I’ll never forget when I was in 7th grade (1977) and my dad’s team, the Buena Vista Longhorns (class B) was about to take the field against the #1 ranked Class A team in the state, the Marfa Shorthorns, for the first game of the season. My dad had lost his best football player ever to graduation, along with a strong class of seniors from the year before. It was no doubt a rebuilding year with a whole new crew. Marfa came in to town and the Shorthorns were snorting and blowing all night long. At the end of the game, the scoreboard read Home -0, Visitors – 96. That’s right! My dad’s team lost 96-0 to the #1 team in the state. My dad didn’t cry or gripe about the head football coach. His kids got whipped by their kids. His job was to stop their offense and his defense could not stop their offense. That was life as we knew it. The next year, we moved to Iraan, TX and got a chance to redeem ourselves against the Marfa Shorthorns in a class A district match-up. My dad got to enjoy a 47-6 romping of the Shorthorns that night and we enjoyed every minute of it.
I used to be an assistant at a school called Austin Westlake, where I served under one of the most amazing coaches I have ever known; Ron Schroeder. Coach Schroeder was the winningest class 5A football coach of the 1990’s, and he was brilliant. He was kind, polite, strong, resolute, and innovative. He did not curse or speak negative in any situation. He also invented what we called “The Westlake Offense.” Most people didn’t like the Westlake offense because we scored 50 points per game quite regularly. In fact, one time we won a 5A state quarterfinal game 84-62 over another undefeated team, San Antonio Churchill. What I found through the 3 years of working with Coach Schroeder was that opposing coaches many times were simply jealous of him, and several didn’t like the fact that we scored points all the way until the last tick ran off the clock. The unique thing that I got to experience was to see so many backup players carry the football, throw passes, catch passes, and score touchdowns. Yes, 2nd & 3rd team players ran the offense just like our first team ran the offense. There were two reasons Coach Schroeder did this. First, he told us that a backup always had to be prepared to play in real game situations in case a starter got injured. Secondly, he knew that his back up players worked just as hard as the starters to earn the right to play, to drive the ball down the field, and to score. He could not afford to down the football with back up players at the expense of making some weak coach on the opposing side happy because he was too insecure to handle defeat, and get better as a result.
When I got my first head football coaching job in 1995, I had the luxury of being in the same district with two out of the three active most winning coaches in Texas at that time; G.A. Moore from Celina and Jerry Jones from Pilot Point. I got a rude awakening to high school football head coaching from two of the state’s finest. Both men were a class act. In 1996, Celina had the best team in class 2A in Texas when we played them and they pummeled us 55-0. The score could have been worse. He threw the football most of the game and our fans were going crazy. Little did they know that Coach Moore was throwing the football because he could have ran 32 Dive or 28 Sweep and scored 120 points that night! He worked on his passing game in order to give us a chance to make plays and keep the score down, but he did not compromise his obligation to allow his players to go out and play one of their ten regular season games that they spent an entire year preparing for. Just think, most players only get 10 shots per year to get on the field and execute what they’ve been working so hard for. After the game, Coach Moore quietly whispered in my ear what his intentions were, but I already knew and was able to smile at him and tell him congratulations. There were coaches in our area who talked bad about Coach Moore, but they were small minded and jealous of his success. He is a great man, on and off the field.
Why do coaches in this day and age down the ball when their team is up by 28 points or more? Is it the noble thing to do? Does this honor the other team, and does this bring the victorious coach more honor for displaying such “great character”?
Last time I checked, isn’t this a game with 4 quarters that run 12 minutes in length for high school? Aren’t there 48 minutes in this battle? Aren’t we taught to play until the whistle blows? Aren’t we taught to give it everything we have until the last tick is off the clock? If this is the case, then why are coaches opting to have their quarterback take a knee and try to run out the clock when they get a large lead. Even more so, why do coaches who have large leads just run one basic play 3 times in a row so that he doesn’t look like he’s trying to score anymore. And the list of scenarios can go on and on, but I think you get it.
Here’s the real question. Have you, coach, ever been a parent? Have you ever been a parent of a child who is a backup? Have you ever been a parent, sitting in the stands with a 4th team running back or receiver. Have you ever been a parent, sitting in the stands with a 3rd string quarterback as a son who has never thrown a touchdown pass in a varsity game?
Have you ever thought about the fact that that 3rd string quarterback went through the same off season program, the same boot camp, the same two-a-day workouts, and made the same sacrifices that the 1st team quarterback went through. Have you thought about that fact as it relates to the 4th string wide receiver, and the 4th string running back? Or how about the 3rd team offensive guard? It’s a team, right? They all sacrificed for the team, right?
