Tag Archives: coaching memories

The Best Decision I Hated

After high school baseball practice my first spring as a Rule 10 coach in 2000, I dropped off a book to newly promoted head football coach Paul Lane and assistant football coach Matt Brenzikofer as they talked outside Coach Lane’s classroom. The book was COMPLETE CONDITIONING FOR FOOTBALL by Mike Arthur and Brian Bailey. I’d bought the book several years earlier both for personal enjoyment/education and to help a high school kid I knew to get in football shape and to convince him to play the game. 

Out of the blue a few weeks later, Coach Lane and Coach Brenz stop me after baseball practice. I thought he was just going to hand back my book with that “go away, kid” dismissal one would expect from Nick Saban or Jim Harbaugh. As I mentally prepared to take the book back, say as few words as possible, and slink out the door trying to save a little face, Coach asked if I wanted to be a freshman coach and strength & conditioning coordinator.

I froze.

He asked me if I knew what was in the copy of my book he waved in front of me and if I knew how to implement any of it. I nodded yes. He said that I was the guy then. I told him I didn’t know anything about coaching football. He smiled and said something along the lines that I would surprise myself what I knew and how I could teach the game of football.

After a little wrangling at work to rearrange my schedule to a 6:30 AM to 2:45 PM work day, followed by an eat-your-lunch-while-driving-back-for 3:30 practice trip from MHK to CC, I took the job.

Being a Rule 10 baseball and football coach was one of the top 5 greatest decisions I ever made.

After a summer of winging it through a successful inaugural summer conditioning program, August rolled around and time for football. I was assistant freshman coach to Eric Burks and I am very grateful and very lucky to have started coaching football with him. What little football knowledge I had was on the offensive side of the ball, mainly blocking and running the ball. That was what I had my heart set on coaching for the freshman. Coach Burks had spent several years as varsity defensive coordinator and was now down at the freshman level. On our first meeting to plan the freshman program, he asked me what I wanted to coach.

I said “offense” before he even had a chance to finish his sentence. He looked at me. He smiled. He said that he thought he’d like to do offense because it would be invigorating to change sides of the ball. To his credit, he still gave me the choice. Me! The newbie idiot who knew only enough football to fill Coach Burks’s left pocket.

I thought about it.

I remembered the lessons my parents taught me about starting at the bottom of the ladder and working your way up. Keep your head down and your nose to the grindstone. I thought about Coach Burks. He was very excited about being able to dust off his offensive football coaching skills. I admit it now, I was scared. I didn’t know defensive fronts from storm fronts. I didn’t know the first, the second, or the last thing about secondary coverage schemes. Blitzes might have just as well have been spritzes. I was clueless. I was scared to fail.

Even though it went completely against my heart. Even though I knew it would knock me completely out of my comfort zone. Even though I knew I could completely look like a fool in front of my adopted hometown, I made the decision to be the freshman defensive coach.

Turns out, it was the best decision I’ve ever hated in my life.

I hit the books. I knew I couldn’t fall flat on my face. I couldn’t risk being the sore thumb which stood out on the stellar coaching staff Coach Lane put together. I didn’t want to embarrass my family or let down the high standards of the CCCHS community. Most of all, I did not want to let Coach Lane down. I knew he took a giant risk hiring me. I also assumed he took quite a bit of crap from the above high-standard, CCCHS community about hiring a nobody with no experience.

I studied defense. I read articles. I watched film. I asked questions. I tried to soak up everything I could from the other members of the staff. Slowly but surely, I fell head over heels for defensive football. And you know what else I discovered? That part of being a defensive coach is…studying the different offenses! Kaboom!

The strategy. The fundamental techniques. The intensity. The contact. The physicality. The schemes.

It was like a door to a new world was opened. I crawled through the dark, wardrobe door and found a football utopia. Defense. I learned the defensive fronts and gaps. I learned the linebacker techniques and schemes. I even learned about three-deep zones, squats & halves, bracket, zone over, zone blitz, and man coverages. I was like a kid in the candy store.

