WWLB: Winners Win Losers Bitch
Foreword from the Book
I’m not an expert on how to succeed in business. I am an expert in leadership and my record would indicate that I am an expert in success. That would be if you count wins on a football field in your success formula. I know this, winners don’t always win and losers don’t always lose but it’s pretty easy to tell the difference between the two.
Football coaches fall into a load of categories, I would say shit-load but this is a censored book. That fact isn’t dominated by football coaches, I’m sure all professions use a number of methods to become successful. But those that stay in the game very long establish a pattern that is pretty hard to misunderstand. Some guys just win and some guys just don’t. Some guys put out good products and some just don’t. Some make money and some don’t. I don’t think it makes much difference if your product is a widget, what the hell is a widget anyway, or a football team. Examine the best, the winners, and I think you will find a lot of similarities.
Let me give you two examples of how I operate. I took a job at a very small college in Oregon. They had not had a winning season in ten years and hadn’t won a championship in twenty. We won our first of two in my second year. But first we had to overcome the ‘attitude’ at the place. From the moment I arrived all I heard was, “We can’t do this or that and our competitor down the road could.” Bitch, bitch and bitch. Before every loss the excuse was already in place. They can, we can’t. After a couple of weeks I announced to everyone within earshot that the next person who bitched about what we couldn’t do I would fire! I didn’t want to hear that an incoming freshmen at our school needed a 3.5 high school g.p.a. and a 1,200 on the SAT test, while the guys who have forty or fifty straight winning seasons could get 3.0 students and 800 SAT guys into school. There are a shit load, sorry about that, full of kids who play good football and have 3.5’s and 1,200’s. It was our job to find them. We did. Of course all that really did was piss off those that loved to bitch and really P.O.’ed the mainstream academics who never heard of sound mind/sound body or Socrates and his long gone Greek friends.
Six years later I moved to another more friendly place of residence, Mc Nary High School, who had one league championship to their credit in football in the twenty-five years of the school. All I heard for the first two weeks was, no shit now this is true, story. Sprague the usual top team in the league wore orange jerseys and our kids couldn’t find the guy with the football and that was why we could never beat them. Orange jerseys? If I heard that once I heard it a thousand times. So once again I called the group together and announced, “Anyone using that lame duck, sorry duck lovers, excuse would get fired! In our second year We won the league title and in our third year we won the State Championship. Guess no one could find the blue football we were using, hidden in our blue jerseys. Just kidding.
I believe there is a great parallel or close relationship in the methods I used to be a successful coach and those of a successful in life person. The same principles are involved. In the next chapters I will delve into those principles so stay tuned. But how can anyone begin being successful without putting in their apprentice time? Doesn’t it take time to learn the In’s and the Out’s of any profession. The answer to that question is, of course it does. Maybe some people are lucky to begin with and then again maybe they knew what they were going to be at a very young age and began collecting data. Maybe.
I was born in Omaha, Nebraska. The year was 1940 and Hitler was storm trooping and goose stepping around Europe. The Japanese were over-running parts of China and smaller areas of the south pacific. December thirteenth was the day I was born and I came into the world nearly two months early. So I spent the first eight weeks of my life in an incubator. I don’t remember any of that of course but I’ve heard the story so many times I feel like I could tell you the color of the incubator walls. They weren’t orange.
Less than a year later Japan decided to take a pot shot at America and laid a cheap shot on our fleet based in Hawaii. Made for some pretty good war movies, any Duke Wayne flick would do, and at least one musical, “Bally High”, but it wasn’t a very good move. America mobilized and part of that was rebuilding the fleet. My father decided to move our family to Oregon where he worked in the shipyards in Portland, doing his part to help the war effort.
We moved to the suburb of Canby where our home was right across the street from the local high school football field. I was two and my older brother, by fourteen months, and I would spend our afternoons watching football practice perched atop the bleachers along with our pet goat. Apparently the scene had no effect on my brother who became a court reporter but it obviously had a great affect on me because becoming a football coach was the only thing I ever dreamed of being. Advantage number one. Decide early what you want to be and then spend a lot of time watching the good ones do the job. Take good notes!
