Archive for the ‘Coaching’ Category

As many of you know I’ve decided to run for the Paint Valley Board of Education. As of a few days ago my petition was approved and I’ll be on the ballot. There are four people running for two open positions. The incumbents are Justin Immell and Deric Newland, who were both appointed, and they are being challenged by Blake Lloyd and myself, Dave Shoemaker.

I’m running because I care about our community. I care about our school. I care about our kids. I have a deep love for Paint Valley, and I’ve had it for the large majority of my life. I attended school in the Paint Valley district from 1st Grade until the day I graduated high school. I came back and taught in grades 5 through 8 from 1990 until 2013, coached varsity basketball from 1988 to 1996, then was asked to return and coached again from 2012 to 2018. I am the all-time winningest coach in Paint Valley basketball history, and I’m extremely proud of that. In addition, I served as the high school Athletic Director from 1996 until 2007 and was involved in the renovation of our facilities. I’ve also been a substitute teacher in the district from 2013 to the present. All-in-all I’ve been involved in education as a teacher/coach/athletic director/substitute for over 35-years, and 28 of those years have been spent serving the Paint Valley District proudly.

Much of my family has been involved in education, many at Paint Valley. My late mother Kathryn and my late sister Karen taught there, and my late friend and brother-in-law Don “Jigger” Anderson was a beloved principal at our school for 17-years. I was heavily influenced by all of them. I have several relatives who are educators too – Army, Mike, Todd, Josh, Angie, Linda, Rex, Deb, Lori, Terry, Cindy, Laura, and a few I’m sure I’m forgetting. Many of those I mentioned taught at Paint Valley, and countless former students and players of mine have chosen education as a profession  Many are administrators.

I’ve taught and coached thousands of Paint Valley students and athletes. I developed close relationships with many of them and have maintained many to this day. I still have close relationships with many on the teaching staff at Paint Valley as well as some of the administrators and support staffs. I know, appreciate and understand our district’s needs, and I understand how to open lines of communication between the school and community.

As a Paint Valley School Board member I believe communication between the school and community is crucial. Transparency, openness and honesty should be priorities. Community involvement and input is key. After all, it’s your school. A school board member shouldn’t have personal priorities or agendas, nor should they have axes to grind. They shouldn’t micro-manage or try and make decisions they’re not qualified to make. They should let the professionals do their jobs, becoming involved only when the welfare of our students and staff are in question.

And they should always, without fail, exhibit a dedicated commitment to the Paint Valley students, parents, teaching staff, support staff and community.

I care deeply for Paint Valley. To me, the right to be a school board member in a district I love is something I would consider an honor.

And that, members of the Paint Valley community, is why I’m running.

It’s June, and that always meant a month chock full of basketball. We had Monday and Wednesday night league games, shootouts, our PV Youth Camp, and of course our annual pilgrimage to WVU Team Camp, the Gary Williams Team Camp before that, or even the Bob Huggins Camps at UC and the Ohio U Camps under Billy Hahn back in the late 80s and early 90s. All were always great times.

As you might expect, stories abound from those days . . .

One year we arrived in Morgantown on Friday, got registered at camp, and I got all the guys checked into their hotel rooms. About an hour later my hotel phone rings, and I pick up.

“Hello?”

“Coach, this is T-Bag Medley. I have a question.”

Yes, he gave me his full name.

Because you know, it could have possibly been T-Bag McGinnis or T-Bag Mertz or any other number of my friends named “T-Bag” that happen to refer to me as “coach.” You can’t make this stuff up, kids.

Anyway, I told the guys and for the rest of the weekend and probably forevermore “T-Bag” would be known by his full name of “T-Bag Medley.”

Good Lord.

One time at WVU I heard some of my players being too loud in the hotel lobby. I went out there (pretty upset with them since their were other people in the lobby) and found a couple of my guys in the little room with the snack machines and stuff. They were talking loudly so I ripped into them pretty good, and as I did I noticed a player named Boom slowly disappearing behind one of the machines until he was completely behind it.

Me: “Boom! Why are you hiding behind the machine?”

Boom, in a small, trembling voice: “Because I’m scared.”

Keep in mind this was from a senior and 3-year varsity player. All I could do was laugh and walk away.

Some of my players hadn’t spent a lot of times away from home or in hotels, as was evident one day when one of them took me aside and whispered, “Coach, while we were gone today somebody came in and cleaned up our room. They made our bed and everything. It was awesome!”

The kid was tickled to death, like he’d hit the lottery or something. Couldn’t have been happier.

McCloy vs. 911 Wings.

Draise vs. 911 Wings.

And I’ll never forget a yearly tradition at Hugg’s camp at WVU – the yearly Eating of the 911 Wings. You see, there was a place called Kegler’s that had the hottest chicken wings on the planet. They were so hot they were called 911 Wings. Although we didn’t force players to try one we always told them it was a PV basketball tradition, a Rite of Passage if you will. Almost all the players tried at least one. Those wings were absolutely brutal. To watch them take a bite, then nod their head like it wasn’t that bad, only to see the heat kick in and tears come to their eyes, well it was memorable to put it mildly.

I like to think of it as the ultimate team-building exercise.

Note: 2017 grad Jay Riley could order a plate of those damn things and not bat an eye. Kid had an iron stomach. Or maybe no taste buds.

Once while we were out eating at a restaurant I had a player order extra futons for his salad. The waitress just looked at him blankly and asked, “You mean croutons?” as the table erupted in laughter.

I used to take my teams out to the University of Maryland for the Gary Williams Basketball Camp. It’s a long story but I used to be the Commissioner of the camps there for Gary from 1989 to 2002.

The kids who attended Maryland Camp came from the Washington DC area as well as Baltimore, Philly, New York City and schools all along the east coast. To say my Southern Ohio boys were out of their element was a bit of an understatement. Still, my guys hung out with the city boys, stayed in the dorms with them, and more than held their own on the basketball court. To me it was a win-win all-around. You know, expanding cultural horizons and all that. Not to mention it made my guys better playing against such good competition.

Which brings me to a story that Gary Williams, legendary former coach at Maryland, still tells to this day. Remember that it was 1992, and “trash talking” was in its early stages. Understand that trash talking hardly ever led to violence on the court, it was just a part of the game for players from the playgrounds of the inner-cities. My team, however, was not used to it. It hadn’t made its way to our neck of the woods yet.

With this in mind, my Ohio boys had been in a particularly intense contest with a team from Philly, which we happened to have won. Afterwards, in a corridor outside the Cole Field House floor, words were exchanged between an opposing player and one of my guys. After the other player challenged my player with some unkind words, a punch was thrown.

Somebody got throttled, and he wasn’t from Ross County.

Gary Williams, the aforementioned Maryland coach, happened to be in the corridor and jumped between my player and the other guy who was, well, on the hallway floor. At that point, as Gary will tell you, the following conversation took place:

Coach Williams: “What are you doing, man? Why did you punch him?”

My guy: “Coach, where I come from we only talk like that for a minute. Then we start to hit.”

Gary thought that was the greatest thing he’d ever heard, and he could hardly wait to tell me about it.

Another story at Maryland involved a certain player of mine whose name I’ll leave out to protect the not-so-innocent. This guy liked the ladies, and it just so happened a girls rugby camp was going on the same week as our basketball camp. During our lunch break I was in a car, and as we drove I noticed him flirting with a young lady.

Sorry, but this was too good to pass up. As we passed I stopped the car, rolled down the window, and said this:

“Hey man, we should be getting those STD test results back any time now. I’ll let you know if you’re clean.”

I’m telling you, the look on his face was priceless. Hers too.

Then we drove away.

My last story from Maryland didn’t involve my players, but instead involved me. You have to remember that Cole Field House was a legendary basketball arena. All the ACC greats played there, guys like Len Bias, Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, Grant Hill, Kenny Anderson, Billy Cunningham, Christian Laettner, Ralph Sampson, James Worthy, Joe Smith and David Thompson. In 1966 the famous National Championship game between Texas Western and Kentucky took place in Cole. Texas Western had an all-black starting line-up and Kentucky was all-white. Led by the legendary coach Don Haskins, Texas Western beat the Adolph Rupp coached Kentucky 72-65. Bottom line, it was a storied, historic arena. Knowing that makes the following story more relevant . . .

It was the last day of camp, the parents had arrived to pick up their kids, and I was announcing the championship game. The contest was nearing its conclusion when I said the following:

After the game all parents and visitors need to go to the tunnel end of the gym so they can watch the awards ceremony.”

Believe me, I said this with all sincerity and honesty. Never gave it a second thought. But then, all of a sudden, future Hall of Fame coach Gary Williams is looming over me screaming:

“Does this look like a GYM to you, Shoe? Michael Jordan did his first cradle dunk here! Lenny Bias played here! An all black Texas Western team beat an all white Kentucky team on this court in 1966! This is COLE FIELD HOUSE, MAN!”

I’m paraphrasing but that was the gist of it. At this point I was laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe, which only made Gary angrier. I mean, he was serious but it was so funny at the time I couldn’t help myself. In the meantime any coach within 10-feet was slowly backing away as to not get caught in the line of fire. As far as Coach Williams was concerned I’d insulted the sacred grounds of Cole Field House by referring to it as a “gym.”

