When The End Is Near

My first head coaching position was at Wilber-Clatonia High School.  My uncle, Gene Else, who had been a career coach in high school and college, gave me a great piece of advice; “Never go where you can’t win.”

At Wilber-Clatonia, I found a good junior class and a great freshmen class.  That first year, we won three post-season games and finished 12 – 5 for the season.  The second year was marred by team dissent, but we were still a respectable 12 – 7, losing to the eventual state champion by one point.  The seniors graduated and we improved to 15 – 5.  We were ranked all year, but only won one post-season game.

Just before the start of the fourth year, I was called into the superintendent’s office.  He flatly told me if my fourth team didn’t make the state tournament, I would be out of a job.  I was a little shocked since that hadn’t had a winning season until my first year.  In three years, expectations had certainly risen.

I knew I had a really great team, but I didn’t know I had a state champion team, but that’s what happened.  Now my freshmen class of my first season had graduated and only 4 points from the starting lineup was returning.

This time I took the initiative to visit the superintendent.  I asked him how he thought we could do the next year.  He thought .500 would be a good year.  I reminded him of his threat from the previous year and asked about those goals.  He told me if we didn’t make the state a second consecutive year, I would be out of a head coaching job.

The next year, Wilber-Clatonia won 19 games and made it to the semifinals of state.  I also got out of the Wilber-Clatonia School District.  I now understood the standing statement among coaches, “There are two types of coaches; those that have been fired and those that are going to get fired.

We come to that time of the year when rumors are everywhere about one coach or another losing their head coaching jobs.  A few may deserve it for one reason or another  but most will lose their livelihood because an administrator or booster just didn’t like the coach.  If a coach stumbles at all, it’s goodbye to that job.

Take Kim Anderson at Missouri as an example.  Everything I know about Kim is he is a class person.  Sometimes men’s coaches won’t have much to do with opposing women’s coaches, but not Kim.

During his tenure at Central Missouri, Kim always made time to say hello and talk about his team and well as mine.  Apparently, he must know what he’s doing.  Central Missouri won a national championship four years ago, Kim’s last year.

Then Kim went back to where his basketball playing and coaching days began, the University of Missouri.  Kim is not a quick fix type coach.  He brings in his type of players and develops them.  It’s okay to recruit an Alpha Dog, but there aren’t many of them around.

After three tough seasons, I would guess there are very few Missouri basketball fans that thinks he can survive another year.  That’s too bad.  I know for a fact if I was judged on the first three years, I would have been fired three times.  It’s too bad because the team has shown some sparks.  Maybe all it will take is one Alpha Dog.  Unfortunately, I don’t think it will be with Kim at the reins of the Tigers’ program when that Alpha Dog arrives.

Maybe Kim’s team will make a surprising run in the SEC Tournament and change people’s opinion.  It happened to a high school coach from Geneva, Nebraska in 1965.  Geneva had a great player by the Bob Gratopp.  He was a junior in 1965.  The coach was Archie Chapman.  His son, Frank, was one of my best friends at Kearney State College in the early 1970’s.  Frank gave me some great inside information.

Frank was 15 years old when his dad was fired by the Geneva school board just before post-season began.   Apparently, Gratopp and his teammates didn’t agree with the school board.  The team went on a winning streak that led all the way to a state championship.

The school board began having second thoughts.  After the state’s final game, they offered Archie’s job back to him.  I love Archie’s reaction.  I don’t know the exact words, but he told the board he wasn’t interested anymore.  Shortly after the end of the state tournament, Archie took a better job at Lexington High School, where he stayed until retirement.  As a side note, Frank won a state championship in girls’ basketball like his father did in boys’ basketball.

The one thing I’ll never understand is firing a coach just before the season is over.  Les Miles, who had won a national championship at LSU in 2008, was on the hot seat as the season began.  About halfway through the 2016 season, Les Miles was fired and his assistant coach, Ed Orgeron was hired.

Maybe Orgeron is a great guy, but his background had some red flags.  Early in his career, there were domestic violence situations.  Remember the movie, the Blind Side?  He played himself and won the recruiting war for “Big Mike.”  Unfortunately, he was fired after his second year after giving up a 14 point lead to in-state rival Mississippi State.

Earlier in his career, he had been passed over for the Southern California job.  Orgeron ended up on the LSU staff and was ready when Miles was fired.  He had a 6 -2 record the remainder of the 2016 season and was hired full-time at one of the premier football schools in America.

Did Miles deserve to be fired?  How can someone who won a national in 2008 become stupid by 2016?  The fans complained about Mile’s offense, but when at Mississippi, Orgeron’s offense never cracked the top 100 in the nation in passing, running or total offense.  This is one tough profession.

As post season plays out, many coaches will make the first level of coaching, “coaches that have been fired.”  New ones will anxiously jump into a new job sure that they won’t be a “coach that will be fired.”  Beware, your end may be near.

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