FLIP'S JOURNAL | 2010
FLIP'S JOURNAL | Finally United in Manchester
I just watched the second half of the 2010 World Games for lacrosse in Manchester, England. Actually I only saw most of the second half/ The USA will be bringing home the bacon, a title they will defend in Denver in 2014. Folks around here are already getting worked up about it.
An extra man empty netter made for the 2- goal margin in the 12-10 final score. It was good drama. The USA had the game in hand early in the second half, starting out with an 8-4 lead, but the boys from north of the border put on a nice run and did eventually lead 10-9 for a brief period. Team USA withstood the Canadian barrage pretty well, though, and I think Team Canada did run a little short on gas late in the game
The Canadians have so many lefties (hockey) and they all seem to have great sticks and finely tuned pockets as they look for every advantage. As a coach I love lefties, and I’ve been known to make a kid an attackman simply because his natural hand was left.
PRETTY GOOD, EH?
I must admit that I like many things about the Canadian team, and for the life of me I don’t understand why, with the depth and breadth of talent available to the American team, we don’t blow them out. The Canadians do have some truly great players, like Brodie Merrill (LSM/Plonkey style) and John Grant (a regular Gary Gait). But they also have like a 40-year old goalie, most of them play very little outside on a big field and most of their long poles are not used to playing with the longer sticks. That along with a lack of depth certainly was at least a fragment of their demise as the time wound down late in the fourth with no shot clocks or handicaps to make the Americans do anything with the ball for the final few minutes, which became mice chasing cats.
Maybe it is because the Canadians play so much ‘box’ lacrosse, but that whole Fogo thing doesn’t exist as much for them. The face-off guy can play, you know, like a regular player. It looks nice. I think it is very important for a face-off guy to add capable (defense) and to be a little dangerous (he might go to the goal).
The Canadians look to score on any kind of transition where they can break down the defense and basically make it a one on none and where the goalie is a non-factor. If they don’t get what they want they settle. Mix that running game with a sic behind the backer or two from your John Grant and you are pretty much in any game. Still, I say we (Americans) didn’t make them (Canadians) play good team defense to be successful. They only use long poles for three months every 4 years!
THE AMERICAN WAY
I don’t understand why we as a country don’t just pick the most athletic team and go run everyone to death, but until later in this game there was a lot of just a few Americans working for match-ups with short stick defenders. The Canadian defense could hold together pretty well with time to regroup and wait for the dodge. We change players on pretty much every offensive possession to get those specialist scorers in the game. I would love to see more team offense where a lot of different players score goals. I guess that is just where the game and our style of play is.
AND IN THE END….
The American cream did rise to the top in the end. It was a great game played between two great teams.
FLIP'S JOURNAL | Love, Love Me (I) Do
Yesterday I was much more than HONORED to be an invited guest at the Mike Hamm wedding, where Vanessa and Hammy did the “I do” thing in a very upbeat yet time honored and traditional way. Before I go on at all, though, I must commend the couple on some of the logistical greatnesses of the event. The ceremony took place at the Trinity United Methodist Church, a grand old edifice in downtown Denver. The church’s architectural setting would satisfy even the most discriminating traditionalist with its giant pipe organ and hand carved curved mullions inside the stained glass windows that showered late afternoon light upon the pulpit. I mention this only because I also would not have been surprised even a little bit if Mike Hamm had gotten himself married next to a river somewhere or at Sullivan’s (bar and grill near CSU that no longer exists) for that matter. Mike has always marched to the beat of shall we say a little bit different drummer.
DOWNTOWN (Petula Clark)
The ceremony was neither small nor large or the least bit gaudy. The ‘family’ atmosphere was seemingly built and calculated right into those moderate numbers in attendance, It was big, but it was not.