Believe me, to Gary Williams that was sacrilegious, man. 

Being the good guy that Gary was we laughed about it together later, but at the time I thought I was gonna get coldcocked by one of college’s all-time greatest coaches. Whew.

Believe me, there are more stories that will have to wait and be told another day. But bottom line, these few stories are what’s great about coaching. Not all the great memories are from time spent during a game. They’re from practices, camps, on the bus, and when we together as a team far away from game night, developing relationships that will last forever.

Ultimately, it’s all about relationships.

Brad Stevens is the head coach of the Boston Celtics. This year his team was expected to be really good but underperformed all year, culminating with a 4-1 series loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the NBA playoffs. All in all a very disappointing season as the Celtics didn’t come close to meeting expectations.

This happens in sports, and coaches respond in different ways. Some blame the players, some blame the officials, and if they’re a first year coach they sometimes blame the team’s previous coach. Not Brad Stevens. Listen up . . .

“I did a bad job. At the end of the day, if your team doesn’t find its best fit, that’s on you. And so I’ll do a lot of deep dives on how I can bet better.”

Take note, young coaches. Don’t point fingers, don’t make excuses. This is how you do it.

Believe it or not I used to coach football. Sure, basketball has always been my true love but I actually coached junior high football for 4-years back when I first started teaching. I coached 1-year at Paint Valley and 3-years at Greenfield McClain. I had a couple good years and a couple that were, shall we say, suspect. Ah, what the hell, I’ll be honest – I had no freaking idea what I was doing, and the story I’m about to tell is evidence of that.

The very first year I coached I had an 8th grader named Donnie. Donnie was a strapping young lad, probably 5′-11′, 200 pounds, in other words a big dude for being just 13-years old. Donnie was a good, honest country boy, simple in his ways and speech.

Anyway, in our infinite football wisdom my assistant and I made the decision to insert Donnie at the fullback position, because hey, the dude was monstrous for his age and could just truck the hell out of any poor 110-pound youngster that might foolishly attempt to tackle him.

On a related note, my assistant had the same football background and experience that I did, which amounted to a grand total of none.

So for the first couple of games Donnie played well, gaining a lot of yards whilst annihilating the occasional player, both on the opponent’s team or ours, that got in his way.

Defensively however, our young squad was struggling. Our guys had a lot of heart but exhibited a distinct lack of interest in, you know, hitting somebody.

Did it ever occur to our brilliant football minds to give Donnie a try on defense? Sadly, it did not. Until one day . . .

My assistant and I were standing on the sideline before a game, lamenting our lack of a defense, when Donnie walked up to us. The words he then uttered not only opened our eyes but changed the football fortunes of the young Bearcat squad from that moment forward.

“Coach, can I ask you something?”

“Sure Donnie, what is it?”

“Coach, I don’t wanna carry the ball anymore. I wanna get that guy what got the ball.”

It took me a second to interpret the words, but I finally realized Donnie wanted to play defense, to get the guy that has the ball.

Well, we weren’t the smartest football coaches on the planet, but if Donnie wanted “to get that guy what got the ball”, then damn it, who were we to get in his way?

Long story short, we put Donnie in at linebacker. On the very first play of the game he steamrolled two linemen trying to block him, grabbed the horrified opposing quarterback by the neck, threw him about 7-yards backwards, then picked up the resulting fumble and lumbered about 40-yards into the end zone.

Like it or not, from then on Donnie did have to carry the ball, but only after he extricated it from the shaking hands of our whimpering opponents.

I would never turn into a great football coach, but I did learn a valuable lesson from Donnie – listen to your players. Sometimes they’re smarter than you are.

 

 

Over the years I’ve written a few articles about coaching and my opinions and outlook on various aspects of it. Among these were two called The Truth About Coaching and Some Thoughts On Coaching.

As many of you know I’m not coaching this year so I’ve had the opportunity to watch games and practices all over Southern Ohio, and as I watch thoughts inevitably come to mind. When that happens I jot down some notes with the idea that when I gathered enough I’d publish another article.

Keep in mind I’m not critiquing any coach in particular, and just because I believe what you’re about to read doesn’t mean it’s necessarily correct.

It’s just my personal opinion, kids. Chillax.

Bottom line, times have changed and kids have changed. Actually, parenting has changed and as a result kids have changed. It’s w-a-a-a-y different than it was when I began coaching all the way back in the Fall of 1983. If I tried to coach in 2015 the way I coached in 1991 I wouldn’t have lasted as long as I did, trust me.

As I’ve said many times before on this site and when I speak to teams, coaching is about relationships. That’s always been the case to some extent but it’s exponentially more important today. There has to be some sort of a relationship between player and coach. Your players have to believe in you. As Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, “Coaching is 90% creating an environment and 10% strategy.”

That is 100% true.

Some coaches believe that showing compassion for their players is a sign of weakness, as if they’re giving up some essential part of their power as leader of the team. The fact is that yelling and berating without compassion will get old really quickly with today’s athlete, and at some point the coach will lose the team.

The ironic part of all this, of course, is that if your players know you love them you can yell at them all you want because they know you’re coming from a good place.

So showing compassion is not a weakness, but a strength.

Another thing I’ve noticed while attending games is that coaches, especially at the smaller schools, are successful when they adjust to their talent. Some coaches have their “systems” or style they like and expect their players to fit into it regardless. Here’s the deal – you can’t recruit players at a small school.  So, you have to adjust and run an offense and defense that fits your team’s abilities and strengths.

Over my last 4-years of coaching I had a very talented 6′-11″, 305 center. It wouldn’t have been real bright of me to run a fast break and beat him down the floor just because I liked a running style, right? Therefore we mostly (but not always) walked it up and ran our offense through him. Defensively we mostly played a zone where we kept our big man guarding the rim while our guards got out and pressured the perimeter. Hey, you have the luxury of getting out and pressuring when you have a rim protector backing you up.

My point is that just because you, as a coach, like running and pressing doesn’t mean you can – set your ego aside and do what works best for your team.

And that whole “hey, we do what we do and don’t worry about our opponents” argument is about as dumb as it gets. Of course you have to adjust to your opponents. To not is a path to failure.

College, and some high schools, are different because you can recruit or have the numbers to pick and choose your team. At small schools that’s just not possible,

Collegiately it can go both ways. A coach like Bob Huggins at West Virginia or Jim Boeheim at Syracuse recruit their players to fit their system. Same for the majority of college coaches. On the other hand, guys at the really elite programs like Coach K at Duke, Coach Cal at Kentucky or Coach Self at Kansas grab the best players available and adjust their offense and defense accordingly.

But at small high schools? You have to set your ego and your favorite style aside and play the hand your dealt.

Finally, if there’s one thing I learned over the years it’s that the best coaches never, ever stop learning. The day you think you know everything is the day to quit. The game, and the players, are constantly changing and coaches have to change with it.

If you don’t, the game will soon pass you by.

PS- As I’ve mentioned before, many of the basic philosophies of coaching – developing relationships, being able to communicate, and more – apply to teaching as well as coaching. They’re closely related.

PPS- One more thing. Team success depends on many variables like team chemistry, injuries, players getting sick, interfering administrators, etc. Bottom line, they’re all a part of sports. Using them as an excuse will only give your team an excuse to fail. As the great Bill Parcells once said, “You are what your record says you are.” 

I actually attempted two websites before this one and neither really caught on. The first was called Rock Hard Times and was all about music. The second was called The Inside Handshake and stuck exclusively to sports. Then one day it hit me – why limit myself to one subject? Hell, I have opinions and observations on other stuff as well. Why not open it up to everything? Music, sports, politics, science, entertainment, nature, the list was endless. Thus was born Shoe: Untied, a play on my name along with the idea of sort of letting loose (actually a friend of mine came up with the title and I liked it). Anyway, as you know the site turned out to be a pretty eclectic one, and that’s the way my crack staff and I like it.

One thing I discovered early is that you can never, ever predict what people will like. Sometimes I write something I think is great and get very little response. Other times I write something that I feel is sort of trivial and it just blows up (see drunk pig blog below). Like the title says, it defies explanation.

With that said, here is our annual year-end report and Top 25 Most Popular Blogs for 2018. We’ll start with #1 and work our way down. Just click on the title if you want to take a gander.

Australian Pig Steals 18-Beers From Campers, Gets Drunk, Fights Cow

Yes ladies and gentlemen, a short little article I posted along with my observations back in 2014 got over 500,000 views this past year. For you non-mathematicians, that’s over half a million people. Seriously man, it was about a drunk pig. See, a radio station out in Seattle happened upon my site, liked the post, and put a link to that story on its website. Then the Aussies got hold of it and the rest is history.

UPDATE: Drunk Australian Pig That Started Fight With Cow Killed In Car Accident

Aaaand of course the throngs of people who loved the drunken swine story were interested in the tragic update. On a related note, Australians and I have the same exact sense of humor.

My Side of the Story

Nearly 400,000 people from all over the world heard my side of the story, and I’m glad they did.

