Mike Daly, known for his dapper attire, was not dressed for success the first time he went to the Marin County Civic Center to investigate a job opportunity. He didn’t smell good, either.
Daly, the newly retired Marin County Chief of Probation, was working in the fish & poultry department at Petrini’s supermarket in Greenbrae in 1990. He was a recent graduate of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo and making a decent wage as a journeyman butcher but was interested in putting his social science and criminal justice schooling to good use. He had enjoyed his eye-opening internship with the probation department in San Luis Obispo County. Besides, he had never dreamed about being a journeyman butcher.
At the time, Joe Coffrini was Treasurer/Tax Collector for the County of Marin. Daly’s best friend growing up in Fairfax was Joe’s son, Scott, so he knew Joe as almost a second father. Eventually, Daly asked Joe Coffrini for career advice. On an impromptu visit to Joe’s Civic Center office on his lunch hour one day, Daly was directed by Joe to take a stroll down the long hallway to see Probation Chief Ron Baylo.
“Joe said, ‘Go down there right now. I want you to talk to Ron,’” Daly recalled. “I had just come from work. I mean, I stunk to high heaven. I had chicken guts and fish scales on my shoes. I said, ‘I can’t go like this!’ But he insisted. He didn’t want me to miss out on a chance.”
“Chief Baylo looked at me and said, ‘Uh … let’s set up an appointment instead,’” Daly said.
Maybe it wasn’t the perfect first impression, but it was a foot in the door. He came back in a suit, nailed his interview, and got a job as an extra-hire in the department’s parole unit.
Now, 30 years later, Mike Daly has said goodbye.
During the July 21 meeting, the Marin County Board of Supervisors wished him well in retirement and passed an honorary resolution. The commendation mentioned his track record of positive changes and methods of helping offenders establish healthy, productive and law-abiding lives. It mentioned his participation with the Coordination of Probation Enforcement (COPE) team with the Sheriff’s Office, his efforts with restorative justice, the Phoenix Project in Marin City, and the Youth Court program. It mentioned his statewide leadership roles, his commitment to the County Employee Recognition Program, and the creation of the inspirational Wall of Change.
The Board resolution said Daly’s lasting effect will be for the “gold standard of style and character – integrity, humility, intelligence, and compassion – that he modeled in every interaction, every relationship, every environment.”
Daly thanked his mother, father, brother, sister, wife Peggie, the Probation staff, and the long list of friends and collaborators who supported him. He said the recipe for success all revolved around people, relationships, and community.
Daly said his Marin roots helped him through the years, and not just in getting for that first “chicken guts” interview. He moved from San Francisco to Fairfax in 1973 when he was in third grade. During his days at St. Rita’s School and Sir Francis Drake High School, the community joys of sports played a huge part in his life. His best friends were his teammates, and the parents served as coaches. To this day, Daly said a lot of those friendships are going strong.
While he jokes that the only reason he didn’t end up at juvenile hall was because he could outrun all the Fairfax cops, Daly said he was drawn to probation work partly because of his sports experiences. He watched parents volunteer as coaches because they wanted to give back and help out. He saw the value of teamwork and hard work, especially during his junior year at Drake when his varsity basketball team won the 1982 state championship with a record of 34-0. Daly has followed suit with more than 30 years as a youth coach and most recently served as an assistant boys varsity basketball coach at San Domenico School.
“When you build relationships, especially for decade after decade, people trust you,” he said. “They understand your intentions. People will want to help you, just as I would want to help them. You always know who to call to solve a problem. It helps your ability to get things done so much quicker and so much better, and in my job that translates to better service to the community.”
There was one time in his professional career when he wondered if he was in over his head. That was when he was appointed as Probation Chief in 2009 at the age of 44 to replace the retiring Chief Probation Officer Bill Burke.
“I was too scared to fail,” Daly said. “When the Board appointed me, it was quite a gamble. My ears were pinned back. That was probably my most difficult time because I was just young. I had to work harder than ever to make it all right.”
How did he make it right?
“I followed the formula of hiring the best people, giving them the best equipment and best training, and expecting the best out of them,” Daly said. ”You set your performance-based metrics and evaluate and coach your employees regularly. Your conversations are pretty simple, starting with ‘What do you need?’ and ‘How can I help?’ If you do that, you’re maximizing the productivity of your people, and they will set your department up for success as long as you treat everyone with dignity and respect.”