For the reception, one needed only to cross correctly at the stop light on the corner of the cathedral and 'voila’ The Brown Palace Hotel lobby became just a few steps and a simple push through the glass revolving door which opened into the beautifully appointed lobby area. The late afternoon was soothing. There was no hustle, no personal bustle or oppressive mid-summer temperatures begging to hear the question, “Where else would I rather be?” Pretty much there was nowhere else one might have rather been. It was a good place to be and it was stress free. Anyway, it was a most pleasant very short 30-second walk from alter to alcohol, with ample ‘quiet’ time to help one get comfortable in and enjoy being in the concrete jungle.
While the lengthy wedding party picture taking was going on back at the church, a full-blown cocktail party erupted amongst the rest of us in the cozy confines outside the banquet room where the eating and ultimately the dancing would later take place. The photo interlude gave the guests the time and a place to ‘get comfortable’ with their Upper East Side surroundings. I think these people (Brown Palace Hotel) have done this sort of thing before.
There was good representation for CSU lacrosse spanning the turn of the century through the first half of this decade. There were only a handful of the laxers, but the cross section revealed many layers of the CSU lacrosse family. The first person I saw was Nick (Stanitz) Harper (A – 2005) who was our first person then, too. He was a star, but also our face and image, too. Beneath his good looking exterior he was a tough kid. In many ways that’s who we were during that period, although I think he stands alone in the charming, single guy at weddings thing.
There were two sets of brothers that had played at CSU as well. The groom was one, and he has a twin, Matt, that played for us as well, although I defy anyone to find two more different twins. They did both play midfield and they both graduated in 2002. Being with them really brought to mind a couple of things that demonstrate what great teammates they were in our team family, a true band of brothers. Mike was great as a player because he knew just how to help the team in the best possible way. He could score two or three goals in a game and literally play a total of five minutes and touch the ball for less than five seconds for the whole game, whatever time it took to get it from Napi (A – 2002) to the back of the net. He was uncanny and efficient, and a bit sneaky, too, but what I think about is things like the fact that he never let me, the family ‘preacher’ forget what family was. A practice session never came and went without me getting a hug from this Teddy Bear, not ever. It was a joy to motivate him because he loved the team so much and at times when we would be getting ready to play a game the next day or whatever, I would look at him and he just looked like he was about to explode from excitement. He alone could make me feel like I was Knute Rockne or Vince Lombardi.
I have another story about the best man, twin Matt, that I’ve told a million times, but I think it is worth telling one more as this first decade of the 21<sup>st</sup> century begins to fade into the all new Facebook and Twitter age. When I say that Matt loved the team like no other I really am not kidding. Matt played four years and probably never missed one practice. He tried as hard and improved a lot, but the truth be known he did not play many important minutes in big games in those 4 years. In 2001 we had a great team. I had only the highest expectations for this team. I never felt as strongly that we would win a national championship. I felt it so strongly that I began to write this on-line journal that very year because I wanted to document the season. I suppose that is a somewhat arrogant approachI had always done journals as a coach, but this was the first time I typed it and posted on line and all that. Anyway, things went along beautifully on our path. Well, except for that disaster in Durango when we blew a big lead in the RMLC final and lost to BYU. Steve Austin (yes, old people, Steve Austin) led a Cougar comeback that practically was worth $6 million. Perhaps everything does happen for a reason and a few short weeks later we exacted our ‘revenge’ when we met and beat them in St. Louis in a National semi-final, which was probably the best game I have ever been a part of. I knew that semi-final was THE game. Whoever we would play the next day, and it turned out to be Stanford, could not beat us. So we had this rare and wonderful opportunity to blow out someone in the final (16-7) and there was no drama. As a coach the game was just there to enjoy. Our team was the best and it was playing at its best.
WHO CAN FORGET THE “HATER’S REVENGE TOUR?”
At that time other teams were just beginning to hate us and that passion did grow rather quickly. All the teams at the national championships were in the stands that day so the crowd was a good one. Somewhere early in the fourth quarter a chant began to build in the stands behind me. “Thirty, Thirty, THIRTY”, and I’m like, what is this? As it turned out they were chanting Matt’s number, as in he had been rooting us on in such a big way, running up and down the sidelines behind the bench, that everyone in the crowd wanted me to put him in the game, which of course I immediately did. That was such a cool thing and it stands as one of those defining, unforgettable family moments.