Sis

I thought losing a basketball job was a tragic experience. I soon learned that, on life’s grand scale, it wasn’t.

My Dad and I

My memories of my father, who we lost just 53-days after my sister.

“Things Most White People Say” List Is Hilarious, Also 100% Correct

Basically just a repost of some funny tweets I’d run across. Good stuff and people liked it.

Incredible Photo of the Day: Gator Catch!

This was another post that the Australians inexplicably enjoyed. A large percentage of its views came from the Land Down Under.

So How Many People Did The Rifleman Actually Kill?

I love the old TV show The Rifleman, so one day I decided to research just how many people Lucas McCain actually killed. The answer? 120. Ol’ Luke murdered 120 people. But hey, they all deserved it so it’s cool.

Scioto Valley Conference Boys Basketball Preview & Predictions

A preview I wrote regarding our local basketball conference. I must say it’s turning out the way I predicted. So far.

The 2017 Ugly Dog Contest Was An Absolute Joke

My critique of the Ugly Dog Contest and its beautiful winner, Martha.

Cool Beans! Words and Phrases That Need To Make A Comeback

Another story I published a couple years that seems to never go away. Just a simple blog about words.

An American Hero: Ruby Bridges

My story about Ruby Bridges, the little 6-year old African-American who integrated an all-white elementary school in New Orleans on November 14, 1960.

Map of the Day: World Rat Distribution

The most fascinating aspect of this map is that Alberta, Canada is rat free, and it’s not by accident.

Regarding Beach Midgets

Just an offbeat, original little story that people seemed to find hilarious.

15 Reasons I Hate LeBron James (Or Used To)

I wrote this after LeBron left Cleveland with his ridiculous television show, “The Decision”. I really did hate the guy for a few years, but he won me back with his letter admitting he’d made a mistake with the way he left, then returning to Cleveland and ultimately bringing them a championship.

Celebrity Mugshots: My Top 10

Another old post that saw a resurgence of sorts in 2018. I’ve no idea why.

Meet Australian Cow Knickers, the Biggest Damn Cow You’ll Ever See

Again, Australians, man.

If You Haven’t heard of August Landmesser It’s a Damn Shame

I’m truly glad people liked this one, and I’m glad I got to spread the word about August Landmesser.

Paint Valley Basketball Records

This is a page I maintain that’s linked to Shoe: Untied. It gets a lot of hits.

Brad Kerns and Parenting the Way It Should Be

A telling story about one of my basketball parents and also one of the best friends I ever had.

The Many Worlds Theory is Wildly Fascinating

A pretty good example of what an eclectic website Shoe: Untied really is.

Map of the Day: USA IQ Test Scores by State

I had a lot I wanted to say here politically bit I couldn’t pull the trigger.

Man Killed Trying to Bring Christianity to Remote Island Tribe

A recent story that was quite controversial. Seems not everyone agreed with my views.

Another Drunk Animal Causes Havoc, and This Time It’s a Sozzled Squirrel.

Who knew drunk animal stories would be so wildly popular? Not I.

Don’t Think Animals Are Scary Smart? Read On.

There’s a certain segment of people who visit my site that can’t get enough of the animal stuff. They just eat it up. Animals, man.

So there ya go. All in all it was the biggest year ever for Shoe: Untied, and I thank the people who visit because you’re obviously as nuts as I am.

Happy New Year everyone.

 

LaDue, MO: A St. Louis mother has filed a federal lawsuit, claiming that a soccer coach’s decision to cut her son from the junior varsity team was age discrimination.

The suit claims the soccer coach told the boy’s mom that he was “right on the bubble” of making the team, but that there were too many kids who had a better soccer skill and soccer IQ than him. The coach also wasn’t willing to put the boy on junior varsity again.

The mother and stepfather complained to the school, but they eventually supported the coach’s decision.  The teen’s mom claims her son will face “irreparable harm” if he’s not put on the team.

A judge is expected to make a decision in the case on Monday.

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Age discrimination? For realz? Listen, any coach with a brain in their skull will tell you that if two players are of equal talent the younger one usually plays. That’s just common sense, right? Because you’re going to have them longer and they’ll have more of a chance to develop? Bueller? Bueller? Anybody? And sorry kid, but I guarantee your coach was being kind when he said you were “on the bubble.” Newsflash: You were not on the bubble. You were under the bubble. Perhaps nowhere near the bubble. In fact, there were not only “too many kids with better soccer skills” than you, but they also had better soccer IQs. This means you don’t understand how to soccer, dude.

But you know the worst part of this story? The worst part is that mommy squandered a perfect life lesson for this kid, like, you know, work harder to achieve your goals, rewards are earned and not given, stuff like that. I can’t wait until this kid is passed over for a promotion at work when he’s 27 and mom tries to sue his boss. Good stuff, man. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a million times – how in the world can a kid learn to deal with adversity if mommy and daddy are going to jump in and save them every time they face it?

UPDATE: The judge threw the case out of court, stomped on it, spat upon it and was seen laughing uncontrollably as he skipped away. Good job, judge.

PS- I can totally name some parents who would do this, but I’ll save it for my upcoming blockbuster blog. Stay tuned.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Soddy-Daisy High School’s athletic director Jared Hensley. Listen, I’m about as non-PC as they come, bit this guy is nuts. I was trying my best to believe the guy might be joking, but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t sound serious as hell. How in the world would he ever think this is OK to say in 2018? I mean, I’ve known some dumb administrators, but . . . never mind, just watch.

Thanks men. I’m proud of every one of you.

A few weeks ago things were great. As a high school basketball coach in Southern Ohio, my team had just completed back-to-back 17-win seasons and consecutive trips to the District Tournament at the Convocation Center in Athens, Ohio, our third and fourth trips there in the last 5-years. We accomplished this with few complaints from anybody. In fact, aside from one meeting during our 2015-2016 season and another in 2012-2013, things had run incredibly smoothly in our basketball program. I was extremely proud of my teams, their families and the Paint Valley administration and community. But let’s go back to the beginning . . .

About 6-years ago I was approached by the Athletic Director at out school and was asked to coach the boys basketball team, a job I’d held 16-years prior. I was apprehensive to say the least, so I asked several people their opinion. I was told that it wasn’t a good job, that we were a small school playing much bigger schools for the most part, there was very little talent in the program, and that the kids lacked the commitment to basketball that was evident in football. I was told that it was a different time, that kids were too busy with social media and online games to come to do the extra work or to open gyms.

I took the job anyway, and a week later we had 40 players at our first open gym. Turns out all you had to do was open the doors and they’d come right in. Who knew?

The interest was there, and it soon became obvious there was some talent in our school too.

That first year we won 8-games with a great group of guys, including 5-seniors who set the tone for the years to come. These guys bought into what we were doing and believed in me from the beginning. Our younger players watched them, saw how hard they worked, and that got us off to a good start. That first year we won those 8-games, including a win in the sectional tournament. The next year we won a Sectional Title and went all the way to the District Championship, and followed that up the next year with 16 wins, another Sectional Title and another District Final appearance. After a down year we bounced back with two straight 17-win seasons and two more Sectional Championships. As I mentioned before, all this with only a couple complaints, both of which were addressed and dealt with.

Or so I thought, which brings me back to a few weeks ago.

Again, I had no idea there was a problem until I was asked to come to a meeting with my Principal and Athletic Director on a Thursday. When I arrived I was told that our school board president had been given a list of “Public Concerns”. Right away the word “public” raised a red flag with me because the word “public” made it seem like the entire community was behind it, which I was sure wasn’t the case.

I was then told that the list was anonymous, rendering the term “public” meaningless, at least in my opinion. Hell, anyone can send in a list of complaints and say they were from the public. They may as well have said “national” complaints for all I cared at that point. To me, an unsigned letter is not a letter at all.

However, I was given a copy of the list, which I’ll happily show you later because I want to be as transparent as possible.

As I read the list, it became clear that a few people sat around a kitchen table somewhere, wracking their brain and trying to recall things they could add to the list. Since a few of the “concerns” involved the same people it’s pretty clear who all was involved. Was it a BOE member who actually created the list so they’d have a reason to vote against my renewal? I’ve been told by credible people that yes, it was.

At the time though, I wasn’t really worried. After all, it was a bunch of petty and trivial complaints that I was sure the board would dismiss for what they were, which was basically nothing. The administrators paid to evaluate me – the superintendent, principal and athletic director – were all going to recommend me to be rehired at the board meeting the following Monday.

To be sure, however, I called and texted all the board members to explain my position and to make sure we were all on the same page.

Of the five, two responded positively, one told me he didn’t feel comfortable talking about it and two refused to respond at all. Uh-oh. It was at this point I began to sense something was wrong.

Because of this I thought it would be a good idea to address the board before the vote. I did, and I went over each complaint, explained what each was about, and basically stated my case. Below are my notes regarding each concern, with the concern in bold and my response following. Click to enlarge:

As you can see, most were trivial, and in any event had been taken care of months, and in some cases even years ago.

Note: The complaint about leaving the players who were late for the bus came from one particular over-protective helicopter parent who just can’t get past it. It happened over 2-years ago.

