Last year at this time, I gave thanks for all the coaches and players I’ve worked with. You can see that post here. It’s easy to be thankful for those who have played for you, coached with you and taught you. Mentors are never forgotten. Loyal players are never forgotten. But this year, I wanted to thank those coaches who have given me the painful lessons that nevertheless provide growth.
I was inspired to talk about this topic this past week because I saw that two long-time Orange County/Southern Section coaches are retiring. Both of them I coached against when I was at Fountain Valley, in the years that forged me as a coach. John Barnes, of Los Alamitos High is stepping down after about 35 years at Los Al. Back in the day, Los Al was about the only spread team in town, and they lit it up on the scoreboard. He was truly ahead of his time. I never would have thought I’d become a devotee of his style of offense. I think we ended up 2-3 against them in the time I was at FV.
Dave White from Huntington Beach Edison is also stepping down. The rivalry between Fountain Valley and Edison is very similar to Army-Navy, except without the healthy respect for each other. Edison has since become a statewide power, while FV has unfortunately not reached the same heights. But when I was there, we were 4-1 against them. Coach White’s “Wide 9” defense was always one that I had to prepare extra hard for….not only because of its’ unique nature, but also because of what the game itself meant. It was one of those things where if we went 1-9, it was OK if the “1” was against Edison.
Hearing about those two outstanding coaches caused me to look up one other former adversary – Bill Pendleton of Anaheim Esperanza High. He was the DC for the Aztecs, under Gary Meek, who was a great coach in his own right. I knew very few DC’s, but Bill I knew. Always felt like it was a personal battle when I coached against Coach Pendleton. His position was the DL, so that made it a little more up close and personal for me. The Aztecs ran a 46 style defense, and stunted and twisted their DL/LB almost every play.
His DL taught me one of my most valuable lessons: In 1994, it was my first year as the OL coach at Fountain Valley. In the first half, we’d given up about 6 sacks and were losing badly in Week 10. We were headed for a 4-6 season, and I seriously thought I was in over my head (another example of that will be told below). I started in on my guys at halftime, in the locker room – ranting and raving. After I was done, my senior center, Bryan Erickson, calmly looked up at me and said, “OK coach – you’ve told us what is wrong. Now tell us how to fix it.” Heck, if I had an answer, I wouldn’t have been yelling.
In my time at Fountain Valley, I think we were only 1-4 against the Aztecs, in 1996 when we won the league title was our only victory. Those lessons from Esperanza were sometimes painful ones, but oh so valuable. As a side note, when I looked up Coach Pendleton and Coach Meek, I found they were both still coaching at Esperanza – Pendleton as the DL coach, and Meek as the RB coach – just enjoying life as position coaches doing the thing they love. I’m happy for them.
Finally, Coach Larry Toner from Anaheim Servite….one of the most unique high school coaches I’ve ever run in to. One time when I had to go over to their campus to exchange film, I walked into Coach’s classroom. He was teaching Latin, which in itself was unusual. He also taught European History. Anyway, the Friars ran a flex defense. The first time (in ’94) that I coached against it, they held us to -22 yards rushing….yeah, minus 22 yards. The thing is, they were in our league and division (D-1, Sunset, the top league in Southern Section) the year before, and in ’94 they got dropped down to D-5 and the Empire League. We were the first former Sunset team they faced and they kicked our butts. The quote in the paper the next day was from Coach Toner who said, “I guess we *don’t* belong in the Sunset League after all.” Believe me, that stung….we managed to go 3-1 against them while I was there though, so at least the pain for that ’94 loss didn’t last long.
Finally, more recently there is a coach named Ed Rycroft. I’m not sure where he coached at the high school or collegiate level, but he’s the one DC in semi-pro (other than my own head coach, Winston Martin) that I definitely have to have my A game for. I’ve run up against him 5-6 times since 2009, and I’m either 3-2 or 3-3 against him. I’m thankful for coaches like him at this level, who continue to inspire me to be better.
And this year, to close out, I did want to mention a couple of the “skinny guys” that I’m really thankful for. I’ve mentioned a few times that I totally deconstructed my playbook this offseason and built it back up. Some of the things in the system were , um, different than what has been traditionally done at this level. So I want to tell Mike Clark and Cam Cameron how much I appreciate them, their efforts in not only learning the offense but in helping out their teammates who struggled with it, and for having my back in general. You’re good guys – thank you.
When this is finally posted, Thanksgiving will be winding down for many, but I wanted to let you all know that you can find things to be thankful for all year, and in many different ways. Sometimes they just don’t initially look like positives. Have a great weekend!