A Coach's Story

One coach's story about advocating for a player he believed in.



Dad's coaching career included coaching at Ohio State as a graduate assistant, and later as a defensive coach there. He also had two stints coaching at Miami (of Ohio). One was with Coach Schembechler and the other with Coach Mallory. He also coached for the Akron Zips, which I loved because their mascot was a kangaroo named Zippy and in second grade, those were the important things.


He loved coaching. He loved the boys. Back then each coach was assigned a certain number of players, and the coach's job was to make sure they:

- Went to class,

- Didn't drink or do drugs,

- Got to practice early,

- Studied,

- Got a tutor if they needed one,

- Had someone to talk to if they needed it,

- Didn't get too down on themselves,

- Did whatever they had to do to get their degrees.



He had been working with a kid for a while. Dad said he had all the talent, but no real confidence. As the offensive back watched his teammates working out and practicing, his confidence continued to dwindle.


Like many high-performing college guys attending a top school for what they do, he was intimidated to be among players who were also the best in their high school leagues.


The kid was kind of shy and my dad was really trying to build up his confidence. He knew this player could be great, but he was losing his edge.


One day at practice, they were scrimmaging. Against some great defensive players. Dad kept him in, because play after play he was performing. The offense cheered him on, as he smiled through his sweat.


Then, just as the kid missed a handoff, Woody came walking by.


"Hey! He yelled. "Get that sumbitch out of there, Herbstreit!" Dad stepped over to chat with Coach Hayes privately, explaining that the kid had been working his butt off all practice, and was doing great. He NEEDED this, and one missed handoff was just a blip.


"Herbstreit. Out. I want him OUT," he said, loud enough for everyone to hear.


My dad reluctantly pulled him out, praising the kid along with the other coaches and players.

He knew this player could be great, but he was losing his edge.

It was always risky to get angry with a decision Coach Hayes made, but my dad was hot.


The team finished up practice and jogged over to the locker room. There was always a lot of laughing and joking around after practice, but Dad didn't talk much that day. He walked slowly to the locker room, probably hoping Coach Hayes would be showered and working in his office behind a closed door by the time he got there.


As he slowly walked across the field, he thought about the many kids who had just barely missed their chance to prove themselves. It didn't seem fair. This particular player embodied so many facets of past players.


He came from a very rough area, and a bad school system. His mom was a single parent and had other kids at home. She worked hard, and he was worried about her. He had come to Ohio State against all odds.


When he first came to camp, the look in his eye seemed to say, "I know I don't belong." He was one of the players my dad was in charge of, and after discovering the player hadn't shown up to classes and seemed uninterested, my dad pulled him aside to address his concerns.


Dad had a tutor work with him just to be sure he could do the work, and it was quickly obvious that the kid had the ability. He just needed a reason. As it turned out, my dad was that reason. He cared and he showed it. They developed a relationship and soon, Dad didn't have to chase him to class. He was doing well academically, and he was proving himself in the weight room as well as on the field.


Now this.

When he first came to camp, the look in his eye seemed to say, "I know I don't belong.

By the time my dad got into the locker room after making a loop around the field, most of the players were heading out. Coach Hayes was nowhere to be seen. Relieved, Dad took off his cleats and opened his locker.


He loved Coach like a father. They clicked, and they even had common interests, like their love of history. He never wanted to disappoint him, and if he disagreed, he always wanted to do it respectfully. He was afraid if Coach approached him right now, he would be too angry to be appropriate.


All of a sudden, he heard a noise behind him and then...


"Herbstreit!"


It was Woody's booming voice. Dad turned around.


Standing before him was the legendary coach wearing only white sport socks, black shoes, his signature black hat, and a jock strap. (Yeah, the old-fashioned kind.)


Nothing else.


He spoke as though he had no idea that he looked odd, or that he wasn't completely dressed. His belly, hanging over the strap, bobbed and moved as he bellowed. His hair stuck out of both sides of his black hat, the hat that would become his signature.



My dad froze. His frustration forgotten, he choked back laughter. He knew better. How could no one else–not even another assistant coach–be here to see this?


"Damn it, Herbie," Coach said. "Well? You disagree with what I did out there?"

The legendary coach wore only white socks, black shoes, his signature black hat, and a jock strap. Nothing else.

Keeping his eyes trained on Coach Hayes' eyes, he answered honestly.


"Um, yeah. I disagree." Dad said. "You have NO IDEA how hard this guy has worked, and what he's been through."


"You're wrong. I've been watching. I'm starting him on Saturday," Woody said. "But you better be right."


My dad was thrilled. The kid was thrilled, and his mom had made the trip. He played well and made my dad proud.





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This is an honest blog about growing up in a sports family, being an imperfect parent, taking risks, and the complicated, beautiful mess that is life.

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