As I went over my notes, one thing became apparent. Three of the board members didn’t care. They refused to look at me. They sat there, heads down and silent. What I was saying was irrelevant. The decision had clearly been made. When I finished there were no questions and zero discussion. This, after I’d given my heart and soul to the district for 25-years.

I was then non-renewed by a vote of 3-2.

After the meeting one board member, the president, stopped and attempted to explain to people who had gathered there, while the others who voted no walked briskly by with their heads down. I was told by the board president that he had, without further explanation, “followed his heart.”

Huh?

One month later, 2 of the 5 board members stepped down in protest, not just because I was non-renewed but because they felt the Paint Valley Board of Education had acted unethically, and quite possibly even illegally, in making the decision. You see, it’s illegal to have private meetings regarding board decisions prior to the board meeting, and this clearly occurred. And oh by the way, texts, phone calls and emails between 2-3 people is considered a meeting. It’s all spelled out in the Ohio Open Meeting Act and Sunshine Law.

Here is one of the board member’s letter of resignation, posted with his permission:

 

The letter speaks for itself.

I’d never blame any of my players for what their parents have done, and I hope you don’t either. I got along with all my players the past 6-years, and even the ones whose parents caused my non-renewal know I care about them. I know this because they’ve told me privately.

Am I upset about what happened? Of course I am. We’d changed the culture and were successful. We’d built something at Paint Valley I was proud of. We were a family. And as many of you know it takes a long time to build a culture, but it can disappear overnight. And in the end, a few people took away something I loved. Worse, I believed I had the support of the three people who voted against me.

Turns out I was wrong. They didn’t even have the courage or courtesy to come to me man-to-man, face-to-face, and address the issue. They took the coward’s way out. I considered all three friends, and I truly believed one would always have my back. He’d played for me and we’d won Paint Valley’s last league title together. Instead of having my back, however, he stabbed me in it.

The best damn fans anywhere. I love you guys.

And yes, I’ve heard the rumors. The board members who are saying that there’s “more to the story.” This is a common tactic among people when they’re trying to put doubt in people’s minds. Believe me, there’s nothing more. If you hear that, demand to hear the “more to the story.” There are no dark secrets. My coaching staff, players, and the administrators who are paid to evaluate me know this.

In retrospect it’s clear this had been in the making for awhile. I know for a fact at least one board member had talked to possible replacements for me as far back as January, and several people have told me that one board member was upset about his son’s varsity playing time. And believe it or not, there were apparently jealousies over all the attention my 6′-11″, 305-pound center received, the same player who happened to end up being the all-time scoring leader in school, league and county history. He also received a full scholarship to play Division I basketball, so yeah, he got some attention.

Bottom line, the decision to non-renew my contract was decided long before that meeting.

And you know the funny thing? All they had to do was sit me down after the season, look me in the eye and tell me that they wanted to make a change. If they’d had the common decency to do that I would have stepped down willingly. Instead, they chose to take the route they took. Guess it was easier for them.

Hey, you learn from these experiences. Some defend you fiercely and some are outspoken against you. And yes, you can learn a lot about those who remain silent too. Your circle grows smaller but stronger.

I’m also fully aware that, although I loved coaching at Paint Valley, there are worse things that can happen to a person. My family members can attest to that right now, believe me.

That said, I still love Paint Valley. I always will. A few small-minded, little, cowardly people can never change that. I wish nothing but the best for our athletes, and I only hope whoever coaches the basketball team loves the team, the school and the community as much as I do. I’m proud of the work I did there, the success we had, and the relationships I developed with my players, coaches, students and the best damn fans in the SVC.

And nobody can ever take that away.

Looks peaceful enough.

Note: I’ve no clue if this is going to happen yet. I’ve been asked, but as often happens with these international plans, they sometimes fall through. I’ve literally been in the airport ready to board a plane to Antigua when I got a call saying all was off. Let’s just say there are a lot of moving parts that have to come together to make camps like this happen. But man, when they do it’s ALWAYS worth it . . .

So I’ve been asked to direct a charity basketball camp in the city of Lagos, Nigeria next summer. I’ll be in charge of a large coaching staff from all over the world, and the kids attending will mainly be Nigerians from various Nigerian Provinces. As many of you know I’ve directed camps all at several locales, from the midwest to the Eastern Seaboard to the Caribbean. Still, this one could be special, and by special I have no idea what I mean. I know nothing about Nigeria. I have received several emails over the years from a businessman in Nigeria who claims he has some money for me if I could just wire him my bank account information, but I haven’t got around to doing that yet.

So, nothing.

Bottom line I have absolutely no clue what Lagos is like, but the thought of directing a camp there is intriguing to put it mildly. With all that in mind I figured some research was in order. You know, before I go traipsing off to some country I know nothing about. Seems the prudent thing to do. Here’s what I’ve found so far . . .

  • Lagos is a city of 8-million people. Hey, I’m no expert, but that seems like a big city. Ohio has 10-million people, so there ya go. BIG.
  • Apparently Lagos has quite the music scene. A lot of new sounds are emanating from Lagos. Those of you who know me know that’s a huge draw for me.
  • Hakeem Olajawon is from Lagos! Hakeem the Dream! How bad could it be?

I also got on a few chatboards and actually spoke to some folks who told me the people of Lagos are some of the nicest in the world. They also mentioned, very politely, that I probably shouldn’t go out at night. Wait. What? CAUTION REQUIRED seemed to be a common theme. There was also mention of checkpoints where bribes were required and where other nefarious shenanigans were afoot, and by shenanigans I mean people going missing and stuff.

Oh, and one website rated Lagos the world’s 5th Worst Place to Live.

Yikes. But’s let’s not pre-judge.

What the hell, let’s go to the Foriegn and Commonwealth Office and see what they have to say.

There is a high threat from terrorism in Nigeria. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including government, security and educational institutions, international organisations as well as public venues and areas such as restaurants, bars, markets, hotels, shopping centres, places of worship and other areas frequented by expatriates, foreign tourists and business travellers. A number of attacks have taken place around religious and public holidays. There have been regular attacks on churches in northern Nigeria at times of worship. We cannot therefore rule out further attacks taking place. You should be particularly vigilant at these times and in these locations. You should avoid affected areas in the immediate aftermath of an attack.

Damn, they had to mention bars, didn’t they? Shoot. Well, at least there’s no threat of kidnapping or anything. Wait . . .

There is a threat of kidnapping throughout Nigeria. Foreign nationals have been the target of kidnaps. On 20 December 2012 a French national was kidnapped by armed men in Katsina State in northern Nigeria. On 12 May 2011, a British national was kidnapped alongside an Italian national in Kebbi State. Both hostages were killed in Sokoto on 8 March 2012. We advise British nationals to exercise vigilance and caution.

Well, I’m neither British, Italian or French, but I am a foreign national. I’m so confused. But hey, Hakeem Olajawon is from there!

Let’s read on . . .

Localised outbreaks of civil unrest can occur at short notice. You are advised to avoid large crowds, demonstrations and obvious political gatherings. Trouble on the streets can be spontaneous, and can quickly lead to violence. Violent crime is prevalent in the south of the country, including Lagos.

Well, avoiding large crowds should be easy enough. I mean, look at that picture up there!

So, since doing my research I’ve been putting feelers out for a coaching staff to take with me and I must say my loyal coaching friends have been incredibly cowardly open to the idea. Here are some of the actual responses I’ve received:

“Sorry, I have a young daughter at home.”

“I can’t. I have a dentist appointment that week” (I hadn’t told him the dates yet).

“I can’t fly. I have groinal acne.”

“Sorry, I don’t want to get kidnapped and die.”

“Are you f**cking kidding me?”

Still, all things considered, I’ve told them I’m committed to to the camp. Here’s why:

  • It’s for charity. C’mon, you gotta admit it has the potential to be one helluva rewarding experience, right? Right?
  • I’ve been told by several people in Lagos that if you’re there trying to help the country and not get rich from it the bad guys will leave you alone, even go out of their way to protect you. I’m golden.
  • I tell my students that sometimes in life you gotta take a leap of faith for a good cause. I can’t be a hypocrite, now can I? CAN I?
  • I love the game. Seriously, I love basketball. I’ve seen it change, even save, lives. The idea of teaching it to a bunch of eager-to-learn Nigerian kids is appealing to me.
  • It’s going to be a large camp with some major financial backing. I’m assuming we’ll be in good hands. I’m assuming. Seriously, we will be. I think.
  • Making new coaching friends from all over the world and players from all over Nigeria? You can’t put a price on that.
  • Think of the stories I’ll be able to tell! The possibilities are endless. Blog material for years.
  • When I bring back a 7′-3″ 15-year old to play for Paint Valley everyone will thank me.
  • Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I seriously believe that.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t know for certain this camp will happen. Having said that, I’m sure hoping it will. If so, it’s sure to be an exciting, rewarding, fulfilling, maybe a little frightening, but ultimately once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I can’t wait.

PS – Seriously. Lookin’ for coaches!