Defense.

I found my football groove.

Found my groove by being shoved out of my comfort zone.

Found my groove by doing the job I was given instead of doing everyone else’s job.

Found my groove through discipline and knowledge.

I found my football groove seventeen years ago through the best decision I ever hated making.

Do the work. Do your job. Every man, every play.

Even for the coaches.

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Coach Wilson

I pulled an old t-shirt from the drawer to wear for our walk last night. It was one from the deepest, forgotten bottom of my shirt drawer. It brought a smile to my face and unleashed a flood of good memory of my all-time favorite sports mom. Here’s the shirt.

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When the kids were young and we had just moved to town—way before there even was a Coach Hays—we got involved with the local swim club. The future, great sports mom had a son a few years older than my kids, so, our first summer we crossed paths almost every weekend. Apparently, I wore a “Wilson” t-shirt quite often because toward the end of the summer, when we formally met the future great sports mom and her family, she told us a funny story about how she thought my last name was “Wilson” because that was the name on my shirt. We had a great laugh at the time and she continued to call me “Mr. Wilson” for years.

Fast forward to my first year of coaching football and her son is now a high school junior. Naturally, to the great sports mom, my title changed from “Mr. Wilson” to “Coach Wilson”. The name changed but not the ornery twinkle in her eye and smile whenever she called me that.

She was everything a sports mom should be.

  • Supportive of us coaches
  • Supportive of the other players.
  • Her son’s biggest fan, not his agent or his lawyer.
  • Never tried to pave the way to make things easy for her son.
  • Didn’t bring snacks/refreshments with the expectation her son should play because she brought snacks/refreshments.

Most importantly, she realized sports are just sports. She taught and valued the big picture and that there was more to life than a high school athletic career.

She was the kind of person you’d be happy to go out of your way for. Whether it was spending extra time with her son training or practicing or driving four hours after oral surgery in the middle of our family vacation to watch her son play the Kansas Shrine Bowl football game in 110° weather, you’d do it. But, I could never have told her “no” that particular time because she printed my entire family personalized Shrine Bowl t-shirts just so we could be a part of their family cheering section.

She passed away a few years ago. I miss this great sports mom. Whenever I see her son and the wonderful family he and his wife are growing, I am reminded of her joy, her kindness, and her fabulous attitude toward life. This helps fill some of the hole left from losing great people. Over the past several years, two of my favorite sports mothers have died too young. Theses ladies, and the examples they set, are greatly missed.

But, most of all, I miss being called Coach Wilson.

 

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How In The World…?

Another DAVID AND GOLIATH post on one of my favorite football coaching memories.

I learned a valuable lesson about succeeding as the underdog early in my football coaching career. I learned this from our offensive coordinator at the time, Coach Dail Smith. He didn’t sit me down and explain this lesson. It didn’t pop into my head like a light bulb of understanding. I learned this valuable lesson from a short pre-game talk at the 50-yard line of Otto Unruh Stadium with the head coach of our most bitter rival, the Marysville Bulldogs.

As the lowest coach on our program’s coaching totem pole, it was my job to remember to get the VHS trade scout tapes from the equipment box and return them to the opposing coach before the game. (Yes, back in the dark ages, the upcoming opposing coaches would meet on Saturday morning and trade game tapes from the night before and the week before. I imagine the HUDL online system is golden compared to VHS trade tapes.)

Well, I ran the Marysville tapes out to midfield to give back to Coach Warner, who I knew a bit from coaching baseball. I handed him the tapes and said hello. He takes the tapes, smiles and asks, “How in the world do you get high school kids to learn all those plays?”

I said, “Huh?”

“Your playbook must be four inches thick. How do you guys do it?”

“What do you mean?”

“When I charted your plays from these past two games,” he said, handing me our two VHS tapes. “I counted 127 different plays. How in the world…?”

I just shrugged my shoulders and bit my lip to keep from breaking out into a fit of laughter. “I don’t know, coach. I guess our kids are awesome or something.” I told him good luck and ran to our sidelines laughing like a hyena all the way.

