Mid 20th century Cincinnati Reds utility infielder Rocky Bridges once said, “There are three things that the average man thinks he can do better than anybody else. Build a fire, run a hotel and manage a baseball team.”
Were I allowed to update that statement, I’d probably revise it to something like, “There are two things the average person thinks they can do better than anyone else. Write a column and coach a sports team.”
As for the former, you can’t. Look no further than Geneva Patch for irrefutable proof of that. I’ve given up on challenging my staunchest critics to give it their best shot because we all know how badly it would end.
But thankfully, it’s the latter we’ll be discussing here. Because even if you had the skill and nerve to come up with a reasonable game plan, you wouldn’t last a week. Coaching anything, especially youth sports, ain’t for folks who’s highest aspiration is to leave an anonymous snarky comment here on Patch.
So it is with great affinity, appreciation and compassion that I un-longingly gaze upon Geneva High School football coach Rob Wicinski’s lot during this difficult season. I’d say I can only imagine what he must be going through, but the truth is, I can do much better than that!
While it’s true that a winning season will mitigate a host of ills, the coach never gets any real credit for it. Sure, parents are more than happy to slap him on the back, but it’s not a congratulatory gesture—it’s their way of sharing in the glory. They’ll always belie their true intentions with exclamations like “We did great this year coach, didn’t we!”
When you win, it’s their kid, their advice, and their general presence on the sidelines that made the difference. When you win, everyone “owns” it. Ah! But when you lose, it’s a different story. Then you’re on your own. Then it’s the coach's fault.
Three Dog Night was wrong when they said, “One is the loneliest number” because coaching a losing team is even lonelier than that—until everyone starts chiming in, that is. Then you start longing for the loneliness.
And the “advice” almost always starts with the fact you didn’t play their child nearly enough. If you truly possessed the prescience, foresight and Simon Cowell-like talent-recognition skills, you would’ve put little Johnny or Janey at that running back/power forward position ages ago. Then the outcome of the game against the number one team in the state would have been a foregone conclusion.
If you do happen to play little Janey or Johnny, but somehow still manage to lose, then it was either your eminently flawed game plan or your failure to properly manage boundless talent (or both).
“You’re not passing enough.” “You’re passing too much.” “The defensive line should try some serious stunting.” “What about the shotgun?” “I’ve always like the 3 – 4” “I’ve always liked the West Coast offense.” “You should’ve gone for it on fourth and 25 in the first quarter.”
And so forth and so on.
Though you’re tempted to hand them the clipboard and just walk away, the coach can only feign a smile and say something like, “I appreciate your feedback.”
And make no mistake, though most high schools tend to support their teacher coaches, there is still immense pressure to win—especially if you’ve won before. Ironically, it’s when you start losing that you finally get any credit for having won as in, “You’ve succeeded before! So why can’t you do it now?”
If you lose too much, which frequently means something along the lines of two games in a row, then they start calling for your head. And by “they” I mean everyone—including your own wife and mother.
For some reason, especially when it comes to scholastic sports, people just don’t understand the inherent wavelike nature of the beast. There may be no “I” in team, but there’s certainly more than one of ‘em in “instant gratification.”
So Vikings are down and the Bulldogs are up. I guarantee you it will be different in three or four short years. Talent comes and talent goes. The truth is, more often that not, a championship season is the result of being a little bit luckier than the next coach because even if you come up with the perfect game plan, a key injury can send the whole thing right into the toilet.
Just ask the Bears.
Even though it’s tempting to think otherwise, trust me, you can’t coach a high school football team better than Rob Wicinski. You don’t have the fortitude to take the slings and arrows and just smile. You don’t have the capacity keep the team’s spirits high when your own morale might be flagging.
You certainly wouldn’t be willing to spend the innumerable hours this thankless job takes for a mere pittance of a stipend and those ephemeral moments of glory.
So when you happen to run into coach Wicinski, avoid the urge to dispense unsolicited input and tell him what a great job he’s doing instead. Then walk away secure and grateful in the knowledge that, when it comes to coaching, it’s him and not you.