UPDATE: Not happening, man. They would not guarantee my lodging in advance. First they said I’d be staying with a local family, to which I counter offered that I needed a hotel, preferably with a well-known name like Hilton or Hyatt or something.  Then they said I’d have a hotel but they’d tell me where it was upon arrival. Nope. No way I’m going to Lagos without everything written in stone in advance. To quote the great Terry Bradshaw, I may be dumb but I’m not stupid. Anyway, opportunity lost.

Back in my first stint as a high school coach we were playing a much larger school in a town 25-miles northwest of us. We were really good, they were really good, the place was packed, and it was a tight game throughout.

During the game I’d been up pacing back and forth as usual, and I was getting on the officials pretty good. That said, it wasn’t anything unusual. I’ve been way more emotional in other games.

Anyway, it was midway through the third quarter when something happened that I’d never experienced before and haven’t since. As I was walking from the end of our bench to midcourt, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around, expecting one of my players or managers to be standing there. Instead, what I saw was a policeman, albeit a very short one. Yep, he was just standing there looking right up in my face. Keep in mind the game was in progress and I hadn’t even received a technical foul. 

My first thought was “Why are you here?” My second thought was, “Get the hell out of here.” However, what I did was turn and walked away, at which point he grabbed my shoulder, and when I turned around he said this:

You need to settle down and take a seat.”

Incredulous, I looked around but there was no Athletic Director or school administrator in sight.  Hell, the game hadn’t even stopped so the referees were busy.

I was left to deal with the little dude myself.

I said, “You shouldn’t be out here. The officials are in charge of the game. I’m not breaking any laws. Go away.”

To which he wittily replied, “Sit down. Now.” I swear this happened, but sadly I have no audio. I do, however, have video, and what it shows is that little Barney Fyffe has his hand on his gun.

 

Had I noticed that little detail  I may not have said this:

“You have two choices. You can turn around and walk away or arrest me, because I’m not sitting down. This is a damn basketball game.”

Somehow, someway, and may I also say incredibly given his attitude, he stared at me for a second, then turned and walked out of the gym. And although I half-expected to see him out of the corner of my eye busting back through the door with an Uzi, he stayed there.

Good times.

Note: Incredibly, when I was AD it happened again, this time to an opposing coach at my school. I swear I felt like I was having flashbacks. This time I was there to go explain to the cop that he was out of line and escorted him off the floor. Amazing.

(Source) — A former Los Altos High School student and baseball player is suing the school district and his former coach for hundreds of thousands of dollars because the coach repeatedly benched him. According to the suit, the school’s head varsity baseball coach, Gabriel Lopez, repeatedly refused to let 17-year-old Robbie Lopez, no relation, play throughout his senior year. The suit claims this constituted a pattern of “harassment and bullying.” The teenager and his parents are seeking $150,000 or more, according to the suit.

Sigh. And so it continues. If this is bullying, do you know how many of my former players could sue me? I’ll give you the answer – hundreds. Good God, man. Newsflash, Robbie Lopez – it’s your coach’s job to bench you if you’re not playing well. Hell, using this logic every kid on the bench could sue his coach. That’s just dumb, man.

PS- In the future every coach will be required to play every player an exact even number of minutes. Then nobody will get their feelings hurt. Awesome.

So I guess the Texas State football team went through some media training the other day, where they were taught some important core values. This is great because, you know, a lot of kids aren’t taught the basics of life at home. Ladies and gentlemen, here are those core values:

Sweet God almighty that pains me to read it. Seriously, we have to tell college kids that these are core values? What, did they forget “no killing”? Honestly, it amazes me that we have to explain to men between the ages of 18-22 that these behaviors aren’t acceptable. Hell, I coach kids from 14-17 and I don’t have to point this out to them. I mean, are there actually guys sitting there that are saying to themselves, “Ah, be honest, don’t hit women, no drugs, stealing or weapons. Now there’s a good idea.”

The mind reels, man.

A girls softball team from Virginia paid a steep price for a lesson about social media: After a victory, think twice about gloating over your opponent on their home turf — especially if the chosen method of gloating is posting a photo on social media of six teammates flipping the bird under the caption, “watch out host.”

The 12-to-14-year-olds who make up the Atlee junior league softball team from Mechanicsville, Va., were disqualified Saturday from the nationally televised championship game at the Junior League World Series in Kirkland, Wash., after one team member posted that photo on her Snapchat account before their game Friday. The team apologized Saturday, even asking for an investigation into the game, but it was too late to repair the damage the image had caused.

Little League spokesman Kevin Fountain called the post “inappropriate” in a statement to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, explaining that it violated the league’s “policies regarding unsportsmanlike conduct.”

The disqualification didn’t sit well with the Atlee team manager, Scott Currie, who found out about the photo Friday evening after the team’s 1-0 win. Currie immediately reprimanded the players who were involved, before demanding they delete the post and apologize in person to their rivals.
“It’s a travesty for these girls,” Currie told the Times-Dispatch on Saturday. “Yes, they screwed up, but I don’t think the punishment fit the crime.”

Yes, I have an opinion on this “controversy”, and it’s pretty straightforward – I agree with the decision to disqualify this team 100%. I’ve spoken at length about my feelings on running up the score and showing bad sportsmanship, and nothing has changed although it seems I’m becoming more and more in the minority.

If you research this story online, you’ll find that a lot of people upset about it, especially because the entire team was disqualified when only six girls were in the photo. Newsflash: In sports, you are a TEAM. Many times, when even one players makes a mistake, everybody pays for it.

And in its own way, that’s a beautiful thing. It’s a life lesson, something to use forever and hopefully pass on to your own children one day. Don’t simply think about yourself, think about your friends, your family, your team.

Hell, do you now what one of the worst punishments I can hand out as a coach is? It’s when one player makes a mistake, and I make him stand there and watch everybody else run. Is that fair? Perhaps not, but neither is life.

Oh, and again, it just might help you remember that your actions can affect everyone around you.

As anyone who’s ever played for me will tell you, I believe what these girls did was a bush league move. It was classless and wrong. And I don’t care what the other team was doing during the game to possibly provoke them either, that’s irrelevant. So is how many hours they put in or how hard they worked to get there. They threw all that away with one ignorant decision.

And hey, Coach Currie, you shouldn’t be upset. This was largely your fault. Coaching is much more than teaching how to hit, field, tackle or shoot free throws. It’s teaching what’s right and what’s wrong.

Had you done your job your team would’ve known better, and by defending them you’ve made the problem worse.

Coach, listen up. Back when I was in high school I was playing in a basketball game. I’d committed a dumb foul and followed it up by receiving a technical foul. That night after the game I went to my Uncle Myrl’s house, a man I had great respect for, to visit my cousins. As I walked by him in the kitchen where he was sitting reading  the newspaper, we had the following conversation:

“Dave, you know what’s worse than making an ass of yourself?”

“Uh, no.”

“Making an ass out of yourself twice.”

Still true today, coach.

 

Getting Over Losing

Posted: April 25, 2017 in Coaching, Opinion, Sports
Tags:

We had a tough loss in our state district tournament a couple months ago, and the other day somebody asked me how long it takes to get over a loss like that. The answer?

Never. You never get over it. Not really.

Ask any coach or player in any sport and they’ll say the same thing, if they’re a true competitor. I remember the very first year I coached, and it was Junior High basketball. We lost a tough game early on, as as I looked back at the team from the front of the bus most of them were quietly chatting, smiling and having casual conversations. However, there were a couple who were sitting by themselves, a serious look on their faces, just staring out the bus windows.

Guess which two players ended up being the best high school players? You guessed it.

Nearly every kid I’ve ever coached has loved to win, but the best players I ever coached hated to lose. There’s a big difference.

I coached in a very successful program early in my coaching career, and we lost in the regional final game. One of our players missed a shot at the buzzer to win the game, and it haunts him to this day. He told me it still crosses his mind more than anyone would imagine.

Back in 1993 I had one of the best teams in Ohio, and at one point we were ranked #2 in the state. We lost a key player a little over halfway through the season, were never quite the same, and ended up losing our very first game of the tournament. It doesn’t bother me as much as it used to, but although it happened over two decades ago I still think about it probably once a week, just going over in my head what I could have done differently.

Trust me, coaches and players are much harder on themselves than any fan could ever be.

That game we lost back in early March? I’ll never watch the game film. Too painful. Same for that game 24-years ago. Won’t watch it, can’t watch it.

Listen, I know some people won’t understand, they’ll say it’s just a game, not life and death, and they’re right. As I’ve said before, ultimately coaching and playing sports is about relationships and not wins and losses.

But that doesn’t make losing any easier. In fact, being close to your players makes it harder.

Losing? We learn to live with it, but we never, ever get over it.

Four years ago we went out to play in a big tournament in Morgantown, West Virginia. Our game was against Morgantown High School, whose enrollment of 1,700 was over 6-times larger than ours at Paint Valley. However, since the Bearcats aren’t the backing down types, we’d accepted the challenge and headed out there for the game. It was a great all-around experience for our kids, spending a couple days out of town, staying in a hotel and eating at nice restaurants, all paid for by the tourney organizers.

The game itself was a pretty good one, but in the end the eventual 2016 West Virginia State Champions wore us down and won by 20-points or so. The score, however, isn’t the point of this story. It’s something that happened in the last few minutes of the game . . .