TRUTH – THERE ARE NO DEGREES OF SEPERATION
Doug and Scott Priebe were in the Hammy wedding as part of the wedding and they also played during that time. Both took and take great pride in what they did with the team, being a big part of us playing in 4 straight Championship games, but what was defining about them and the wedding was that Mama Priebe, Chris, and Papa Priebe, Hank, were guests at the wedding as well. So our family of lacrosse was so strong that it also spanned generations. Those two not only supported their sons and them playing lacrosse, but they traveled pretty much everywhere we did and still keep up with the team even now. My wife, Ada, thought Hank was the team photographer back then because he was always there and always popping off pictures. There have been a lot of parents becoming good friends with other parents over the years. These are the things that really bring home what family means.
I know that I am not Ernest Hemmingway, Ken Keysey or Tom Robbins, but I have been recently ‘flatttergasted’ by people who tell me they still, after so much time gone by, begin their computer day with a stop at the ‘Coach’s Journal” bookmark, only to be disappointed by a headline that still reads CSU 10 – Boston College 7. For those who might still ‘waste’ a little time over there, I dedicate this to you. I apologize for what they see, because it might just as well say, “Ground Hog Day Gazette”. For some reason I have not adjusted well to the change that took place when what I do on a keyboard gained an every day name, The Blog, and equally true is that what I used to do can never be what I do DO.
I am not really a big public speaker. I have never grabbed a microphone. They have always been dropped into my hand. Mostly all the people at the wedding had no clue as to who I might be. Yet I really wanted to make a public toast to express how much this group represented the values I hold so dearly. In the end I did my toasting in groups of two or three, and I chickened out on the whole public proclamation which had pushed so hard on my button this night.
It is true. I did have a not-so-finely tuned mixture of Corona, Margarita and red wine working for me, but not much, and the family flamed feelings I was feeling were in place before I took a sip of anything.
It’s easy to talk about family, and how that dynamic really finds a home on a team and in side the team itself. We (CSU) do walk around with a bit of an attitude that might make others think that we think we invented the word family as it is applied to the team and its success. Of course we did not. At the same time we all believe we took team as family to places where few have tread before. True or not this is a tremendous source of collective power, that, when used well has almost no limit.
This was my second Hamm wedding, having attended Matt’s several years ago, and being with the two of them reminded me of a couple of things that really bring our family concept home for me. I coached Mike Hamm for four years and he defined family for me in a couple of ways. He bought into the whole finding his role concept in many ways, making it extremely easy for me to individually motivate him, but the really great family thing about him was the hug he always gave me at practice every day. No matter how caught up I may have been in my little coaching world, Hammy, like I said, never left the premises without giving me a hug. He also never forgot that we were playing a game, and that it was the joy of playing that made it great. He knew in the same way that I know that the winning and losing will find its own way in a good way more often than not when you are a family.
FLIP'S JOURNAL | Zero Degrees of Separation
Being together with so many from the CSU lax family one night recently, and actually twice in less than a month for the blessed events of matrimony, got me thinking about what kind of moments wind together into the mix that makes up the great coaching experience for me, and that night last week was not just, “Isn’t it cool to see all these guys together still and again some ten years after the last whistle at CSU and yeah, that’s family! It was much more than that. The realization of the depth of the CSU lacrosse connection is almost staggering.
