The Best Coaches


I went from going out for a run, to going out for a jog, to going out for a wog (walk and jog) to finally just walking.  I might jog again someday, but then I might lose 30 points someday.  The odds are against me.

A few years after my family had moved onto an acreage just north of Maryville, I was still into my occasional jog.  My route took me by Marshall and Cara Shell’s house.  At that location, my biggest worry was to have a walnut fall on my head during a windy day.

This one day I’m jogging by and I hear a familiar voice ask, “Any mean dogs on this route?”  It wasn’t a voice I would hear when Marshall would tell me what ailments he found in my car.  It wasn’t a woman’s voice telling me Sam is spreading germs all over his class at Horace Mann.

The voice was that of Cara’s father, Galen Conn.  That may have been the nicest thing he said to me up to that time.  You see, Galen was a long-time junior high coach at Tri County High School in Nebraska.  I got to know him when I was the girls’ basketball coach at Wilber-Clatonia High School, Tri County’s biggest rival.

It wasn’t that Galen was unfriendly.  It wasn’t that Galen wasn’t well liked.  It was just that a coach from Tri County just didn’t exchange many pleasantries with coaches from Wilber-Clatonia.

I might have been the head girls’ basketball coach, but I was the junior high football coach for a two years at Wilber-Clatonia.  I can’t remember very many junior high football games in my career, but I remember the two years we faced Galen’s teams at Tri County.

That first year, I was determined to have organization on my junior high team.  I drilled and drilled them on the offensive, defensive and special teams.  The first time we got the ball of offense, the quarterback yelled at me that we didn’t have a left guard.  I called a time out and found the kid who was supposed to be in the game.  He was standing next to me.

After an exchange of punts, the same thing happened again.   I called a time out and got the left guard in the game.  Finally, when it happened a third time, I asked the kid why he wasn’t going in the game.  The kid, who lived at a very isolated farm, looked at me and said, “I don’t know the difference between offense and defense.”

Galen never had those problems.  His team was organized and well coached.  He always had a scowl on his face, but I pretty sure underneath that persona was a big-hearted educator.  His team beat us that day.  The next year, Galen’s Tri County team beat us 2 – 0 when they blocked a punt with less than a minute to go in the game.

I was a young coach that knew when I was being out-coached.  All wanted to do for a career was coach.  Here was a guy that was a career junior high coach and I knew he was out-coaching me.  I knew deep down, Galen Conn was a better coach than me.

Tri County had something special that not many schools can claim.  Their junior high coach might or probably was the best coach in school.  That’s the way it should be if you really think about it.  The best coach should be the one teaching the fundamentals.  It should be the best guy who is teaching the young players to love the game.

Head coaches get a lot of credit for great teams.  I had a team at Wilber-Clatonia that won a state championship.  A lot of credit was directed my way.  Most of the credit should have gone to a family of a girl that very seldom played.

The player’s name was Amy Altman.  She had a muscular disease that limited her speed.  Her brothers were great athletes.  Dirk got my players together when they were freshmen and sophomores and coached a team that played in the AAU Tournament in Nebraska.  That team finished second to a team with all big city players.

Later, Amy’s other brother, Dana, had a hand in our state championship.  The year before most of those players would be seniors, Dana was a graduate assistant at Western State in Colorado.  He was in charge of the school’s basketball camps.

His girls’ team camp had seven teams and they needed eight.  He called me and ask if I would bring his sister and her team to Gunnison, Colorado.  It was a 17-hour drive over the continental divide.  I found eight players, the top eight players, who were willing to give up a week of their summer to travel to Gunnison.

It was a great week, spending almost a day and a half in a van that was donated for the trip by Amy’s father, who owned a car dealership.  The team bounding opportunity put us over the top.  The team hardly had a close game in the regular season.  I got a lot of credit, but more credit should have gone to the Altman family.

In case you haven’t recognized it, the graduate assistant at Western Colorado is now the head basketball coach at the University of Oregon.  That’s the team that knocked out Kansas in the Elite Eight last year.  You never know where help can come from.

I know Matt Webb, the Maryville football coach, pays a lot of attention to the youth football in town.  Matt Stoecklein and Quentin Albrecht both spend a lot of their summer with their teams.

Coach Stoecklein is involved in the youth basketball of Maryville.  He has a younger son that will someday be great player for his dad. Coach Albrecht often goes to watch the girls’ youth basketball teams.  Both of these coaches take pride in building a program for the high school.

It’s good for my ego to get credit for my program’s wins.  The trouble is other people usually played a bigger part of it than me.  Even at Northwest, my assistant coach, Lori Hopkins, did much more than anyone knows, mostly behind the spotlight of the championships.

If a program is on the right path, people like Galen Conn will be your best coaches.  That’s the way it should be.

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