We had a freshman on the bench that day who didn’t play much varsity, and it happened to be his birthday. As the clock wound down, I walked to the end of the bench where he sat. The following conversation then ensued:

“PJ, I’m putting you into the game now. You’re going to make a 3-pointer on your birthday.”

“OK, coach.”

Except he just sat there.

“PJ, go into the game.”

At that point it hit him that he was in fact entering the game to compete against the best D1 high school basketball team in West Virginia, so he stood up and ran to the scorer’s table.

He then checks into the game and we run a couple plays for him, trying to get him that big birthday 3-pointer. Of course, our bench knows what’s up so they’re standing up on each shot, disappointed when each one bounces off the rim.

Of course, our fans have caught onto what we’re trying to do so they’re into it as well, rising up with each of PJ’s high arching rainbows, only to let out a loud, “Awww . . .” when the shots wouldn’t connect.

And then an interesting and somewhat confusing thing happened – the other team and its fans started cheering for PJ too.

What the heck?

Now, PJ is a cool, likeable kid and all, but the other team and their fans didn’t know that. They had no idea it was his birthday. Why the hell were they cheering so loudly for him?

Anyway, on his last chance PJ launches one of his patented high-arching threes, and of course he drains it. Our crowd goes wild, their crowd goes wild, our bench goes crazy, their bench is waving towels, and PJ gets hugs from both teams. I also recall a kid in the Morgantown student section stepping out to give him a high-five.

Still, it seemed odd and didn’t really add up, and after both teams shook hands (PJ got a lot of hugs and head rubs), I brought it up in the locker room. That’s when PJ cleared it all up for me:

“Uh, coach, I’m pretty sure the other team thought I was a special needs kid or something.”

Ahhhhh. That explained a lot. PJ, being a skinny little freshman who everyone was clearly rooting for, was mistaken for one of those kids you see on YouTube videos or the news that get put into a game for their one big chance at glory. They thought he was, you know, mentally disabled or something. To them it was a heartwarming story of a young man who got his big chance and came through in the clutch, and not the simple story of a coach trying to get a freshman player a 3-pointer on his birthday.

In retrospect, hilarious. Those fans in Morgantown are probably still talking about it.

Bottom line, that shot is etched in the memories of all who attended, that high-arching rainbow that drained through the net as an entire gymnasium erupted, the shot that will be known forevermore as . . . The Morgantown Drainbow.

‘Twas special night indeed.

Note: Please save the messages ripping me for making fun of special needs students. I am not. Nor am I making fun of PJ. It was his birthday and the whole thing was completely misread. Hence, it’s funny. In addition, if you know PJ it’s twice as funny. 

Note 2: PJ is now a junior and just completed a good year for us.  He’s expected to be an even bigger contributor next season. 

296d13f578b281b9e6b8a272e6163655

Tasty?

This is a rarity, but I’m going to use real names and places in this story. Why? Because I’m pretty sure all involved will just laugh about it. Read on . . .

It was early in my coaching career and I was coaching junior high basketball at Greenfield Middle School. We had a really good team, and we had a big game coming up against Circleville, who was also really good.

When I got to the school for the game that evening, though, I got some bad news – our best player was sick.

Yep, Marcus was our best player and MVP of our team, and he was sick as a dog. When I walked into our locker room he was doubled over, pale, and clearly not well. I mean, the kid could barely walk.

Uh-oh. This was bad. Really bad. I mean, we were good, but no way could we win without Marcus. I walked up to him and asked him if he could make it, and at that point he reached behind him and grabbed a jar of Vicks VapoRub from his locker. Then he said, “This will fix me up, coach. Don’t worry about it.

Ah, OK. A little Vicks VapoRub on the chest was always good for what ailed ya, right? Hey, if Marcus thought it would work we’d be good to go!

Oh, it was probably 10-minutes later when another player, Jeremy, came running up to me with a look of horror in his eyes.

Coach, he ate it! HE ATE IT!

Wait. What?

He ate it? Ate what? Certainly not the Vicks VapoRub. I mean, it said, “NOT TO BE TAKEN INTERNALLY” right on the lid there.

I had to find out though, so I went to the man himself.

“Uh, Marcus, you didn’t eat that did you?” 

“Sure, Coach. My family eats it all the time. It’ll clean me out. I’ll be fine. Give it a few minutes.”

At that point I saw it, on the bench beside him, the empty jar of Vicks VapoRub, just sitting there empty and clean as a whistle.

Oh, for the love of God. He ate it.

Bottom line? As I coached from the sideline waiting for him to die, Marcus played a great game and led us to victory. Guess he was cleaned out.

Who knew that Vicks VapoRub was such a miracle cure?

Note: I actually researched this and found that it was not uncommon for people to eat Vicks VapoRub back in the day. Still not recommended though.

Yep. This guy.

So Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh took a shot at Ohio State yesterday, tweeting out this photo with the words “Unairbrushed evidence has been uncovered that confirms Woody’s love & strong feelings for the University of Michigan.”

As you might imagine, this set off a firestorm in Buckeye Land. First off, Woody wore that abomination on his head for a reason. He was at a charity event and a man told him he’d donate $50 if Woody would put it on. Woody then responded that he’d do it for $100. Hence the photo.

 As for Harbaugh, it was fans of Michigan State, Michigan’s other blood rival, that responded with a vengeance. The following photos were soon tweeted with the caption: “Unairbrushed evidence has been uncovered that confirms Jim’s love & strong feelings for MSU.”

  

That’s good stuff right there.

Full disclosure: I kind of like Jim Harbaugh. He seems like he’d be a cool guy to hang out with, plus he makes the rivalry a hell of a lot more fun than Brady Freakin’ Hoke.

When I first began coaching over 30-years ago, a lot was different. coaching-1

Everything was sort of black and white for me then, and there has since been a lot more grays. How did that happen? Experience, I guess.

I’ve always loved kids, ever since the first day I set foot in that classroom at Greenfield Middle School back in 1984. Not once did I regret the profession I chose. But teaching and coaching, although similar in a lot of ways, can also be very different. Students are there because the have to be, players are there largely because they want to be.

You have to encourage kids in both the classroom and on the basketball court, and you have to push them as well. However, coaching takes place in a much more public forum.

In the beginning, I’m sure part of the reason I coached was ego driven. It was a way to replace my playing days, a way to compete in front of a crowd. There was that initial thrill of working the sidelines as the fans cheered for your team.

Over time, that changes.

I learned the game from a lot of old school, in-your-face style coaches, great coaches like Rick VanMatre at Greenfield McClain, Gary Williams at the University of Maryland and Bob Huggins at the University of Cincinnati and now West Virginia. By the way, I just checked and those three have a winning percentage of almost .700. That’s 7 of every 10 games they coached. Pretty damn good. I’m not nearly the coach any of those guys are, not by a long shot, but I’ve sure learned a lot from all of them.

You know one of the most important things I learned in my 30+ years of coaching? It’s that kids can handle anything if they know you care about them. Seems simple but it’s true. If they know you love them they don’t take the criticism personally. They know you’re trying to help them.

Quick note – People aren’t completely rational when their relatives are involved, and they shouldn’t be. You can’t take it personally when mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles criticize you. Love is blind, man, and it’s OK.

And as a young coach, if you feel like you’re going through a bad time or being criticized unjustly, go talk to another coach. They’ll top your story every time. We’ve all been there, buddy. Many times. It’s all a part of the game, and it’s all a part of coaching.

I’ve seen guys who thought they wanted to coach start and not last more than a few years, mainly because of the pressures that come with the job.

Of the 33-years I coached, only 13 of them were as a high school basketball coach. I spent time as a coach at the Junior High, JV, Little League, and AAU levels. I’ve also spent a zillion hours as a college camp coach and scout, and I’ve been the international coach of a team from the Caribbean on the beautiful island called Montserrat.

And as coaching has brought me to all these places, to college campuses and incredibly exotic locations like the one in the Caribbean, I’ve also seen the game save lives. I’ve seen basketball take kids from the inner-city to the bright lights, and I’ve seen it literally give young players a reason to live.

That’s not an exaggeration, believe me. I’ve seen basketball save lives.

Being allowed to coach is a gift, one of the greatest you can be given. And you know why? Because as great as all the wins are (and I’ve been on both sides, believe me), that’s not what ultimately makes it all worthwhile.

Ultimately, it’s about relationships.

It’s about developing relationships with your players, because that’s what lasts and that’s what matters. Sure, you remember the big wins, the upsets where you won a big game you weren’t supposed to win. You remember those trips to The Convo, the ultimate goal for teams from our area. But what is lasting, what is important, are the relationships. In comparison, the victories don’t mean so much.

Not really.

I’ve loved every player I ever coached, and I hope they know that. How could I not after everything I put them through? How could I not after they stuck with me through it all, through the tough practices, through the blood and sweat and tears, through all the wins and the losses?

Think about it. What would bring you more satisfaction and fulfillment, winning a District Championship or having a former player ask you to be the Godfather to his son?

No contest, man. And it’s not even close.

crowd

Not from that night, but pretty damn close.

