|Mike Dreier, New London-Spicer|
Friday, March 28, 2014
Coaches' impact goes a long way, like it or not
It's as if the players themselves are completely incapable of being self-starters. It seems kind of discouraging when you consider that education is supposed to lift up students, nurture their self-esteem and make them responsible future adults.
Coaches are inseparable from the won-lost fortunes of their teams. They come and go according to these fortunes. Sometimes they are removed even if they win. I remember watching with my father a discussion on TV over whether a certain coach might survive some struggling times. My father said "What a way to make a living."
The caprice surrounding a coach is something well-known to these individuals when they assume the role. So, I find it surprising how they can bristle when issues arise over their performance. All-out "wars" can break out over this. I shake my head because it hardly seems worth the trouble.
How did we get here? The great pundit George Will, a conservative, has expressed dismay over what he calls "coach centrism." He was mainly talking about college football. College football takes the problems I'm discussing to the extreme.
Football is like "war" with generals along the sideline. "Bear" Bryant and Tom Landry wore their hats. Bill Belichik wears his homeless man's sweatshirt. Mike Tice with the Vikings had his pencil in his ear and appeared to be frantically chewing gum. The immensely successful John Madden, before he charmed us from the broadcast booth, had an intense, borderline exasperated look that reminds of Chris Farley. The exasperation reflected focus, of course, as the genius Madden pondered the percentages with each play. My mother was quite oblivious about football but she was familiar with Madden on the TV screen.
We have allowed sports to develop to where it's much more than a test of the athletes' raw physical ability. That ability has become nothing more than a mound of clay that the coach manipulates and shapes.
It's easier to understand for major college and pro sports, but not so easy for sports with kids under 18. We'd like youth sports to be pleasant, laid-back and accommodative for all. Why can't there be more of an emphasis on intramural? Intramural opens the door for kids with a wide range of innate abilities. No obsessiveness is required. And hey, travel expenses can be eliminated!
All over the map
It used to be that the very long travel distances were reserved for state tournament games or maybe some at the regional (now "sectional") level. I grew up when this was the norm. The old "District 21" had a basketball tournament involving towns within a very tight and reasonable travel distance. That was back in the days when nearly all small towns still had their own high schools. You might play Elbow Lake or Ashby in the first round.
Late in my newspaper career, there was a football season that had the Morris Tigers traveling to play Fairmont in the very first round. I was dumbfounded. Fairmont is down by the Iowa border. Not only that, Morris was no longer sending "fan buses" to such games. The model was changing. I wasn't adjusting my perspective fast enough. In my mind, common sense suggested we play communities that were reasonably close in the early rounds.
Consolidation and pairing has slashed the number of high schools around the state. There are far fewer "Hickory High Schools" like in the movie "Hoosiers." Now we have schools with these wild names that aren't even the name of a specific geographic entity. We have "MACCRAY" for example. Either a name like that, or a strung-out series of town names denoting a team, so long that when announced at a state meet, it brings some laughter among the fans.
Can we be "Morris" again?
I suggested a long time ago that schools turn to adopting the town name where the high school is located. In our case locally, Morris and Chokio-Alberta still have high schools but C-A is essentially along for the ride, so I see no reason why we can't just go by "Morris" again, having come full circle. In the future I think this will become palatable.
Our basketball teams in Morris went nowhere for the post-season this year. It's logical to discuss coaching. This is done while walking on eggshells of course.
I "cheated" this year by writing about New London-Spicer, the girls team, as if it were my own team. I can honestly say I went through the same "March madness" emotions by writing about and following that team. I shared this adventure with a prominent Morris person at church a week ago. He made the comment: "They have a good coach." Oh my, that's a delicate statement.
New London-Spicer has had an individual in that role for a long time who churns out success. Subconsciously we wonder why that system can't find a home here in Morris.
I remember a former Morris postmaster who said the Hancock girls program, coached then by Dennis Courneya, is "something we ought to have here." At that time, this kind of statement would make you a focus of controversy in ol' Motown. The Hancock coach ended up crashing and burning with legal charges that landed him in prison.
We would not want a prominent Morris school staff person to be the focus for serious legal charges, would we?
Turbulence in late 1980s
That postmaster was here at the time when Morris went through extremely stormy seas with regard to its high school sports programs. This was the late 1980s. Many newer residents might have no idea what went on then, and if they were to be told, they might not believe it. The politics was so thick you could cut it with a knife. People got scarred in terms of their reputations. Neither "side" had a clear-cut "win." It was like sausage-making in the end. Many problems did in fact get cleared up, although not overnight.
I think the problems were part of a larger transition going on in education. The "baby boom" years had ended. Technically they ended in 1982 with the graduating class that was born in 1964. People in the education profession would have to start being more accountable, in the way a business is accountable to its customers. Teacher tenure could no longer serve as an all-purpose shield against all criticism.
Teachers and coaches could continue asserting themselves but with a greater degree of reasonableness.
I remember well a Star Tribune article that presented changing attitudes about coaching jobs and their "security." (The quote marks seem apt, right?)
Hockey coaches, those who work outside the high school system, have long understood the caprice that surrounds the role. If an appreciable number of fans rise up and simply say they want a change, to "shake things up" as it were, you might as well just step aside and let it happen. Hockey people are so enraptured by their sport, they'll stick with it and keep supporting it even if they're removed from a coaching spot.
Hockey seems unique in this respect. Even guys who have experienced life-changing injuries continue professing their love of the sport. It's something I cannot grasp. I have tried appreciating hockey on TV and cannot.
Administrators' outlook different
The Star Tribune article revealed that school administrators today quite casually go along with these "movements" for coaching change, and don't attach any "moral" significance to the decision at all. It's pragmatic. They shrug, in effect, simply trying to keep the seas calm, and who really cares who the coach is, as long as the plurality of parents seem to support him/her?
In other words, distilled to its essence, let's not make a "moral crusade" out of keeping an incumbent coach in place, just because he's "a fine person," shows up for work on time etc.
This whole controversy we had in Morris in the late 1980s reflected these shifting sands for how authority is used.
A coaching job is not a "breadwinner" job. In fact, when you consider the amount of time that any coach puts in, the "odd hours" etc., they aren't getting paid enough anyway.
In many cases a coach fights to stay in place because the job helps define who that person is, and a perceived "firing" would be deleterious to one's image. Well, those concerns have been pushed to the back in our present age.
Don't bother a school superintendent over the alleged "unethical" component to removing a coach. Superintendents wouldn't even want to talk about it any more. Their priority for sports is "quiet." They'd prefer working on the nuts and blots of education - the academics. Let the parents have fun with their sports teams. Let them try to win.
Mike Dreier has the reins
New London-Spicer has the good fortune of having a coach, Mike Dreier, who in the view of my main street business friend, fuels success and excitement for "March madness."
We might legitimately wonder if we could improve the odds here in Motown. But that might involve the untidy business of holding coaches' feet to the fire. Let's remove our inhibitions.
We associate wisdom with Bud Grant. The iconic Vikings coach was once asked why he didn't have his players run through tires in pre-season, like in so much of the stock video footage from football practices.
"Well, I have always felt that if you have your players spend a lot of time running through tires, they will only get good at running through tires."
It is this wisdom we defer to.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org