0 DEGREES OF SEPARATION
Kale Nelson (’03) works with and for Nick Harper (‘05’). So does Mike Hamm (’02). Kale also works at Mike Roth's (’01) Denver nightclub called Herman's Hideaway on weekends. Brian Linehan (’01) and Adam Sisbarro (’02) work part or full time for Pat Shanley (’98) and his valet service in and around the Denver area. Tom Fender (’08) works in a hospital group situation where the job came about through Garrett Fitzgerald’s ('08) mother, Maureen, who is large and in charge over there. Jack Genadek (’06) works with Garrett at the Fitzgerald’s investment firm in Denver. I am not sure if I got all the years of graduation correct, and in fact, I’m fairly certain that I did not. I also think I might be missing a few more or other similar connections, but the picture I paint is definitely one that goes well beyond simple coincidence. The ‘family’ really is connected in very meaningful and career oriented ways.
I did not mean to wander off my plan quite that far, so I am not going to go too far into detail. I was really thinking about coaching times and things that define that whole coaching thing for me. A moment that will always be etched like granite in my brain is one from my second full season, the spring of 1998. We were mid-way through our 4-game trip to Southern California, a trip where I shot my first and only boot to become officially a proud part of the CSU Ram family. That also is another story.
BODY OF WORK
This was a most important trip for our team development. I planned it carefully>
Us taking the next step in my little lacrosse program-building movie that had opened with me leaving Santa Barbara to head for Fort Collins was the 'srory line' that mandated us to go to California and beat some good teams in order to have a chance to get to that St. Louis/National Championship thing in May that I had heard about.
I had been living in California for 12 years and doing some or a lot of lacrosse coaching at various levels. I was aware of the (what is now) MCLA teams and how good they were. The first thing I did when I got to California was become the "B" Team coach at UCSB. The 1987 Gauchos were good. They beat Whittier for the WCLL Championship with a bunch of California kids that had spent the last 4 years working towards exactly that. They were hungry Gauchos. I love that kind of team. They also had Pete Reich for starters. He could dominate the face off and shoot over 90 on the run with both hands. I mean what do you want, at least talent wise. It was fun to show up there just then. Meanwhile Whittier was chocked full of Canadians recruited by one Doug Locker and they were the DIII real deal. It was good drama.
BREAK ON THROUGH TO THE OTHER SIDE
On the other side of the coin, we (CSU) were at best a disheveled bunch of individuals, not yet a woven fabric of family. As a group my 20 or so CSU lacrosse players pretty much thought Bennigans was as good as it got. Or at least that was my take. I remember thinking how weird it was to me that none of these Colorado kids ever wanted to eat someplace in a new town that they hadn't already eaten at back home (franchises). I was pretty much the polar opposite of that, but I was okay with it and we ended up having it more or less their way for the most part. At least they could agree on something, so there was that
QUICK STORY - NOT SO FUNNY MONEY
One of my early CSU teams was just going through the hung over motions in a Sunday game with Ft .Lewis. The team felt like they could beat Ft .Lewis while sleeping. No Knute Rocknyism from me could have changed that at that time. They were far from buying my big bang theory of lacrosse at CSU. At the moment we were struggling with the Skyhawks or whatever the hell they are called, and it was later in the game, and I was one pissed off Gaucho-er, I mean cowboy. So, I'm guessing it was like 10-8 for us. During a timeout I basically blatantly broke what is probably considered the First Commandment of college sport coaching. I said, "F-it all anyway" and then I offered that I would take the whole team to Bennigans if we made it to 20 goals. Now, 20 was possible, but way more than unlikely from where we sat at the time, which was 9 or so. To make the long story a little shorter they breezed to like 22 goals or something. The 22 was their way of showing ME. Twenty wouldn't have put it in my face enough so they got a couple extra, and two things were happening. First we were starting to have an identity and not just be 'club' guys, and then on top of that we were starting to build, as bribe-filled and disturbing as it all might sound, a level of trust for one another. When I think of it now I know it was wrong and then I think I wouldn't change a thing. What a great motivator, eh? Money. Who would of thought?
LIKE A VIRGIN (Madonna)
We weren't that great to be sure, but also the thought that we were not that far off crept into my brain. I scheduled that trip very carefully for maximum exposure and to play teams I thought we could beat, and so we were off to California for Spring Break 1998.