The result was when I got my first head football coaching job in August of 1970 I had coached a football team in my mind for damn near thirty years. I had assembled and disassembled team after team. Made one important decision after another and because quarterbacks, the position I played, back then called all the plays, had made a few thousand football decisions before I officially coached one down.
After high school I would return in the fall before heading off to college to play and help my high school coach work out his troops. It was my first semi-official coaching position and I knew right away I had chosen wisely.
During my frosh year at the University of Oregon while playing for the Duck Frosh my backfield coach was none other than John Robinson. John later won national championships as the head whistle at USC and spent some good years with the NFL’s Rams as well. Of course the John Robinson I knew back then you wouldn’t recognize. He stuttered so badly that whenever he got excited no one could understand a word he said.
The head frosh coach was a guy by the name of Brad Ecklund. He had played in the NFL and after that season moved on to a spot on Tom Landry’s staff with the Dallas Cowboys. Four years later I received a questionnaire from their personnel department much to the surprise of my college teammates. I should have kept it as a souvenir, probably be worth a lot on e-bay today. I kept most everything else such as the offensive playbook of the OSU Beavers I found in the visitors locker room when our Frosh team played the Rooks. Tommy Prothro ditched the single wing shortly after that but I kept that playbook.
I was building myself a library. Some of the books were play books and some were notes I would take when some one or some thing caught my attention. Some were just experiences that I would remember and draw on later when inspiration overtook my thought process. I did try to write as many ideas, concepts and theories as possible. I found that being exposed to many different philosophies was a bonus.
I played for two high school football coaches. Cliff Giffin was my first coach but he left before my senior year and Vince Dulcich replaced him. I learned a lot from them both. Later I was to play at the College of San Mateo where coach Giffin was working so I was blessed to play for him twice. In college I played for Brad and John as I said and was also introduced to the varsity staff some of whom I worked with during spring football. Max Coley was the quarterback coach and Jerry Frei was also an offensive assistant. The head coach was Len Casanova and although I didn’t have a great relationship with him I did manage to learn from him. My head junior college coach was Doug Scovil, who later was the head coach at San Diego State and for a long time was the quarterback coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. At my final stop, Lewis & Clark College, I played for Joe Huston and worked with Fred Wilson on the defensive side of the ball when I was sitting out a transfer year. That’s a lot of experience working and playing under some pretty damn good football coaches. I tried my best to take something from all of them. I did.
Not everything I learned was positive at the time. Some of the lessons were how Not to coach. To be fair though coaching was much different back in the fifties and early sixties. No one would have ever thought about questioning a decision a coach made. He was the coach, period. But again my advantage was I knew what I was going to be and where I was going in my life. So I wrote down everything. The How-Too’s as well as the How-Not-Too’s were equally important. Most of the time the bad experiences weren’t so bad and the good one’s were great. I learned as I got older and began my career that some decisions that I thought were awful then, were actually for the better when put in the perspective of “Team”. It’s hard to understand that concept when you are in your late teens and early twenties, which for most people is mostly an “I” time. Hell for some people it’s hard to accept at any age.
So my teams won a lot of games and of course that pisses a lot of people off from the beginning. America loves an underdog. At least it seems most American’s do. What that means is most American’s root for the guy that doesn’t win very often and can’t stand the guys that do. Let’s analyze that for a moment. I would ask why? I think the answer goes something like, it’s easier to be average. Winners are smarter, better prepared and luckier than the world’s losers. Some people are ok with being good when all the stars fall into place, every ten years or so. Those that win all the time know how to win all the time and those that don’t, don’t. Pretty simple.