Back in 1991 I was in my second year coaching varsity basketball. We had a really good team and we were playing another really good team from another league. Due to what occurred that night I’ll try and leave our opponent’s name out of the story. However, if you were there that night you’ll never forget what went down . . .

Like I said, we were a very good team that year, as we had been the year prior. We were about to play a team we’d beaten the year before, but they’d improved and really, really wanted to avenge that loss.

How badly? We had no idea.

Oblivious to what was waiting for us, we prepared for the game like any other. Game day arrived and we made the bus trip over the hills, into the next county and into our opponent’s gym.

Upon walking in though, we knew something was different. Although the reserve game was just getting started, the place was packed. In those days a full gym wasn’t that surprising though.

However, the emotionally charged atmosphere that hit us as we walked inside was an eye-opener.

As the home crowd stood and booed lustily, we looked around and there were signs everywhere. Some were of the generic variety, some decidedly not.

The gym we were in was pretty small, with maybe 15-18 rows one one side and a set of bleachers on the stage. On a related note, the crowd was decidedly 95% anti-Bearcats. We had a faction of small, but mighty and boisterous, fans in one corner of that stage.

It was then, as we were walking into the gym and towards our locker rooms, that I noticed a sign. Here’s what it read:

“WELCOME TO THE NASTY PLACE”

Uh . . . oh. Where had I heard that before? And then it hit me. After we’d beaten this team the year before, one of my quotes in the paper was this:

“I was glad to get out of there with a win. That’s a nasty place to play.”

I’ll swear to the day I die I never meant that comment as an insult to our opponent’s small gym. What I meant was that it was a tough place to win because they always had hard-nosed, well-coached teams with loud, loyal crowds. That’s what I’d meant by nasty.

Really, that’s what I meant.

At this point, however? Too late for explanations. I’d insulted their gym, their team, their school, and apparently their entire community, which incidentally was there en masse that night.

We went down to our locker room, which was at the bottom of some stairs under the bleachers. As we dressed we could hear the roar of the crowd, even during the reserve game.

The place was electric.

Eventually we took the floor, of course to loud boos and taunting from the crowd.

As the game progressed, the atmosphere only became more intense. The score was close throughout, which only ratcheted up the intensity. Objects were thrown from the crowd, usually at me, which to my recollection included pennies, candy (my managers loved that), and anything else folks could get their hands on.

At one point the game was stopped and an administrator made an announcement, something along these lines:

“Listen, no matter what the other coach said about our school, please try and stop throwing things at him.”

I swear it was something like that. Probably not the best choice of words, because they only amped the crowd up more.

And man, if you’d have heard some of the things being yelled at me from behind our bench your jaw would have hit the floor.

Anyway, as we entered the last quarter we were in trouble. We trailed a very talented team whose crowd wanted a win very badly. With around 5:00 remaining, we were down by 10-points.

But then, thanks to a timeout followed by a furious full court press, we made a run. Did I mention we had three of the best little defensive guards in the league in Todd Shoemaker, Casey McFadden, and Roman Diekan? All three were 5-10 and they would get after you defensively.

Not only that, they feared nobody. Not even hundreds of angry fans giving them Holy Hell from the bleachers. Shoot, it made my guys play harder.

Bottom line, we held our opponents scoreless the last 5:00 of the game, and eventually forced overtime. It was on.

As we readied for the overtime tip, the din of the crowd was deafening. But the real fun was about to commence.

The Bearcats got the tip, and it was then we made the decision to hold the ball.

Yep, you read that right. We decided hold the ball and go for the last shot.

Hey, we had three of the best guards, defenders and ballhandlers in the Scioto Valley Conference, we were playing in a hostile (to put it mildly) environment, so why not hold it and go for the win?

And that’s exactly what we did.

Todd, Roman and Casey dribbled and passed their way through the overtime, running a weave out front as our opponents tried desperately to regain possession of the basketball.

Wasn’t happening, man. And as you can imagine, this only amped up the tension higher with the crowd, if that were possible.

We burned the clock in that spread offense until there were about 5-seconds left, when Todd Shoemaker rifled a no-look, bullet pass from the top of the key to 6′-5″ sophomore (and future 1st Team All-Ohioan) Craig Kerns under the basket. Kerns was immediately fouled on the wide-open layup, giving him two free throws with 1-second remaining in the tied game.

It was then we called a timeout, and I told Craig to make the first shot (I had no doubt he would) and miss the second, giving the other team no time to get the rebound and call their own timeout and attempt a last second prayer of a play.

As Craig was lining up for the first shot, I saw Todd walk up from beyond the 3-point line and whisper something to him. He actually had his hands cupped over his mouth as he whispered in Craig’s ear. In retrospect I should have known something was up. Alas, in the heat of the moment I did not.

So, Craig made the first to put us up 1 and missed the second as directed. An opposing player grabbed the rebound threw up a desperation shot that missed, and we’d pulled off the big comeback win under very difficult circumstances.

One of the incredible final stats was that we held a very good team, including the last quarter and overtime, to zero points over the last 9-minutes of the game.

As I started to go over to shake hands with the opposing coach, I caught something out of the corner of my eye. As I turned to look, I saw Todd and Craig running towards the opposite wall. Then I saw them rip a particularly offensive sign off the wall.

Uh-oh. So that’s what they’d been talking about.

I can’t say it was the best decision they’d ever made, but they’d also been suffering through some pretty intense verbal abuse the entire game. Did I condone it? No. Did I understand it? Yes I did.

At that point, well, all hell broke loose.

People poured onto the floor and fights seemed to be breaking out everywhere.

My assistant coaches, Daron Myers and Pete Hollon among them, were fending off people trying to get at me, and at one point formed a circle around me as we attempted to get our team to the locker room.

I remember that Craig’s father Brad, our film guy, forgo the ladder that led to his little crow’s nest where he’d been filming and basically jumped down to join the fray.

Finally, we made it downstairs to the locker room. Once there, we could hear people at the top of the steps yelling nasty things down to us. A group of our parents actually stood guard at the top of the stairs. I told my players to sit tight, that we’d have to wait this out until things calmed down. Soon after that, a local policeman came to tell us the same thing, that they were calling in some more enforcement to clear the gym.

My players didn’t even change into their street clothes. They just sat there waiting to be told what to do next.

Over an hour later the gym was eventually cleared, but a lot of people were still waiting for us in the parking lot. Soon, a plan was hatched. Our bus left the lot it was parked in and was brought around to the other side of the school. With a large group of our fans forming a tunnel, we snuck out through a side door and boarded our bus.

What happened next seems surreal even today. After we were all seated, the Sheriff of the county we were playing in got on the bus, stood at the front, and said this:

“You fellas better keep  your heads down until you get out of _______ County.”

Yep. That actually happened. I have witnesses.

On a related note, do you know how you can tell you have loyal assistant coaches? When, after hearing what the local sheriff just said, you have this discussion with one of them:

Coach Myers: “Coach, switch places with me.”

Me: “Why?

Coach Myers: “You’d better get away from the window. They’ll be aiming for you.”

That’s loyalty, folks.

As we pulled out we were escorted, front and back, by several cars and trucks from Paint Valley. Behind our fans, in the back, followed a lot of cars that were not from Ross County. When we crossed into Ross County, those cars turned around and went back from whence they came.

You may not be surprised to learn that I got several phone calls the next day, most from angry fans threatening to beat my ass but with a few death threats thrown in for fun as well.

Good times, huh?

Our twice yearly regular season games with that opponent were cancelled for the foreseeable future, although the very next year we happened to draw them in the sectional tournament. Again, they couldn’t beat us.

Thank God it was on a neutral court.

Note: Folks from the school and opponent in question will most certainly have a different perspective regarding what happened that night, and they are certainly welcome to chime in if they feel the need.

 

Politically correct he is not.

mike_leach_coach

————-

Listen, as a basketball coach I always listen to suggestions. Always. The day you think you know it all is the1 day you start regressing. Just as in life, you can never stop learning and trying to better yourself. That said, it doesn’t mean I take all advice to heart. People almost always have good intentions, even the former or current coaches who take one of my players aside and start giving them advice that is contrary to what I want taught. You see, there are several philosophies to coaching basketball, and many of them are right. There is no one, exact way to do it, but as long as you get your kids to believe your philosophy you’re good to go. For this reason you don’t want other people’s ideas being forced into their impressionable brains.

Make sense?

Anyway, over the years I’ve received a lot of advice from well-meaning people that, quite frankly, didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. Here are a few of my favorites:

Years ago I coached a team that, shall we say, weren’t the best shooters in the world. Our scores were usually low because we wanted to be patient and look for a good shot. We won a lot, but the scores were usually 48-41, 45-37 or 50-35 ( actual scores, I looked ’em up). I think we had a record of 9-2 or something about halfway through the season when an elderly gentleman moseyed up to me after a game with this gem:

“Coach, I think those boys need some shootin’ practice.”

Ah! Brilliant! I hadn’t thought of that! All I could do was smile and nod my head in agreement.

Sigh.