I can remember that first Saturday of that first real road trip. It was Spring Break on the calendar, but we (I) knew that this could not be just Spring Break. We were getting ready to really play in some meaningful games. I remember a moment when were about to play the UCLA Bruins in Los Angeles (Westwood) on the first game of that Spring Break trip. It was exciting as hell, but that wasn’t the defining moment I’m talking about so I'll just let that sit there.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BECOMING A RAM
Opponents on that schedule included, UCLA, LMU, UC Claremont, and then we finished with I think UCSD or San Diego State in San Diego in the rain and what was, as it turned out, our toughest hurdle of them all. For a long time in the 80’s and 90’s San Diego State was the best program in San Diego. I'm not sure why that is not true today. They should be good.
Anyway, this 1998 trip would be huge. We started out right by kicking UCLA’s butt on their grass.
PROGRESS and a little help from my Pookie
Yes, we were getting better that second season, but I would be remiss if I did not site one footnote, like the 11 points that Pat Shanley put on the board for us most every game. Those points did not come because I did such a great job of teaching Pat the finer points of shooting. For that matter I doubt if he ever shot for anything more that the 6’ x 6’ goal. He would just throw his body in there and, shall we say, 'get some'. Most of the time he probably missed the whole play anyway as he lay in a heap or as he was picking his frailish looking body up off the ground after he had taken some kind of lick. He scored 200 points in that year of 1998. That was and is a phenomenal number to me. Yes, we played a couple of teams that we could kill on the scoreboard, but we really weren’t really that good, as I have said. Often the other team would own far more ball time than did we, but then Shanley would somehow cram one in for us in the blink of an eye, squirreling his way in from behind the goal somehow. And so we got where we could play with the Arizona’s and the C.U.’s. on the scoreboard as our team defense began to find a happy place to live together as the sum of an equation and where fingers of defensive failure could only be pointed at me and not at one another.
At any rate in the end a goal is a goal, even if you basically only have one kid that can score them, and we lived there one year, that year. Thanks, Pat, for being so prolific, and truth be known, all of our Roths and Napolillis that followed are still jealous just a little of the way you could light it up..
MORE OF THE SHANLEY FACTOR
This getting to St. Louis importance was amplified for me by the fact that this 1998 was Pat’s last season and his only chance to get a taste of some St. Louis lacrosse brew. I wanted very much for Shanley to play in St. Louis. Wherever we were as a team and as a program, we had pretty much been carried there on Pat’s incredibly scrawny shoulders. I wanted some payoff for him.
NO FEAR Or maybe just a little on the caution side
I had wanted this challenging schedule. We needed it. Sonoma was the odds on favorite to get that at large National bid we wanted, and my guess is they might still be a little upset about the fact that we were chosen and not them to go to the city by the Mississippi that May. After all, they represented the ‘far superior’ WCLL but I avoided (?) UCSB and Whittier on our trip out there, the two California kings of the time. We needed to be unbeaten (thought I) out of conference to have a chance. I knew we probably weren’t quite yet ready for BYU, but we were way closer than I even knew. Then there was the CU obstacle. They were really good, too, but I already knew we could beat them. I'm not sure how I knew that. I just did. In my mind I wanted the National tournament more than any other of the available objects of desire, and I was willing to let the league chips fall where they may.
As a footnote CU had welcomed my ass to Colorado less than a year earlier in my very first game as CSU Head Coach by first shoveling snow from the Field at Folsom in Boulder and then trashing my brand spanking new Tierney defense to the tune of like 25-7.
MOSES FORGOT TO TAKE NOTES ON HIS TABLET
I had come into Colorado thinking I would prove to be your basic second coming in Fort Collins, and then the end of that day left me stunned and rudderless for a bit. We beat them the following year and more or less never stopped after that, but that isn’t what I came to write about either.