Now, I know our kids. They are awesome kids. But they aren’t that awesome (or quite that smart). 127 plays? I still laugh about that to this day and it’s still one of my favorite memories—and coaching lessons.

Simple is better, even if it looks like a Chinese fire drill.

Coach Smith designed an offense to look and act like this big 127 separate play chaotic monster. But, in all actuality, it was a very simple, multiple-look offense. An offense which exploited the best things we did while trying to mask the things we didn’t do well.

Again, David using his advantages to compete against Goliath instead of entering into a disadvantageous matchup.

Well, you may be wondering by now how many plays Coach Smith did have in his playbook. First, I don’t think he ever made a real playbook or did so willingly. But he did scratch out the basics.

The numbers?

We had about 6-8 running plays and a handful of passing plays.

We taught the kids their job on these 15 or so plays until they knew what they were supposed to do like clockwork. Then we ran those plays out of 27 different formations we had that year. And every kid could go to those formations in their sleep because we drilled and drilled and drilled those formations in summer camp and two-a-days until they were blue in the face.

So, when our kids learned their jobs on those 15 plays and compound it with all those formations, I am sure our offense looked like this massive, complex gargantuan playbook. Something that made our opponents spend hours of scouting and practice time covering the hundreds of plays.

Using our tools to be the best we could be.

Just like David against Goliath.

Coach Smith was a wily, old fox, wasn’t he?

 

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Apples and Crackers

When it came to coaching football, I was stupid. Seriously, most of the time, I was too oblivious to things going on outside of football while we were supposed to be doing football. Case in point, apples and crackers.

Apples and crackers? What in the heck do they have to do with football? Sit down, get a cool drink, and I’ll tell you.

It started with early season home JV games, you know those late August/early September HOT games. For this particular first home date, we played an area team who would bring both their freshman team and JV team over for a doubleheader. Me, as JV coach, thought (with the football coach’s blinders firmly in place) this would be a perfect opportunity to practice. Since our JV game would be starting a bit later than usual, we could get a full varsity team practice in. So, I made the last-minute, executive decision to practice instead of letting JV kids have some time off after school. Perfect. An extra almost-full practice. Priceless.

Well, maybe not. The first year we did this, we loaded the JV team up after the practice and drove to the stadium. We arrived about halftime of the freshman game. While standing around before warm-ups, a few of the kids talk about how hungry they are and how they had nothing to eat since lunch. Parents with high school boys are well aware of this time warp, which extends the hours between lunch and 6:00 PM into a seemingly 19-day fasting period for these youngsters. Long story short, I knew we would play like dookie and whine like cats in the bathtub if I didn’t find something for them to eat.

With the visual of 20+ angry mothers confronting me about not allowing their fine sons to eat before playing a JV football game, I scoot over to Coach Lane, explain the problem, and we coaches pool what little coaching cash we have for him to run to the store. He asked me what in the hell he should get for them. I went blank and when my brain kicked into gear, I blurted out the first two food items which entered my mind. Apples and crackers.

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Ten minutes later, after we are completely dressed out and the freshman game is about at the end of the third quarter, Coach Lane returns with four giant bags of Jonathan apples (my personal favorite) and four boxes of Zesta saltine crackers.

That night, the boys ate like kings. I’ve never seen young men enjoy a meal of two completely ridiculous “power” foods like those boys did that night. I was fortunate to grab two apples for my own dinner without losing a limb in the process. Those apples and those crackers disappeared in about two minutes. Smiles all around and life was good.

Game On!

Apples and crackers became a tradition for the first home JV game for the next several years. It was like a team banquet or something for these kids. Some still talk about it. The majority of the time, stupidity fades faster than a shot from a Roman candle. But, sometimes, there is a rare occasion where stupidity sticks and enjoys a long life. The incident of the apples and crackers was one of these rare events.

Live well, boys! Celebrate the start of the 2014 football season with an apple and a few saltine crackers.

Enjoy the snack with the zeal of youth.

Enjoy it for your football memories.

