With the high school basketball season in full swing, it is once again time to ask ourselves the big recurring question.
Why in the world would anybody want to coach high school sports?
In February, we examined how little a high school coach is paid, and it is ridiculous. When you break down the yearly stipend by hours put in, the person messing up your order at the drive-thru window is a high roller compared to the coach leading your sons and daughters onto the court or field.
There is also less pressure on the drive-thru worker because, as Leo Getz so eloquently put it, they know you are going to be miles away before find out you got, um, ripped off. They know you are not going to turn around and go back.
Coaches, on the other hand, know you are coming back. They know they are going to be ripped apart by unsatisfied customers every time their players have a cold night shooting.
“Why did you tell your players to miss those shots, coach?”
Today’s coaches live their lives under constant pressure.
In the grocery store, the restaurant or, Heaven forbid, the tavern, they are under constant scrutiny about their team and their perceived behavior 365 days a year. We hold our high school coaches to higher standards than we do judges and congressmen.
There used to be the pressure on coaches to win, and that is still there. Oh, it is still very much there.
Butte Central’s girls’ basketball team has just 13 players out in the whole program, and nine of them are freshmen or sophomores.
Do you think that fact will buy the coaches some patience? Sure it will by most people, but not by all.
The Maroons will win some games because Meg Murphy and her assistants know how to coach better than most. Murphy has led the Maroons to a pair of state titles recently, and, in case you haven’t noticed, that is really hard to do.
If the Maroons don’t win fast enough, though, you are going to hear people question the coach’s ability. That is guaranteed, and we know that because she was questioned early in the year following an undefeated state-championship season.
A fan told me early in the 2013 season that Butte High should fire Arie Grey because, among other things, he doesn’t know how to win. You probably don’t need to be reminded that Grey and the Bulldogs delivered the school its first state title in 21 years just 10 months earlier.
There is not a single coach in the world who does not have a firm understanding of the phrase “What have you done for me lately?”
Coaches today have to deal with a lot more than that, however.
Today they are sandwiched between the pressure to win every year and the pressures that comes from the participation trophy society we live in. Not only do the coaches have to win, they have to make sure everybody is feeling good about themselves.
During the football season, Butte High’s coaches were publicly criticized because they were only playing the best players. Can you imagine?
This suggestion was not about the freshman or junior varsity team. It was about the varsity program. Varsity.
“Sure, coach, your team made the playoffs, but you did it with your best players. A real coach would get every player in the game equally before taking the team out for milk and cookies after the game.”
Oh, and if he also doesn’t win a playoff game, he should be kicked to the curb.
Coaches are with their players year round. Not only do they see which players earned playing time, their jobs depend on those players delivering when they get it. They are not keeping your grandson on the bench because they don’t like him.
Another gem recently suggested around town is having a citizens panel oversee the coaches to make sure they are doing things the right way. That would mean making sure they play the right players, and not just the ones favored by the coaches.
“Sure, Player X hasn’t come to open gym. He’s a senior, and he cannot dribble with his left hand. We should probably cut him. Let’s see what Jim in accounting says about it first.”
“OK, so I’d like to run the 1-3-1 zone against Billings Skyview because I think it is our best bet to counter their tough post play. We better run that past Betty in sales before we install the game plan.”
Then of course, if the coach does keep a hard-working, yet not overly-talented player a favor by keeping him or her on the team, he or she gets blasted for not playing the player enough.
It’s as if a spot on the varsity team is an entitlement.
Then you have to factor in the monster that is social media. Coaches now have to put up with trolls who have no problem going online to publicly shame a teenage boy because they do not like the fact that the player’s father is an assistant coach.
That really happened in Butte last week, and it happened to a player who will probably be a first-team All-State selection at the end of the season.
He will not be All-State because his father has influence over the head coach. He will be All-State because he is one of the most talented and hard-working players in the state. There literally is not one high school team in Montana for which he would not play.
Yet, we have seen “adults” call out that kid, as if he did something wrong, on their social media pages that are available for all the world to see.
Really, that is what we have become as a society. That is what coaches have to deal with every day of the season and every day of the offseason.
So, ask yourselves the question. Why in the world would anyone want to coach high school sports?
It is not the money. It is not the peace of mind. It is not the rock being thrown through your house window, which actually happened to a Butte coach last year.
We give coaches so many reasons to walk away. We do so much to discourage new, talented people from joining the ranks.
You could say that a person must be crazy to take the job.
Wouldn’t you say that maybe, just maybe, it is time for us all to look in the mirror and ask ourselves why we put up with coaches having to put up with so much? Would you not agree that it is time for us to try to change the way we all act?
That probably isn’t going to happen. As does every problem in society, this is probably only going to get worse before it gets better.
Until then, all players, parents and fans should just count our blessings that we still have men and women willing to stare down that tough question and decide to coach anyway.
— Bill Foley, who hasn’t thrown a rock through a coach’s window in weeks, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. Check out his NFL picks on Thursdays. 5 comments