MORE CALIFORNIA DREAMING
So we started the trip with a big 10-goal (actually 11 I think) victory over UCLA. It was no big thing to beat UCLA then, but it seemed big, felt huge. I knew they were at least on par with my Pepperdine teams of the early nineties. I had coached against UCLA while at Pepperdine. We had far more depth thanks to the much larger number of high school lacrosse teams playing in Colorado so I knew we could beat the Bruins with or without too much up-coaching from me.
Talent alone would have gotten it done, but the margin of victory was about 15-4 and that was the whole deal for me. I went in the game thinking that if we could win by 10 goals or so with this UCLA team and this kind of team level, that would indicate to me that we really had jumped up from our previous plateau and were well onto a far better place, and that we were at least getting near the neighborhood where the Mormons lived. I was a little nervous, too. I didn’t do bed checks the night before. That wasn’t the way I wanted it built. My whole thing was about the fact that if I treated them like men as a group then they would also act and play like men in the games. I know I was pushing the envelope because these were boys. I crossed my fingers for a little leadership to jump in there.
If it were to be a close game, then numbers would tell me much of our story and where we resided in the national pecking order, and it would not be high enough. The margin was serious validation for me.
I remember sitting in a hallway inside the famous Pauly Pavillion at UCLA feeling like I was exactly where I wanted to be, and crazy as that seemed at the time. It felt good as we waited for our turn to going out and start playing in that bright California sunshine and it also felt good to be outside somewhere other than Colorado in the early spring, which I was still readjusting to. After all, the weather in Santa Barbara is pretty much perfect almost every day of the year and I missed it. Colorado made for some very cold spring lacrosse back in the day.
LMU, WHO KNEW?
As I look back I see that this Ram team had already begun the mission. We weren’t exactly great, but we were putting our stamp or mark on most games we were part of. There was a power greater than the sum of its parts thing and we had character. It was fun to watch the family become one. I preached family and always did, but it was THEIR family, not just mine. I was just Papa. There was a mission building process in progress. You could feel it to the point that talking about anything like that was superfluous. There was no time to talk. We had work to do. There became a style that we played that just made us look like us and no other. Much that we did told everyone who we were. I always was careful in an extreme way when looking for the fine line of being confident in a contagious way and not looking or ever acting like jerks or being too cocky. If you could just bottle that recipe......
JUMP IN THIS, JACK!
To put forth an example, we pretty much killed jumping Jacks west of the Mississippi by razzing other teams when they did the jumpers in warm=ups so mercilessly that they all just eventually stopped. It was like the Wave. It lived it died. You still see an occasional jumping jack or some kind of thing with a fancier modern name, but it was us that put the jumping jack on the endangered species list out here in the wild, wild west.
Some of who we were was me and my little stuff, but so much more came from them or the moment or whatever, US. There was a sense of urgency in me, I can tell you that. At the bottom of it all our heart and soul was Pat Shanley, a good old Wheat Ridge boy who was a senior, one who had transferred back to Colorado after being recruited to and spending a couple years at Chapman in the heart of Orange County California. Chapman isn’t exactly on the way to Fort Collins for Colorado lacrosse players, but we got a few that way just the same.
ON THE ROAD AND BACK TO THE TRIP
We used mini-vans when we traveled and after we got off the plane, although they never seemed that mini to me since you could get like 7 guys in one. Anyway, that’s how we rolled on the road. That was in place. I didn’t invent it. This was, however, the biggest/most important road trip that this infant program had taken to date. That is for sure.
IN THE BEGINNING....
During my first year I fought many small battles. But none of that meant anything to me compared to one very personal one that had nothing to do with anything at or about CSU. No, what I came to hate the most and most quickly was BYU, although that CU rivalry thing is incredibly intenense to the point where it still gets my attention now and then, but truthfully not so much lately. But becoming aware of this BYU thing..... that was something I had never before experienced, and it lit me up like a firecracker.
I was aware of BYU of course, I was not totally naive. The Cougars were in the WAC for football, etc., and they played against my Lobos (UNM), and there was something about students and missions in and around the Provo university, but basically it was all pretty new to me when I arrived at CSU.
