I wonder how many YEARS of my life have actually been spent driving mowers and tractors in circles? In my own yard, on football and baseball fields? Finishing up where I started only to do it over again…and again…. I find that my mind drifts with the repetitive mindlessness of the job…until I run over something I shouldn’t or cut a clump of Linda Gail’s flowers.
This time of year, the hot and humid doldrums of summer, my mind “circles” to twenty-nine seasons as a football coach…despite not having coached football in fifteen years. It’s been that long? With the coach’s clinic this weekend I am reminded that the football season is just around the corner. The smell of my freshly cut grass, along with the heat and humidity, takes me to the fields of my past. Twenty-nine first practices followed by twenty-nine first games. Fields freshly manicured with sharp white lines almost glowing from the reflected light from above.
In some ways my twenty-nine seasons were a study in frustration. Eight seasons finishing above .500 and a small, very small, handful of break-even seasons. We have at least three coaches in South Carolina with eight or more state championships during their career. It gets much worse, five of those winning eight seasons occurred during my first nine seasons. Three winning seasons over the last twenty. My own tenure as a head football coach boasts one winning season, six wins out a total of thirteen over four seasons. What made me think I was head coaching material?
I spent this past Friday morning with best friend, former boss and Linda Gail’s former high school classmate, Mike “Hawk” Hawkins. I was lending “moron” support as we attempted to erect a backyard swing from scratch. The “blind leading the blind” didn’t quite describe it. More like the “blind leading the stupid.” Somehow with a bit of “cussin’” on my part and a lot praying on his, we got the job done. Maybe it won’t collapse in on itself. More importantly, being around “Hawk” reminded me of why I coached football for twenty-nine years despite the frustration. It was the people and the personalities surrounding high school athletics.
My last game coaching football was Mike’s last game as head coach at Riverside. No man could have put more into a program than he did but it wasn’t in the cards. My first five years as his assistant netted two winning seasons and a couple break evens but then the wheels fell off the jalopy. To quote Linda Gail and thousands of others, “You can’t make silk purses out of sow’s ears.” We had great kids who tried and worked hard but were “athletically challenged” proving that you could do most everything right and still not be successful. Weekly we found our X’s to be much smaller and slower than our opponent’s O’s. Tasting just a bit of success is what made my last game much sweeter.
I don’t know how many games we won my last year…it wasn’t many. It doesn’t matter because we won the last one. A playoff bound Mann team came to the River and our kids rose up and smacked them in the nose. Hawk devised what I have always called a “bastard” defense, throwing caution to the wind and our kids executed it. As the seconds ticked down a senior defensive end who, in a normal defense, would not have been dropping into pass coverage, did. Geoff Rigsby intercepted the confused Mann quarterback to ice the victory…my last victory. I didn’t know it was my last game at the time. I was living vicariously through “Hawk” who was being carried from the field on the shoulders of his players while what few fans were in attendance were bring down the goal posts…well bending the goal posts.
A friend who used to coach with Hawk and I, Rick Scott, once said, “Winning is better than sex.” I bit, “How is that?” “Sex only last a few minutes. A win lasts all week long.” Well! I would guess he is correct. I’ve enjoyed my last win for fifteen years.
For more humor by Don Miller click on the following link: http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM