I tried looking it up and the closest I could find was Red Auerbach, the former and late-great coach of the Boston Celtics, was the first to use the phrase in athletics, “Fitting a round peg in a square hole.”
Almost every head coach of any sport tries to avoid doing just that with their team. In Missouri, half the football teams are now packing away their equipment. Another 25% will be defeated this weekend. Most of it has to do with lack of talent and the winners just have better players. However, there’s always a team or two that found its identity sometime during the season.
There is no better example of that than the 2017 Maryville football team. I’m pretty sure I won’t get much argument that the teams in the three years before 2017 was more talented than the 2017 team.
Those teams won almost every game because they just had more talent. Their loss each season came when talent couldn’t overcome turnovers. Last year, it looked like a lack of talent would end the Spoofhound’s season early.
However, you put together a coaching staff like they have in Maryville and almost anything is possible. During a season with two losses that weren’t close, you could say the Matt Webb and his coaching staff was shaving that round peg into something that would fit into that square hole. It must have fit perfectly.
By the end of the year, the Maryville football team was unquestionable the best team in Missouri’s Class 3. You could chalk it up to talent, but last year a lot of the success was when every kid on the team sacrificed so the team fit perfectly together.
You don’t need state championships for a coach to experience a feeling about a team. I was a very young coach working as the freshmen coach to Bob Bargen at Milford High School. Bob wanted the freshmen to learn the system, but he let me do some things that would help us stay competitive.
I will never forget the game when it really came together for that very average freshmen basketball team. Early in the year, the York basketball team had beaten us badly in a tournament. It was the last game of the year when we faced them for third place in a tournament in Seward.
We started playing a man defense, then switched to a 2-3 zone. York was scoring at will with our top two in the zone hardly moving and the bottom two getting out of position by being overly aggressive.
Out of frustration, I called a time-out and let them have it verbally. I told my two lazy guards to just sit down low and my overly aggressive forwards to play up high and chase the ball everywhere. It was something we had never practiced.
It was almost like magic. We started the fourth quarter 15 points behind. The top two defenders forced turnovers and easy baskets. Then the aggressiveness caught on with everyone. Offensively, I had one player that could really score, but never really learned the offense. I told him that night to forget the offense, just score.
With two seconds left, that player hit two free throws to send the game into overtime. Momentum carried us to a seven-point win in overtime. It took all season, but I finally found that team that fit their talent. As a coach, it was a great feeling, even if it was only freshmen basketball.
I soon learned the quicker I could find that perfect fit, the faster the team experienced success. I never worried about getting blown out in scrimmages and exhibition games. If that team could fit into their talent, we would get a lot better.
People might be shocked when I say this, but I felt really good about how my first team learned to fit into their talent. If you don’t know, we ended the season with an 18-game losing streak, the longest in Northwest history.
Here’s what happened. I give Steve Tappmeyer, the men’s coach, credit for the inspiration. Not for the losses but with opening my eyes to make us a true threat to the good teams in the MIAA.
We played each of nine teams in the league twice. The first time through was a disaster. I can only remember one close game in the first time through the MIAA. After a thumping at Missouri Southern in the last Saturday of January, I was sitting alone at the top of the gym in Joplin watching the men play.
Tapp had in his arsenal a play that started with a weave. Guards would dribble to guards and hand the ball off. My women’s team had a ball handling problem, so I thought, why throw it away if we can hand if off.
That Sunday we practiced at the Missouri State University gym. I had an hour and I announced we would change our offense. It wasn’t like we didn’t have any talent. I had a sophomore that could really shoot the three. A junior was the perfect big forward. She had a little range and was tough on the boards.
Another player wasn’t very mobile, but she was really accurate shooting the ball while posting up inside. Finally, we had a senior that to this day is still one of my favorite players. Her name was Brandi Grigsby-Shannon. She was from Atlanta, Missouri, not far from Truman State.
Brandi had come from a junior college. If you took the reins off her, she could drive, pick up fouls and even hit threes. That Sunday, we spent an hour weaving the ball. I told my post never to leave the posts. I told my three-point shooter to spot up and hide out for the three-point shot. The power forward had freedom of the baselines and Brandi could do anything she wanted.
Our first game was that Monday at Southwest Baptist. They had a really good team and had beaten us by 30 in Maryville. We fell behind early, but the weave started to run smoother. The post was scoring at will down low. We made a run but lost by 13 points.
We came home against Emporia, who had beaten us by 50 points the first time. Emporia never led in the game until four minutes were left. We had a four-point lead with two minutes to against Dave Slifer’s Missouri Western team. We just didn’t have enough left at the end to finish games.
I hated all the loses and was ready to move on to the next season. However, I was proud the team kept the faith as long as they did. Most of those players probably didn’t think much of me as a coach and they were justified. However, I loved them and the effort they game me, especially Brandi Grigsby-Shannon.
Fitting that round peg in a square hole can happen on really great teams. My 2011 Hall of Fame team was a great example of that. Old and new players fit perfectly together to make a team worth of a national championship. It’s a matter of fit.