Most importantly, enjoy it for Friday Night in America.

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The Snap

The sound. The sharp snap of a chin strap being fastened. It is a beautiful sound; a quick click of metal fastening to metal, followed by the crisp echo as the sound waves move through the plastic shell of the football helmet. A beautiful sound.

We have a unique situation for football in our town. Our stadium, the historic Otto Unruh Stadium, built in the depression by local workers using local limestone, is across town from the high school. So, for games, we had to ride busses from the school to the stadium. Some may look at this as an inconvenience, but I always thought it was pretty darn cool.

First, it gave the kids a game-mentality to associate with the stadium. We knew when we went to Otto Unruh Stadium, it was game time. We knew it was time to go to work and take care of business.

Second, the bus ride was kind of fun. After a home win, there was nothing better than to drive back across town with cars honking, people waving, and a bus full of singing, happy, sweaty, stinky, beat-up-but-not-feeling-a-lick-of-pain teenage boys. If we lost? Let’s just say the mood was a little more somber.

The most awesome thing, though, was the bus ride out to the Unruh Stadium. We made that ride in total silence. Yes, you read that correctly. 40 teenage boys fully dressed out to play a high school football game, riding in a school bus on a 10 minute drive across town in complete, utter silence. It was one of the many brilliant ideas of Coach Paul Lane.

The kids all knew the Coach Lane Silence Drill, especially on the second bus which carried most of the lineman and younger JV kids. Coach Lane and I were coach riders on that bus. Every once in a while, most often early in the year or riding out for a freshman or JV game, one of the younger kids, pumped up on nervous adrenaline, would say something. A simple hand up by me, or a stern look from an upperclassman would silence the bus again.

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The best part of the ride would happen after we crossed the bridge over Huntress Creek and prepare to turn left on “C” Street. As we came off the bridge, the sun would be falling over the limestone grandstands of the stadium a few blocks west of the bridge. You could feel the intake of breath throughout the bus. There was our house in all its glory, decked out with the orange and black flags, and the other various decorations associated with Friday Night in America. The scoreboard would be on and the lights may already be on, Otto Unruh Stadium was ready. Our stadium.

The Coach Hays part of the Coach Lane Bus Silence Rule was when we turned the corner on “C” street, everyone was to be strapped up and ready to step off the bus with fire in our eyes. The part which I hope stays fresh in my memory for the rest of my life would happen right there. The moment when the bus driver would turn the corner and behind me I would hear, no I would feel, the snap of 40 chin straps being fastened in almost perfect unison. It gives me chills just to think about it. That beautiful sound of the snap, 40 times within a second, and spread out just enough to where I could almost hear each individual snap.

The bus would continue, the silence would continue, and when Coach Lane stepped off the bus inside the stadium, Rocky, our radio announcer in the booth, would start “Welcome to the Jungle” at the second Coach Lane’s foot hit the ground. Friday Night in America, boys and girls.

I miss that ride. I miss that sound probably more than just about anything from the coaching days at CCCHS. In my head the echo of those snaps lingers. I can only hope when I am on my deathbed, after I see the faces of my family and after my life flashes before my eye, the very last sound I hear as I turn the corner toward my glorious stadium, will be the “SNAP!” of a chorus of football helmets.

 

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The Crap Quotes

Warning: This post is rated PG-13 for language.

Language. Communication. Coaching. Teaching.
When one is coaching teenage boys, these four points listed above can become a challenge. Kids have well-honed BS meters; they know when an adult is being sincere and when they are blowing smoke at them. They want to hear the answers and they want confidence out of their leaders. They want to be taught the Wingbuster Defense with the confidence that there is no way the opponent can move the ball against it, even though, in reality, the coach has no idea if his hair-brained idea will actually work.
On this front, I can honestly say I learned a couple very important things about kids during my time as a coach:

  • First, you have to earn respect.
  • Second, you have to command respect.
  • Third, you have to find a way to understand each other; let the kids be the kids and the coach be the coach.
  • Fourth, kids want challenge, they want the discipline and limits, and most of all, they want direction.