One of my greatest sports moments as a father was during our oldest son’s second year at Notre Dame, where he played tailback. Cam was a star recruit out of high school, saw limited action his freshman year, yet did not redshirt. His second year, he wound up being relegated to 4th team tailback for reasons that we still do not understand today. The best thing that I can say is that team sports is very subjective. You may be super talented, yet you are at the mercy of the judgment of the position coach who deals with you every day and the coordinator as well. Around the 6th game of the year, Notre Dame was playing Univ. of Miami at Soldier Field in Chicago for the Shamrock Series Classic. It was late in the 4th quarter and Coach Brian Kelly yelled at his offensive coordinator to get Cam in the game and give him some carries. Every Hurricane defender knew that the ball was going to go to Cam in order to run the clock out. Coach Kelly probably thought it would be an easy process to give Cam three carries, run most of the time off the clock, punt, and let Miami’s offense finish the game off. He didn’t really know Cam McDaniel. Cam touched the ball 12 plays in a row, with 11 Miami Hurricanes bearing down on him each time the ball was snapped. 12 plays and 75 yards later, he plunged in to the end zone on a 1 yard carry to seal the game. My wife and I were jumping up and down and screaming in the stands after his touchdown. NFL films caught the story and included it in their special and an interesting thing occurred as they caught Coach Kelly on the microphone for the story. He called time out with just a little time left in the game, and he gathered all 11 offensive players around him and said, “Cam has worked his f****** a** off to get in the end zone, so get him in the end zone!” The next play, Cam’s offensive line buried the Miami defense and Cam marched in to “run up the score.” My question to you coach, is, “Would you have kneeled the ball down or would you have gotten your 4th team tailback in to the end zone?”
So, as a coach, why do you sacrifice time off the clock for false humility and false honor? It is the other coaches job to prepare his players to win just like it is yours. It is not your fault that the other guy might be doing a lousy job at it. So, should your back up players pay the price for the opposing coaches’ lousy job of preparing his team to win? Try coming up in the stands and explaining that to the parent of the 3rd team running back who has never scored a touchdown. It’s pretty hard to explain that when you haven’t sat in the stands and felt that pain. It’s more about “integrity”. And you wonder why parents don’t like you? Maybe if we all had the integrity to honor those in whom we work alongside every day in preparing them for battle, more than we honor the opponent who’s job it is to fight for their victory all the way down to the last tick on the clock, more parents would respect us.
Who decided that it is honorable to down the football and quit trying to score? Who created that standard? How do you think the 3rd team quarterback feels when he gets to go in to the game for the last 1:20 left in the game, and he has to kneel the football? It is demoralizing. And it’s all done for the sake of hurting the feelings of some small minded, weak spirited coach on the other side of the field. I think some coaches need to quit being a steer and start being a bull again. Sports is about the spirit of competition, and there are winners and losers. Losers need play all the way to the end, just as winners should. Kids want to play. Especially back ups! And this principle goes for all sports. I’m amazed when I see college basketball players walking off the court with seconds left in the game and the offensive team has clear lanes for a layup or a dunk and they just dribble the ball around and throw it up in the air. Wow! And there are 2nd & 3rd team players sitting on the bench that have worked their whole life be able to get out on the court and score some points for the team. And it’s the other team’s job to stop them! I’ve played hundreds of pick up basketball games. Not once did we ever walk off the court before the last point was scored. We could be getting beat 20-7 in a pick up game, but until that’s 21st bucket is scored, I’m gonna fight to come back and win! The same holds true in beach volleyball. I’ve been on teams where we were losing 20-2, but we still kept fighting through every serve to come back and rally points. We didn’t walk off the court because we were losing too badly. Nor, did the other team serve the ball in to the net so that we could earn more points to make the score look better. Yet, football coaches bow down to the weak cries of lesser than coaches who don’t know how to act like a champion, much less raise up future champions.
To make matters worse, referees are getting in to the middle of this issue, crossing their boundaries, and becoming the new rule makers during lopsided games. It’s funny how they take massive amounts of seconds off the clock with slow commands and delayed commands to the time keeper in the press box. They even go so far as to make the clock run because they take it upon themselves to control the score of the game instead of officiating the game according to the rules established, that were not established by them!
My hope is that every coach in America reads this particular piece, takes it to heart, and is inspired to do the right thing for his or her players. Coaches need to learn how to handle losing and help teach kids how to handle lopsided defeats. And coaches who build great teams should make sure that their back up players are more important than making that losing coach on the other side not feel so bad. The kids that are losing are not the ones being cheated. They are kids, and kids are resilient. Kids need to learn how to fight back from and through adversity. It is a life lesson that will serve them well as adults. The Marfa Shorthorns didn’t destroy my dad, nor did they scar any of us Buena Vista kids for life. I cherish it as a life lesson, and it has made me better in many ways.