Another time I had a team that was having trouble getting the ball up the floor against pressure. At one point a guy comes up to me before a game and makes this suggestion:

“Coach, I’ve heard that some teams run a pressbreaker against presses. Why don’t you try that?”

Great idea! I didn’t have the heart to tell him that most coaches put their pressbreakers in the first week of the season, it’s just that we were so bad at ours that it was unrecognizable.

I think I may have mentioned this before, but once a kid’s father suggested that my players were too wound up before games and that I should find a way to make them more relaxed. My response?

“Let me ask you a question. Let’s say somebody calls you on the phone and says they’re on the way over to your house to beat your ass. Do you put on some relaxing music and have a glass of wine? You do not. I want my players wound up.”

Radical idea, I know.

Here’s a pretty good one. Once a mother walked up to me after a game with this pearl of wisdom:

“Coach, my advice to you would be to quit playing favorites.”

Parents, I have a confession to make. It’s true. Coaches do play favorites. They favor players who give the team the best chance to win, who have great attitudes, who work hard every day, who embrace their role (regardless of what that role is) and who support the program and believe in what we’re trying to do.

But as I said, a good coach will listen to any and all advice, it’s then up to him or her as to what to act on and what to ignore. Some of the best advice I ever received came from one of the first men I ever coached for, and it was beautiful in it’s simplicity:

“Keep your thumb on the mouse.”

Huh? Keep your thumb on the what? Never expected that one, did you? What does that mean, you ask? It means that no matter what happens, you keep coaching. Correct every mistake or it will be repeated. Every single one. There will be times when you become frustrated and want to let things go, but you just can’t. So you imagine you’re holding your thumb on a mouse. If you let up for one second, the mouse is gone. For good.

Now there’s some good advice.

At least for one day in 1992.

Back in the early 90’s I was coaching at Paint Valley and we had a really good team, four starters standing 6′-5″ who could all shoot from anywhere on the floor. I had seven guys who could dunk, which would be impressive for a high school team even today.

Anyway, I used to take my teams out to the University of Maryland for Gary Willliam’s Basketball Camp. It’s a long story but I used to be the Commissioner of the camps out there for Gary from 1989 to 2002.

The kids who attended Maryland Camp came from the Washington DC area, as well as Baltimore, Philly, New York City and schools all along the east coast. To say my Southern Ohio boys were out of their element was a bit of an understatement. Still, my guys hung out with the city boys, stayed in the dorms with them, and more than held their own on the basketball court. To me it was a win-win all-around. You know, expanding cultural horizons and all that. Not to mention it made my guys better playing against such good competition.

Which brings me to a story that Gary Williams, legendary former coach at Maryland, still tells to this day. Remember that it was 1992, and “trash talking” was in its early stages. Understand that trash talking hardly ever led to violence on the court, it was just a part of the game for players from the playgrounds of the inner-cities. My team, however, was not used to it. It hadn’t made its way to our neck of the woods yet.

With this in mind, my Ohio boys had been in a particularly intense contest with a team from DC, which we happened to have won. Afterwards, in a corridor outside the Cole Field House floor, words were exchanged between an opposing player and one of my guys. After the other player challenged my player with some unkind words, a punch was thrown.

Somebody got throttled, and he wasn’t from Ross County.

Gary Williams, the aforementioned Maryland coach, happened to be in the corridor and jumped between my player and the other guy who was, well, on the hallway floor. At that point, as Gary will tell you, the following conversation took place:

Coach Williams: “What are you doing, man? Why did you punch him?”

My guy: “Coach, where I come from we only talk like that for a minute. Then we start to hit.”

Gary thought that was the greatest thing he’d ever heard, and he could hardly wait to tell me about it.

And believe me, at the time no truer words had ever been spoken.

Trash talking has since become commonplace, but back in ’92? Not so much.

I sort of miss those days.

Originally published on October 24th, 2012.

It was the Fall of the 1992-93 season, and I’d been coaching at Paint Valley for 3-years. It was at the end of an Open Gym, and myself and a few of my returning players were standing around talking about the upcoming season. At one point one of them asked me when Paint Valley last won a league championship, and I told them it was 1965, 28-years prior.

Somebody, I can’t remember who, said we were going to win a championship again in 1993. Everyone agreed, and then for some reason we decided that we were going to tape a coin on the top of one of the backboards to give us luck.

At that point I reached into my pocket to look for a coin, and it turned out there was only one in there. I pulled it out and found myself looking at a dime.

A 1965 dime.

From the last year Paint Valley won a league title.

I showed the guys, and everyone was stunned. What were the odds?

We then got a ladder from the custodian’s room and taped the ’65 dime to the top of the backboard, figuring that the Basketball Gods were with us.

And they were, because a few months later we cut down the nets at an away game at Piketon, securing Paint Valley’s first Scioto Valley Conference Championship since 1965.

At our banquet that year my senior players gave me a few gifts, but the most special was that 1965 dime enclosed in a little case. I still have it, and sometimes I still wonder how it found its way into my pocket that day back in the fall of 1992.

Think about it. A coach and a few of his senior players were standing around in 1992 talking about the last year they’d won a title. That year was 1965. Then they decided to put a lucky coin on the top of the backboard. The coach reaches in his pocket, where only one coin can be found, and that coin was a 1965 dime. And I swear I didn’t plan the whole thing.

Amazing, really.

thedime

The Dime.

 

 

Not Rat.

Not Rat.

The other day I remembered a pretty funny story that occurred years ago during my first stint as coach of the Bearcats. It happened on the way home after a particularly tough loss. As my current and former players will tell you, after a loss I like the bus to be quiet. You know, nobody should be all happy and talkative after a loss, right? Just sit there and think about where we went wrong and try and figure out how to get it fixed.

On this particular night I had a manager that apparently didn’t get the memo because he wouldn’t shut up. I shall call this manager Rat, and although his real nickname was something else entirely.

I change the name because I’m not sure if he could still sue me. You’ll know why in a minute, so settle down. All three of my managers were 6th graders by the way, but back to the story. It’ll get funny in a minute. Hopefully.

So anyway, Rat wouldn’t shut up. The bus is completely dark and I can’t see anything, but I can hear Rat yapping away about 6 or 7 rows behind me. I turn and sort of whisper/yell:

“Rat! Be quiet!”

Dead silence for about 5-minutes, but then he starts in again . . .

“Rat! Be . . . QUIET!”

Silence for about 10-minutes. Then I hear him again, this time with some giggling mixed in.

Uh-oh.

I then decide it’s time to pay Rat a personal visit. An intervention if you will. I work my way back down the bus aisle until I get to Rat. I know when I get to him because he still babbling away about something. At that point I attempted to give him a little backhanded slap to the chest to get his attention. I know that sounds sort of, uh, inappropriate, but I didn’t intend to hit him hard. Seriously, just a little tap was all I intended.

The problem is that it was dark, Rat was leaning forward, and his face was where his chest was supposed to be. End result? I backhanded Rat smack-dab in the kisser. Just throttled the kid right in the face. Hard. I immediately told him I was sorry, that I didn’t mean to belt him in the face, and then I sort of scurried back to my seat.

At that point my mind immediately started racing. Did anyone know what just happened? Did I leave a mark on Rat? Would Rat rat me out? Was this my last bus ride as a coach? Then I leaned over to my assistant and the following conversation commenced:

Me: “I just slapped Rat.”

Assistant, half asleep: “Cool. Wait. Huh?”

Me: “I just slapped Rat. Right in the face.”

Assistant: “You slapped Rat?”

Me: “I slapped Rat!”

Assistant: “Hard?”

Me: “Walloped him. He might be bleeding from the mouth, nose or both. Dead serious.”

Assistant: “On purpose?”

Me: “Well, no, but I’m not sure that will hold up in a court of law.”

Assistant: “Well, he’s awfully quiet back there now. Maybe he’s fine. Maybe he’s cool with it. I’m sure he knows it was an accident.”

By that point the bus was REALLY quiet, as you might imagine.

And then it began.

It started as a low moan and sort of turned into a plaintive wail. Rat was becoming unglued. Unhinged. Rat was bawling, blubbering, and breaking down like he’d been punched by Mike Tyson in his prime. Which is actually sort of what had just happened.

Good God.

I was done. How to explain this? Just no way to do it and make it sound O.K. Why? Because anyway you spin it I’d just slapped a 6th grader in the face. With that in mind I decided to just go back and apologize to Rat again, explain what happened to his parents if they asked, and hope for the best.

I never knew what happened when Rat went home that night. Did he keep mum to save me? Did he tell Mom and Pops and they were just cool enough not to say anything? Maybe Rat told them and they didn’t believe him? Who knows, but the bottom line is I never heard a word about it from anyone again.

Another lesson learned though. Never attempt to slap a kid in the dark without taking a flashlight with you.

You know I’m kidding, right?

Right?

Note: That’s not an actual photo of Rat’s nose after the incident. I left no marks or bruises. Seriously. Rat was fine. Well, physically anyway. Mentally he was probably scarred for life.

Note II: Before I get a comment from some idiot saying “Well, if that was MY kid blah-blah-blah . . .” just know that I’d never hit a kid intentionally. You know, unless they really deserved it.