It’s nuts how fast time flies. I have been retired from coaching for seven years. That’s more time than I spend at my first two jobs at Humboldt and Milford. What really went fast was my 33 years as a head basketball coach at three different levels.
Like most coaches that stay in the profession a long time, I can pinpoint my worst coaching jobs. They didn’t always come on losing teams. I once had a team go 30 – 3 and it was probably my all-time worst coaching job.
It was a year where we went undefeated until the final game before Christmas break. That loss was to a higher division team on the road. After Christmas, we didn’t loose until the final regular season game. At the time we had a 30 – 2 record.
The league named me coach of the year in the league, the most undeserving award anyone ever received. I could feel things going wrong on that team. There was a bad vibe and I could have corrected it, but I was too stubborn.
I felt we were winning, so why change anything. That was a huge mistake. By the time all the things I could have corrected festered to a point of no return, it cost my Doane College team a sport in post season.
In our first round of the conference tournament, we had a 23-point, first half lead over Hastings, who was coached by one of my best friends, Ken Rhodus.
By halftime it was just a 4-point lead and after losing the lead in the last 10 minutes, we were a defeated team. I really felt that team was relieved to be done with all the pressure and quietly go to spring break. It wasn’t the players fault, it was mine. I could have done something about it.
On the other hand, I can pinpoint what I consider my best coaching years to seasons where the team’s record was anywhere from mediocre to awful. I really felt good about what happened with a freshmen boys’ team at Milford. It was only a .500 team at the best.
One of my best memories of coaching came in the last game of the season against York. They had beaten us by 20 a week earlier and were headed to the same results again. I lost my stubbornness, changed defenses and got back to within 2 points with just seconds left.
My leading scorer was fouled while shooting. The kid wasn’t a great free throw shooter. York called time-out to ice the kid. I spent most of the time-out setting up for an offensive rebound when the kid missed a free throw.
About that time, I looked at the kid. He was really angry. I changed almost in the middle of a sentence, telling my team to ignore what I had just said. I told them the kid would hit both free throws, so why bother. That’s exactly what he did, and we won the game in overtime.
I felt good about several of my teams that may not have been my most successful. It just meant I had great kids. My last 12 years at Doane, the team won at least 20 games. However, one year it should never had happened.
We started the year 1 – 4, and my best recruit from the year before was complaining about playing time. One of my captains, Nikki Plank, was a 5-6 guard that had played a reserve role for three years.
My would-be star complained to Nikki. Before I ever heard about it, Nikki solved the problem for me. She told the want-to-be star that she had waited three painful years to play, so she should shut up and wait her chance. I’m not sure those were the exact words. Knowing Nikki, they may have been a little more colorful.
The kid quit the next Monday and my second-best recruit that year, Mari Maaske, became a first team All American, and we never missed another NAIA post season. I was as proud of that team as any of the Final Four teams I coached. It all started with a captain not being afraid to be a leader.
That’s a lot of words to lead up to what I wanted to really tell you. I have to admit, I only met face to face with Tony Dudik a couple of times, but I have a mountain of respect him. Tony is a football coach and what do I know about football? Maybe I don’t know a lot about coaching football, but I have a pretty good insight about coaching.
Tony was a head football coach with two different teams in St. Joseph for 32 years, the last 23 years at LeBlond High School. I only saw his teams play against Maryville but that was enough to know he was getting more out his kids than anyone should expect given their raw talent.
I also could tell Maryville’s football coach, Matt Webb, respected his LeBlond counterpart. One football game I will never forget was the 2013 game at the Hound Pound. Maryville had not lost in two years and was coming off a 2012 state championship.
Like most years, Maryville was the big favorite. In 2013, Coach Webb made his tight end-defensive back, Trent Nally, the quarterback. Everyone knew Trent could run the ball, but he hadn’t been tested as a passer.
Tony took advantage of that, stopping the run game and forcing Trent to pass. It was a low scoring game, with Maryville taking the lead in the fourth quarter. Everyone gave a deep sigh of relief. Surely, the undermanned LeBlond team from Class 2, couldn’t muster a late fourth quarter comeback against the defending Class 3 state champion.
LeBlond reached midfield with under a minute to go and faced a fourth and one. Tony showed went to his strength which was a strong-armed quarterback and a tall, fast wide receiver. Everyone thought LeBlond would run for the one yard, but the quarterback threw a bomb to the one-yard line and LeBlond scored on the next play.
My facts may not all be exactly correct, but the tale is very true. After the kickoff, Nally led Maryville back downfield, but faced a fourth down inside the LeBlond 20-yard line. I’ll never forget the play Matt Houchin, the offensive coordinator called.
It was a bootleg pass. I think he hoped Trent would be able to run for the first down, but the defensive back chose to go after Trent. He lobbed a pass to the tight end for the touchdown. Maryville would head for their second straight state championship, with a quarterback who had the confidence to pass as well as run.
LeBlond never found its way to a state championship, but that doesn’t mean that Coach Dudik and his team were any less champions in defeat. The coach would have to accept small victories for his team, like the year in St. Joseph his team led Maryville at the end of the first quarter even though the game ended with a 40-point loss.
Tony Dudik retired this week from coaching. His legacy can be tied to one of his favorite sayings, “It’s not about the X’s and O’s, but about the Jimmy’s and Joe’s.” I’ll bet those Jimmy’s and Joe’s are coming out of the woodwork to praise Coach Dudik this week. I hope so, he deserves all the praise.