It tells you all you need to know that one of my most revered coach heroes was known as “Bum.”
I draw on others, too. Mike Shanahan, the former Broncos coach. I look to legendary John Wooden and inspirational Jim Valvano, in college basketball. When I need to be a tactician, a teacher or a motivator, you can’t beat them.
They have an abundance of championships to prove it.
Bum Phillips, though, never won a Super Bowl. Hell, he never even got to one.
But any coach who’s been on the hot seat or a lame duck or any such sticky situation must channel his inner Bum now and then. Especially for the beautifully awkward.
It’s easy to find the awkward. Next season, a new coach will lead my U11 girls’ team. It’s Grace’s team, too. I’ve been her coach for all but two of her seasons. The club decided, after a rocky start and a couple of parental concerns, to make a move.
So, the veteran coach who specializes in making the enthusiastic team the team no one wants to play must step aside. Word leaked out the week before an out-of-town tournament about the incredible coach who will take my place.
Where tinfoil and rhinestones are on my resume, this coach has tempered steel and gemstones. She works for my alma mater, so how bad can she be? Where gumption and fast-track learning are listed in my history, she brings Olympic-level experience.
I had to take a winless team with a bit of dissention and no substitute players to an out-of-state tournament. To compete with teams with guest players and track records. And we needed results, the club told me. We couldn’t go to Columbia and get steamrolled.
I don’t mind the change for my daughter.
I did mind the timing.
The lame duck coach had better find a way to soar. Or at least glide.
The awkward made a rowdy entrance at my next practice.
Noise filled my head. Which parents knew? What did they tell their kids? I felt like a substitute teacher. No offense subs, but you know it’s different. We had an awful practice. Listless, fruitless. The noise grew louder. Why should they listen to me?
Yet we all turned down Interstate 77 that weekend to take on the world.
# # #
When I write. When I father. When I coach.
These are the spaces that give me hope. They’re the places where I don’t feel isolated or inadequate or misfit. Words flow. Fathering, while not always smooth, feels natural.
The Xs and Os and motivation and teaching from the sideline roil and stir and make me feel tall and natural.
“Try to shut out all the noise,” one parent suggested. “Just coach with your heart.”
And, so I did. With abandon. And fire. And belief.
I showed the girls the medal my team won at this tournament years ago as a finalist. I let them feel its heaviness in their hands. As they passed it around, I told them they too could bring home something like this. I believed they could.
And before we took the field for our first match, I looked at the team with just enough players to play, about to take on the tournament host. I railed on with that Us Against the World mentality, then set them loose. My team.
No matter what tomorrow brings. This day, they were my team.
# # #
Many things happened in the 27 hours that followed.
First goals this season by two girls. Injuries. Tears. Horrible calls, harsh words. But also unity. Girls gathered at picnic tables together, talking and laughing, leaping into swimming pools. Killing pizza and decibel levels. Drawing together closer than ever.
We didn’t leave with medals.
We did win a game. I did ditch the stoicism and contemplation I usually brought to a sideline. I replaced it with passion and feistiness. Bad officiating helped. Our girls were sent flying on fouls not called. My notebook followed. So did my hat.
I stomped and scowled. I bit my tongue. I seethed and I glared.
“We have the nicest coach,” one parent said when opposing families chimed in about my flying hat. “He must really be mad.”
Yes, mad. And awkward, too. I believe you get this riled up only about something you’re passionate about. Or someone you’re passionate about. Miles of interstate highway away from club politics, officials might see blowout score lines and no medals.
They might field complaints and concerns.
But the beauty wasn’t in those things, anyway. It was in the relief and jubilation of a 1-0 opening win, our first of the year. It was in a lunch break filled with thoughts that we could pull this off. It was in sisterhood galvanized by the heat of battle.
It was in wiped-away tears and ice packs and an unrelenting attack on the Cici’s Pizza buffet. Maybe all that does make me a Bum.
But that’s Coach Bum, to you. Until the very end.