SOMETIMES YOU ARE NOT EXACTLY WHERE YOU MOST WANT TO BE
I had not made the lax schedule for that first spring season of 1997. There was a BYU game in Utah over spring break, and it was then and there that my eyes were opened wide. They had a young aggressive forward thinking coach, Jason Lamb, and it seemed as though there would be some sort of national championship at stake for our club division of lacrosse, but that was pretty much the extent of my knowledge of Rocky Mountain lacrosse. I was like, “Where do we sign up?” with the St. Louis thing. Well, it became clear to me right away that all the league winners (7) and one at large bid team would meet in St. Louis in May to determine the best, in the new national league of teams and we weren't going to be any part of it. I think they called it the USLIA, or something very close to what was the existing organization with the acronym USILA where the Syracuse’s of the world were sanctioned to play.
Anyway, my antennae were already up and out, but it became obvious to me almost immediately that we were nowhere close to being part of this conversation. BYU had been anointed to represent our league, the RMLC in St. Louis. The at large would come from the WCLL. That seemed sure. We were out of it and we hadn’t even played BYU yet. That got me kind of fired up. Then the truth came and as always, it set me free. They (BYU) had some kids that could really play. They were far better than us and beat us something like 20-11, but the truth was that it could have been any score they might have chosen. That’s how much better they were, so I had to sit there for the next couple of months and watch from afar as the Cougars literally waltzed their way to that very first national championship, beating UCSB in the final.
Coincidentally, UCSB was where I had coached before moving to Colorado and CSU because I DID NOT just get the UCSB job that was open and I had wanted so much. So, by being in the final I was also reinforced that the Gauchos had likely made the right choice by not picking me the spring before.
NO WAITING – STEP RIGHT UP
Either way, I really got a good push into hating BYU in that first spring of 1997. I was mad that they were so good, that’s for sure. I was further enraged that they had been so generally arrogant as to not even consider us (or CU for that matter) as possible competition to get the right to go to St. Louis for the championship tournament. They had this whole, “We’ve already booked the rooms” look, and it just pissed me off. Then, they did, of course kick our butts, but I put some extra sour sauce on that, too, because I hated the way they did it.
CAN YOU SAY JEALOUS?
It’s not like I wanted us to be more like them. I didn’t, and history would later prove the veracity of that. No one could ever mix us up with the BYU Cougars. That March of 1997 they didn’t do anything to me personally or otherwise, not really. It wasn’t their fault that we sucked. I felt so patronized, though. We did suck, and yes, I already knew that, but the Mormons somehow made it feel even worse by being so ‘nice’ about it. There was no trash talk. It was nothing like that. It was the opposite actually, and that made it somehow worse. They had shown mercy on us. I hated that. Okay, you beat the crap out of us, but don’t come over here and try and make me feel good about it all after it’s over! That was how I felt. They were so gracious at the end that I wanted to puke.
TASTES GREAT AND WE DON’T CARE IF IT’S LESS FILLING
Meanwhile their program was a program. We were a bunch of YEAHOOS that (except for me and one or two others that did not go on that leg of the trip) couldn’t wait to get back in the vans post-game in Provo. For most of the Rams it was as if they were late for the Spring Break party already in progress at Lake Powell or whatever just a few hundred miles down the road so let’s get after it. It was sucking to be me but the fire was far past a flicker already and we were still in Provo. I flew home.
I now knew even more that I needed to “change the culture”, which is not a new coaching concept to be sure.
IT AIN’T OVER TIL IT’S OR
While still there in Utah I realized something else. BYU was older, and some of them even had kids. What was that all about? That doesn’t seem fair somehow, and whoosh, I was aflame with a BYU hating fire, and from that moment on my Job One was how to get us to St. Louis the next year. I knew BYU was well past one year better than us, but there was that dangling “at large bid” out there. I knew even that would be tough because I knew first hand just how much the WCLL and the California teams thought of themselves. It would be tough to wrestle that bid away from that league the following year, even if we did get a whole lot better.
