Road Signs

Very few people have been as lucky as I have during my career in education and especially in coaching.  I have so many friends and colleagues that took the same career path as I did, but not with the same results.  They didn’t see the road sign.

I have known so many coaches that are much smarter than I am that did not succeed in this profession.  I am often amazed at how the road signs of my career led me to the right path every time.

I entered college with one goal in mind. That goal was trying to avoid getting drafted for at least four years.  I wasn’t a draft dodger, but the college deferment gave me four years for the country to get out of Vietnam.  I had no desire to hit the jungles and fight the Viet Cong.

Refusing to pre-register and telling my parents I wanted to move to Kearney on my own, I showed up on the Kearney State College campus a week before classes started.  I hadn’t even taken a pre-college exam, like the A-C-T.

There were very few classes still open when I registered two days before classes began.  One of the classes my advisor stuck me in was Beginning Reporting, a journalism class.  I didn’t like to write and had decided to be a Physical Education major.  

Thanks to that first road sign, I now have written weekly blogs for over 10 years. In addition, I have published four books since my retirement in 2012.  I’m not going to say I’m a good writer, but I do have a few loyal readers.  It probably wouldn’t have happened if I had gone to pre-registration the summer before my freshman year of college.

The next road sign showed up when one of my former high school coaches showed up in Kearney as a middle school principal at Central Elementary.  Maybe the road sign was the new draft lottery where I had drawn the number 250.  I wasn’t going to the jungle.

That coach was Don Clark.  I really respected his opinion and envied what he had accomplished as an educator and coach.  Thanks to Don Clark, I double majored in Middle School Education and Physical Education.  Don even set things up for me.  I did my student teaching at Central Elementary.  My supervisor was Helen Johnson, an excellent sixth grade teacher that was scheduled to retire that spring.  Don offered me her position.

The trouble with that offer is the Kearney School District wouldn’t allow elementary teachers to coach.  I regretfully turned down Don’s offer and headed where the road sign pointed, Humboldt, Nebraska.

At Humboldt, I could teach sixth grade and coach.  I was the boys’ assistant basketball coach and ran the summer ball programs for the city.  I really loved Humboldt.  Jerri Hayes made things so easy for the summer program and the kids in Humboldt were great.  Bob Williamson even let me help with the elementary music program, even though I have absolutely no musical talent.

I was never going to leave Humboldt but after two years, a personal situation popped up and I was forced to find another teaching job a couple of hours from Humboldt.  The road sign now pointed toward Milford, Nebraska.

I was sure this wasn’t good for my coaching career.  I started as an assistant junior high boys’ basketball coach at Milford.  The head coach wasn’t even going to give me control of the seventh grade.  Fortunately, the volunteer assistant knew my goals and asked me to do most of the coaching

Two years later, I’m the freshmen boys’ basketball coach and the road sign pointed me directly to Bob Bargen, the head Milford basketball coach.  It was from Bob I truly learned how to coach. He taught me a lot about X’s and O’s, but also the mental side of the game.  I only spent two years with Bob, but his influence stayed with me my whole career.

It was at a wedding party in Clatonia, Nebraska that the next road sign appeared.  I was serving drinks at the reception when I started a conversation with a school board member at Wilber-Clatonia High School.  Two weeks later, I was named the head girls’ basketball coach at my hometown school.

Thanks to some great young talent, especially in a group that stayed with me through their senior year, Angie Miller, Penny Thompson, Becki Duba and Robin Broz, Wilber-Clatonia swept to an undefeated state championship.  Not a bad road sign, but just when I was about to become a lifer at Wilber-Clatonia, another road sign appeared.

This time it was planted by the superintendent, who told me a couple of times if my team didn’t make the state tournament, I’d be looking for work. Then, when I was snubbed again by the superintendent when the athletic director’s job came available, the road sign pointed me right at Doane College.

It meant a cut in pay, but I could build my own team through recruiting.  When Dr. Fred Brown became the Doane president, I knew this had been the right direction to travel.  Dr. Brown loved athletics and went out of his way to help my program.  I’ve never had a better boss.  Doane College allowed me to build a program that had 12 straight years of 20 or more wins.

He even named me athletic director but then a phone call from Gerry Johnson posted the next sign for me.  Gerry’s son was the men’s assistant basketball coach at Northwest Missouri State.  He let his mother know the women’s basketball job had opened up.

She told me about the opening and with their help and a little luck, I packed up and headed to Maryville, Missouri.  The big question was did I bite off more than I could chew?

My wife, Michele, was seven months pregnant with Sam, my son.  It wasn’t an easy move and an 18-game losing streak that first year made me think someone had changed the road sign on me.

It took four years, but the winning came back.  Thanks to Jane Chalmers, Brooke Hogue, Ashely Poptanich, Sarah Vollertsen, Erica Hatterman, Jena Wolfe, Tanesha Fields, Laura Frederich and others, the Bearcats won the 2004 conference tournament and made the post season for the first time in 20 years.

I figured that the road sign to Northwest would be my last, but I was very wrong. It was the spring of 2011, right after Northwest had played in their first NCAA II Final Four in school history.  It was the first Sunday in June, about noon, when I heard the news.  Scott Bostwick, my friend and new football coach at Northwest Missouri State had died suddenly.

That day, as I set in my office, a new road sign appeared.  Motivated by how fast life can change, I told my athletic director I would retire at the end of that school year.

That’s a decision I have never regretted, except for a twinge every March.  I was able to help and follow my son, Sam, as he made his way through school.  I coached his baseball teams and missed very few of his sporting events.  Now in college, his road sign is pointing toward broadcasting and mass media.  

I have to be too old to experience any more road signs.  If I had ignored just one of those signs, I wonder where I would be today.  No need to worry about that now.  I’m probably wrong and the next road sign might just pop up.