In 1970 a new high school was opened in my home town of Lake Oswego, Oregon. I had just finished my first season as a head football coach and decided to move to the new school when the opportunity presented itself. New school, new challenge, seemed like a good idea. An we quickly became the darlings of the football scene in Oregon. We won our first six football games and no new program ever does that. It was a feel good story and we were the ultimate underdog. But then we kept winning and winning. Guess what? It didn’t take long for us to become the bad guys who win all the time. Envy, jealousy and the like was obvious in how people reacted to us. Moral….it’s ok to be good for a little while, just don’t do it all the time. Don’t argue with me, just look at Nike and Microsoft, they are the bad guys of the shoe and computer world.
“I know you and I hate you,” said the woman as the prospective jurors filed into the courtroom. “Glad to meet you to,” I said. Turns out this woman who I had never seen in my life lived in a rival town and we kicked their butt’s all the time. I asked, “Why don’t you like me?” “Your team wins all the time, that’s why.” I looked at her, smiled and said, “Why don’t you give me a chance to prove I’m a jerk before you make that assumption?” Losers won’t do that. They are too busy seeing what they want to see, hearing what they want to hear and believing what they want to believe.
When you are on the top a lot of folk want very badly to bring you down to their level. So they come up with all sorts of rationale. They cheat, they have all the money, they have this, they have that, blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda. I’ve heard it all. My detractors are predictable as rain in the pacific northwest. He has all the best players. For fifty years? Guess so.
After winning a lot of high school football games, a state title and two small college championships I moved back to the high school level. “He won’t have the Lake Oswego athletes to coach there”, they said. They were right. It took seventeen years to win the state championship at Lakeridge High School, it took three to win a Mc Nary and then we did it again four years later. Winners, win. My admirers would say I’m pretty good, my detractors would say good players follow me around, and I would question…for fifty years?
I have coached for a long time. I started in a small high school with barely over 200 students. That was in 1965. My coaching journey has taken me from that beginning to a large suburban high school, to small college, major college, professional and indeed the international level. I have coached in Willamina, Oregon a town of 900 at the time and Vienna, Austria a city of five million. Nearly all of it has been positive. I’ve found for me there is no greater enjoyment than to be a significant part of the football atmosphere no matter what level or what country. My wife is fond of saying “Give us a band, a rally squad and a football team and we’ll be happy”.
To me happiness is all about “quality” of life, at home and on the job. Football has given me that happiness, because for most of my career I have worked for and with quality people. The type of quality I am speaking of involves smiles in the work place. It’s support to your face and behind your back. It’s being understood and listened to, with an open mind, on a daily basis. It’s sharing good times together and caring for others in their times of stress and disappointment. It’s being accepted for who you are and what you stand for. It’s listening, talking and communicating with real people, face to face. It’s enjoying a positive atmosphere of give and take between colleagues with proper perspective and a sense of humor. It’s freedom from the tension and stress of a job taken way too seriously. It’s spending time with the “givers” of the world and avoiding the “takers”. It’s keeping my job and my life in its proper place and perspective. It’s avoiding people who would prejudge those of us involved in games. Finally, It’s having a life outside of football.
Coaching football affords me the life style opportunity I am talking about. When I was growing up my heroes were Pete Susick, Mel Ingram, Don Requa and Fred Speigelberg. All long time successful high school football coaches in the state of Oregon. My goal has always been to have the same kind of influence on young people they had.
After a twenty-one year absence I have landed back at Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Next season will be my fourth in my second tenure with the Pacers. I thank God nearly every day for the opportunity He has given me to work with such an outstanding group of people. I’m lucky. My colleagues are intelligent, honest and supportive. They are easy to work with. They are experienced, qualified and competent. The faculty and staff are talented, caring and hard working. My coaching staff is loyal, creative and gifted. These people are my friends, they are welcome in my home. The football players are enthusiastic, bright and motivated. The students are encouraging, challenging and responsive. I go to work every day of the week with a smile on my face. I feel accepted and appreciated. I am treated with respect and with dignity. I believe I’ve earned that. I am where I want to be and where I do my best work. I have a passion for my job.
Finally, I have two very good reasons to be thankful I am in the coaching profession. First, I love what I do and second, I am pretty good at it.