I learned from and with my friend Jim Soran from when we coached at Colorado College just after graduating from there that how you build the schedule can have a huge impact on what your team becomes. My approach has changed some as the years went by, but that philosophy never became a feather in the wind. It is rather the tether that can anchor your greatest goals, and it is simply a dynamic that includes who, when, and where you play and how all of that fits together.
After beating UCLA, next up was Loyola Marymount U. a few nights later. We were to play them at some local high school with a surface on the field that was pretty much weeds and dirt. I didn’t care. LMU has a great little facility now. So, we were getting ready to drive over from our hotel to the field. The vans were lined up. I had a little thing where I would often walk around and poke my head into the vans and say something before we caravanned to wherever we were going. When I got to the van that Shanley was driving I could instantly see how much this game meant to him. He was everything all at once. He was pumped and excited. He was nervous and a little scared. He had a look on his face that embodied where we were at the time, and that if we could get over this hurdle that we would be on our way to somewhere special. It was so intense that I just stopped there for a moment and took it all in. There really was no place I would rather be at that instant in time, and I was not going to just gloss over it. It felt like I inhaled a huge breath of meaningful oxygen all at once.
So, nothing big really happened. It is likely that Pat would have no idea what I'm talking about or remember that at all. It just felt really big for me. I had confidence after the UCLA game that we could take the Lions as well. I had almost a strange calmness about it all. I looked Pat dead in the eyes, and at that moment felt pure love for him and what he represented for me as a coach. This game truly meant the world to him, and that is what coaching is really. All I did was stick my head in, grab him by the head, and I just gave him a kiss on top of his head. I had never done anything like that before. I knew we were good to go, though, and in many ways we were. I said nothing, and I guess, as they say, the rest is history. We did get to St. Louis that year of '98. We didn’t win, but we came within a lightning storm/act of God from getting to the final. We did win it all the next year, 1999, however, and that little 1998 California trip was a huge piece of that puzzle. Anyway, that moment with Pat was one I will never forget.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
ON BEING THE CABOOSE
I have always liked train as metaphor. That whole, "I saw the light at the end of the tunnel (pause) but it actually turned out to be an oncoming train” was image fodder that I GOT, for example.
My father also used to say, “When they said brains, you thought they said trains, and you missed yours"…..and try as I might I could never figure out exactly what he was talking about.
MY BROTHER EINSTEIN, or I’VE BEEN WORKING ON and off THE RAILROAD
My brother was born in 1947, and he was five years older than I was, and I would say that in many ways he was way older than the sheltered ;baby' of the batch.
One hobby/obsession that brother Steve had was that he built these gigantic LIONEL Train set-ups in the 'cellar' on these huge plywood table tops that must have used 3 or 4 of the 4’x 8’ variety I suspect. The trains moved like real machines, too, loud, almost ferociously so. The table took up a lot of basement spacement, but it all was so much more than just a large train set. On the other side of the cellar, and it wastruly a cellar, comblete with pickle room and a door that when closed laid flat on the ground rather than standing at the ready for easy opening and closing.
Steve had built and painted mountains and ridges with forest green and timber log brown oil paints, I guess like he envisioned the Alps. The railroad tracks meandered as the train route moved up and fown through these mountains, which were carefully concocted in rock hard plaster of Paris for strength and maximum durability. When I think about it now I add the man hours of very intense working time.
He had this loading dock for barrels on none side of the tracks, and little do dads that moved barrels or whatever on the other. So Steve would put little somethings on a truck with a perfectly sized, crane and he did all this using perhaps the earliest joy stick species in America.
If all that wasn’t enough he could turn off the lights at night, and the chugging locomotives would show off their piercing lights brightly pointing the way while he also got your horns and whistles working, too.
There were little carefully hand-glued plastic houses spread neatly about and they included lights inside that lit up each little home. Steve could really rock the electrical stuff. It was as if the Alps had suburbs right there along the train route.<