Best Player Plays!
August 1, 2012
In 1996 while coaching at Mc Nary High School I had a dilemma. My best three skill athletes were my first, second and third string QB’s. My solution seemed pretty obvious to me but that’s what makes me different than most coaches, at any level. I played all three at the same time. Two would line up at wide receiver and the other at QB. It was rarely the same combination for more than one series. It worked as we finished our year, my second at Mc Nary, with a close loss in the state semi-final game. I’ll always believe if Luke Atwood, who coached here with me the past three seasons, hadn’t gotten hurt in the quarterfinal win and was barely able to run, we would have made the final.
I have the same problem this season. Our three QB’s are arguably our best athletes. Senior Mark Grothe is a three-sport athlete who made second team all-league at defensive back as a junior. Junior J. R. Mc Laughlin was our starting junior varsity QB last season but we had to bring him up after our conference MVP, Tommy Knecht, broke his arm in our eighth game. He played mostly receiver and punted and showed signs of being able to make an easy transition to the faster game at the varsity level. And sophomore Eric Dungey started the last three games last season and showed everyone a talent that will soon become known statewide.
Some of you ex-pacer faithful will remember Todd Anderson who was a three time first team all-state football player for us in the early seventies. Todd made all-state as a sophomore at receiver and his final two seasons at QB. Also an all-state basketball player, Todd was, again arguably, the best athlete in the history of Lakeridge athletics. Before his career is over Eric’s athletic achievements may begin a lively debate about who was the best.
I told all three boys last spring that I felt all three would be on the field at the same time. Nothing in the interim has altered my thought on that subject.
Before leaving for a family European vacation J. R. was the talk of the camp in coaches meetings. He was our best receiver and a standout at free safety. Coach Nicholas said to me, “Give J. R. two more weeks and he’ll be running the defense and calling plays.”
We all marvel at Mark’s competitiveness. He juggled our July football sessions with summer baseball, doing double duty after doing the same in June with baseball and basketball. He can play wide receiver, QB and slot as well as all the defensive backfield positions.
Our last seven on seven competition held last week at Mc Nary, had everyone witnessing one of the most impressive performances I’ve seen during summer workouts. Eric looked like a true veteran QB as with precision he directed one scoring drive after another. Then he looked the part of an all-state receiver while Mark took his turn at QB. His two or three interceptions and natural ability at safety will open a lively discussion among the staff about our possible starting QB also playing defense, something I rarely do. One of my good friends coaching at Mc Nary said to me, “Wow, that kids pretty good.” And when I told him Eric was a sophomore he countered with, “No Way”. There was an adjective in between no and way that I can’t repeat here.
I’ve never been hung up on making a player ‘earn his spurs’ so to speak. To get my full advice on this subject read my manuscript “Less Is Best”. You can find it on my web site (www.coachtomsmythe.com) A lot of coaches, in all sports, think it’s important that young players pay their dues before seeing a lot of playing time or replacing an older teammate. My rule “Best Player Plays” always takes precedent. I learned that lesson a long time ago. My feeling is this, as long as they keep score I’m going to play the kids who give us the best chance to do just that.
And for you business men who want the new hire to “earn his spurs” you might want to re-think that. New talent should never be held back by protocol. To me, that philosophy makes no more sense in the business world than it does in the athletic arena.
Look for these three kids to excite our fans with their ability and their showmanship. All three are nearly 4.0 students, popular among their teammates and true multi-sport athletes. They, like their Mc Nary counterparts in 1996, will all three be on the field at the same time. And, one of them will line up at QB.