.  He was a lifelong ardent supporter of the Jacksonville Gamecocks and the Alabama Crimson Tide. He eventually forgave his sister, Sue, for going to Auburn.

Perhaps because Mike never married and had kids of his own, he felt a deep responsibility to his students, not just in the teaching and sports part of his job, but in seeing them develop into good, caring people.  He also felt a strong sense of community with the folks of Fort Walton Beach.  His sister will always remember being out with him on her visits, when everywhere they went, he was met with “Hey Coach!”.  He loved the people, the ocean, and the beach lifestyle. 

Mike also had a strong commitment to caring for his family.  He loved and cared for his mother during her last years here.  He took on a protective fatherly role to his sister and she will always be thankful to him, knowing he was always there for her.  He loved his nephews, Jack and Caeln.  He visited his extended family of cousins as often as he could and was still especially close to his 95-year-old Uncle Reubin.  Lastly, his bond with his Golden Retriever buddy Rusty (and Dusty before that) was tight.  Rusty and Mike were a Fort Walton welcoming committee.

After Mike’s passing at age 68 in the HCA Fort Walton Beach hospital on April 19, 2022, he is survived by his sister, Paula Sue Utter (Jeffrey) Honig, his nephews, Jack and Caeln Honig, all of Trumansburg, NY, his uncle and aunt Reubin and Dorothy Preachers, of Samson, AL, a tribe of cousins, and a host of friends, both here, in the coaching community, and in Alabama.

A service and burial will be held at Fairview Baptist Church, 3159 Hwy 87, Samson, AL, on Thursday, April 28th, with Pastor James Preachers associate pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, Elba, AL officiating.  The church will be open for visitation at 1:00 P.M. with service to follow at 2:00 P.M.  Additionally, a memorial service will be held in Fort Walton Beach at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, donations in his honor to the American Cancer Society or the animal shelter/rescue group of your choice are welcomed.

Special thanks to the HCA Fort Walton Beach hospital ICU nurses and doctors and to Mike’s wonderful friends, in particular Ken Reed, Ken and Carol Bernich, and Paula Kozelka.



April 28, 2022

1:00 PM to 2:00 PM
Beal Memorial Cemetery, Fort Walton Beach

April 28, 2022

6:45 PM
Trinity Baptist Church

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