Sometimes, in order to establish these four things, it meant crossing the line on proper and civil use of the English language. I probably spent way too much time over that line back in the day. Probably a mistake, but what the heck, it was me. Anyway, it was all about speaking simply and in a manner that commanded their attention day in and day out. Like I used to say, “I wouldn’t survive a week in France speaking Portuguese all day.”
A few weeks ago, I started thinking about the stupid things I used to say. I realized many of those stupid things contained the word “crap”, or various, increasingly vulgar derivatives of the word. So, here is a small list of some of the stupid (and sometimes stupid-funny) things I’ve said in the past containing “crap”. And, contrary to the opinion of one ex-athlete, who upon learning I was making this list, this is not going to be novel length work.

The Crap Quotes

“Kick the crap out of them”

“I don’t give a crap who your parents are or where you come from. I give a crap about what you do and how you work.”

“Oh, you’re tired? I don’t give a crap!”

“You’re sore? I don’t give a crap!”

“Stop everything! Okay. Stand with your feet out as far as you can. Now, bend your head down between your legs as far as you can. Hold it.  Alright now stand up quickly and pull your heads out of your asses.”

To the freshman every year:
“You know who gives a crap about what you did last year across the street at the middle school? Nobody. Nobody, except maybe your mommy and your daddy. What matters is what you do from NOW through the next three years.”

“Don’t let someone sell you a bucket of crap by telling you it’s chocolate.”

“You know what I liked about that last play you guys just ran? Nothing. Nothing at all; it was pure crap.”

“You feeling okay this morning? You look like you must have gotten your money’s worth at the Crap Buffet last night.”

“Relax, son. You’re so nervous you couldn’t crap a mustard seed right now.”

Looking back one thing is certain, I am such an idiot.

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A Wave of Football Memories

A funny thing struck me this morning, a lightning bolt of memories whose beauty and simplicity opened the floodgates. Our local high school, the high school where I coached football from 2000-2008, is playing one of our biggest rivals at home Friday night. This morning Coach P. Lane sent a message asking if I still had the records and scores handy for games played against this rival during our coaching tenure. He explained the local sports reporter wanted these results for his preview article. I was able to piece together scores from 2004-2008, but had to dig deep into the memory banks to remember the W’s and the L’s and eventually had to rely on the power of the internet to dig up results.

CCCHS vs AHS (Coach P. Lane Era)

2000- Win
2001- Win
2002 – Win 26-7 (Thanks, Coach K. Unruh)
2003 – Loss
2004 – Win 30-22
2005 – Loss 16-6
2006 – Win 41-21
2007 – Win 28-10
2008 – Loss 13-12

What struck me as an unexpected surprise during this walk down memory lane? The flood storm of people and memories from those years instead of the W’s and the L’s which seemed so vitally important at the time. I mostly remembered the kids and the fine people I coached with and against. The stadiums and smells of concession stands and locker rooms. The bus rides and the pit stops on the road to distant games. I remembered lining up for pregame on 9-14-2001 at Piper High School in Kansas City for a moment of silence and a listening of our national anthem with tears streaming down our faces. The extended football family tragedies and the injuries which almost shattered your heart. Above all else, I remembered how much fun we had playing this great game of football.
I will miss this year’s game to attend a retirement party for a co-worker of 24 years; a priority now which wouldn’t have been just a mere few years ago. But, there is one thing I’d like to pass on to the young men playing on our home field and those playing on the thousands of sports fields across the country Friday night.
Gentlemen, it is important to learn how to put the requisite work and effort in order to try and win a game. It is not easy. It is important to work together as a true team, every man doing his job on every play. Never forget, though, the memory of the W’s and the L’s will fade into oblivion, it is inevitable. But,  you will never forget the teammates who stand next to you night after night at practice and line up toe to toe with you under those wonderful Friday night lights. You will never forget the blood, the sweat and the tears sacrificed in becoming the best individual and the best team you can be.

Good luck and good health.

Play hard and have fun.

Every man, every play

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