Burke, now retired in Oregon, had appointed Daly as chief deputy of the department in 2005. A follow-up chat was interesting, Burke recalled, because Daly had been uncharacteristically nervous during the interview. Once the promotion was in the bag, Daly lightened up and explained how grateful he was and how hard he had studied.
“Mike pulled from his suit pocket a well-worn folded up copy of Coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success and explained ad nauseum the meaning of the Wooden model and what it meant to him,” Burke said. “For all I know, he probably carried the Pyramid with him everywhere he went, every day. He’s probably got it in his pocket right now! I mean, the guy couldn’t stop talking about John Wooden’s Pyramid, values and leadership style. It’s probably a good thing for Mike that I grew up on John Wooden, UCLA basketball, and associated work habits and ethics. On the other hand, in my mind Mike had already earned the job based upon who he was.”
What’s with the fixation? For starters, Wooden’s Way worked. The Bruins won 10 NCAA championships in 12 seasons during the 1960s and ‘70s and had undefeated seasons four times.
“There were times when I was pulling my hair out and I would look at the Pyramid of Success on my wall and it had a soothing effect,” Daly said. “I have used it as a tool to help people grow. It has translated well to our employees.”
Tori Creighton said Daly’s open-door policy and intense desire to serve his home county helped him adapt to change. There were lots of skeptics when state legislation directly led to an alteration in probation services, and she remembered crisis moments the two of them shared over coffee and briefing the staff about state Assembly and Senate bills coming out of Sacramento.
“It’s one thing to be supportive on the phone, and it is quite another to show up,” she said. “He was available, supportive to me and the staff and came to the scene. … You can teach many things to be a good chief – the laws, the probation ins-and-outs – but you can’t teach how to be a supportive human.”
The Chief Probation Officers of California served as a fruitful source of guidance for Daly, and he reciprocated with gusto. CPOC Executive Director Karen Pank credits Daly not only for a decade of leadership within the group but for taking a good idea and expanding it in scope, knowing that other probation departments could benefit. She cited the Wall of Change program as the best evidence of that practice.
“That was really a passion project for him, and it ended up changing lives forever in your community,” Pank said. “It set the bar for doing something fairly simple on its face to the statewide stage where other departments could emulate. Changing lives was what he was all about, and everyone who knew him was changed for the better.”
Burke added, “Not surprisingly he, his leadership team, and all of the department’s staff have elevated the reputation of the Marin County Probation Department throughout the state. Please believe me, accomplishing and sustaining this reputation is not a quick, easy task.”
Marin County Public Defender Jose Varela said he will look back fondly on the times working with Daly on many initiatives that were dear to their hearts. Among them were the Phoenix Project in Marin City, the commitment to the children of incarcerated parents through Project Avary, and the support of transitional-age youths through Opening the World.
“It was two brothers just trying to help people reach their potential for future success,” Varela said. “Mike’s leadership in the County has been impressive, but for me the special work he did was outside of the County (government). One of the things Mike did was teach a lot of folks who had good intentions how to be good stewards of their nonprofits or their mission within their community. He is the collaboration king. At the Civic Center, his work as both an assistant and as a department head was always based on improving County operations and supporting individuals in the criminal justice system seeking to better themselves.”
Sheriff Robert Doyle: “I knew Mike way back when. I first met him when he was hired as an extra-hire probation officer assigned to Coordination of Probation Enforcement team. Over the years, I watched his career, he coached my daughter in youth basketball, and we became friends. Linda and I wish Mike and Peggie health and happiness in retirement.”
District Attorney Lori Frugoli: “We want to thank Mike for his decades of commitment to community safety, the children, and all the programs in which he has been a leader. He incentivized and started restorative justice, bringing those practices to our County when it wasn’t on anybody’s radar. … He helped make that grow in our own office, and I want to thank him for that.”
During the July 21 Board of Supervisors meeting, Board President Katie Rice – who represents Daly’s home turf in the Ross Valley – paused to keep her composure as Daly endured a shower of praise and thanks.
“Boy, a lot of people are going to miss you, Mike, because you left an unbelievable mark on the Probation Department and the criminal justice system here,” Rice said. “That’s in large part due to who you are and what you brought to us. We wish you the best.”
Daly wrapped it up by adding, “You guys are the best. I love you, and it’s been a great 30 years. … Next to marrying my wife, it has been the highest honor in my life to work with you guys.”