I Will Not Call Him Coach

From time to time, in my business of sports journalism, a story pops up where a coach is front and center and surrounded by controversy.

Earlier this fall, back home in Maine, there was a story about a coach “forced into resigning” because of a parental pressure.

Now, this week, here on the Gold Coast of Connecticut a football coach from a tony little town was suspended for two weeks for smacking one of his players up side the helmet with his hand.

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This always starts the argument of what makes a good coach, what makes a bad coach and, of course, how kids in this day and age aren’t tough anymore, and can’t handled being coached a certain way.

Looking back over what feels like 100 years since I was a student-athlete, I can say with some what authority that I was coached by some pretty good people.

Lenny Miragliuolo, Jim Nahra, Dick Balentine, Norm Prouty, David King … These are all men I respect today.

However … Yes, let me step into the role of whiny athlete who hated a coach because that coach was both bad and a had a personal vendetta against me.

The “vendetta” might force a few eye rolls for those who take the time to read this, but more than 32 years since my playing days ended I still feel that way.

Maturity hasn’t changed my mind one bit. My opinion of this man is resolved and I’m pretty sure I’ll take it to my grave.

Consider: For three years in middle school — sixth, seventh, and eighth grade — this man was our school’s coach and each and every year he cut me from his team. While I wasn’t the best player in my middle school, I know in my heart I was better than most of the kids that made the team.

Upon going to high school, though, and getting away from that man (I will not ever call him “Coach”), I made the Junior Varsity team as a freshman.

I didn’t play a whole lot, but that team was the central core of a team that two years later would win a state championship.

My sophomore year I stayed on JV as only one sophomore was called up to the varsity level. Again, I felt I was better than this other sophomore. One of the highlights of my basketball career was when my JV coach set us up in a game of one-on-one and I beat this other sophomore. Looking back on it now, I can say I understand the varsity coach’s decision. This other sophomore was a 6-foot-1 or so “big” while I was a 5-9 guard. A team’s need would likely come first and it should. Today, I understand that. Back then? Not so much. But at least I got to play JV and get better instead of sit varsity all year.

Then came my junior year — the only year of my life that I hated basketball.

A man with a familiar face to those of us who grew up in Orrington, Maine showed up to oversee that JV team that season — It was the guy from middle school coming back to haunt me.

The season started with a major miscommunication between the school and its student-athletes. A handful of athletes didn’t show up for the first day of tryouts because they thought they were ineligible to play.

That wasn’t the case, however,

We were allowed to tryout on the second day and I was fortunate enough to be retained by the program.

The varsity coach even told me I was good enough to make the varsity team, but due to the “academic” situation I found myself in, I was being placed on JV until I got things straightened out in the classroom and earned the right to move up to varsity.

With the guy with porn-star mustache (See? I’m holding a big-time grudge here) heading up the team, though, I never got that chance.

He was forced to take me by the varsity coach’s orders and I don’t think he liked that much.

He sure didn’t like me.

Playing time plummeted. A JV starter my sophomore year under a coach I respected, a coach that got the best out of me, and suddenly I was person non grata under this guy.

Like I said, it was the worst year of basketball I ever had, but I didn’t quit. I thought about it. More than once. But unlike many kids today who walk away from a game because they don’t like something, well, I couldn’t do that to my friends and teammates.

I stuck it out.

I wound up transferring to another school for my senior — a school that had a far better basketball tradition than my previous school.

I made varsity.

So, yes, there are bad coaches out there. Really bad coaches who use personal vendettas against student-athletes for no reason at all.

I know because I’ve lived it.

And, I’ve never forgotten it.

He’s dead now, perhaps free from whatever psychological pleasure he got from taking joy from a young student-athlete.

But I’m still holding that grudge.

And, as Chaucer once said to Peter the Pardoner and Simon the Summoner, “I will eviscerate you in (print). Every pimple, every character flaw. I was naked for a day; you will be naked for eternity.”

All that being said, though, when people rip coaches without knowing the situation first-hand I always know there are two sides to every story.

More often than not, I’d say the coach is right.

Having lived through the other side, though, I know that’s not always the case.

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