MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Prep Sports

May 27, 2014

People not in the know can make wrong decision

Long ago, about the time I was turning the tassle on my graduation cap, a friend of mine saw his football scholarship chances dissolve at the hands of a coach who let the booster president and his money influence his lineup.

This kid coasted through an 9-0 start at free safety, until a week 10 meeting with the archrival for a playoff trip.  Our guys got beat 30-0. By halftime, the starters were on the sideline, waving at the crowd.  Yes, I did say we lost 30-0, and they were waving at the crowd. It was 30-0 at the half.

I remember most of the team, including me, said this kid should have been our starting free safety all along. When he finally got the chance, he had two interceptions and three sacks in garbage time, which amounted to the entire second half. Granted much of it didn’t come against first stringers, but it was good enough to bring about an apology from the secondary coach who didn’t stand up for what everyone else knew.

It’s a story that came to mind this weekend when Fort Gibson baseball coach Randy Smith decided he had had enough – how just a few parents or boosters can impact the direction of a program.

In a 26-year career at Fort Gibson, Smith had made it a practice of doing the right thing. The guy knows baseball. He is a major league scout. You don’t keep those titles without making accurate judgements on playing time and who starts.

One of the issues that a disgruntled group of parents apparently brought against Smith was playing time stemming from a spring break trip to Alabama.  This trip split parents into groups, breaking what had been an apparent tradition of everybody doing everything together. One group stayed on board, the other group split and stewed.  Within that group was apparently some program support, monetarily speaking.

And that support, so it was thought, was enough to warrant being heard.

But they saw Smith as, in the coach’s words, “unapproachable.” So they approached the administration.

From my perspective as one that had to approach Smith from time to time, I’d say he was anything but unapproachable. He’s been one of the more honest, forthright people I’ve been around working here.

Part of me thinks Smith needed to approach them. That doesn’t mean  he needed to bend to their will, though.

All you as a parent should ask is that a coach is fair. But you, and the administration at large, hires them to succeed.  Smith hasn’t been to state in a few years – two of the last three seasons he’s been a game away, one of those coming against eventual state champion Hilldale in 2012.

 As Ron Lancaster once told me, it works if you give a coach what he needs to succeed, get out of his way, but hold him accountable.  Micromanaging the manager won’t work if it’s coming from anyone other than his boss.

Smith’s bosses were approached by this group, and they were OK with Smith. If there needed to be  any action, there was the time to do it.

They didn’t. That should have been the end of it.

But  Smith, seeing an enduring split over the next 2-3 years, decided 26 years was enough. I don’t think that should have been the end of it. But Smith did and he went out on his own terms, joined by his entire staff. Yet the small group of parents got their way too. In an awkward way, that’s a win-win situation.

Maybe they’ll get a “new school” coach.  They complained the old coach was too “old school.”

I’ve seen a few old school coaches get out under such terms. Fomer Muskogee basketball coaches Lucky Tarkington and the late Ken Trickey did.  Current MHS assistant softball coach Darrell Wood was another at a couple of area baseball stops.

Yet people who played for them who now are coaching themselves praise the “old school” approach.  Army general types with old-fashioned rules made them a better player, a better person and a better coach.

Former All-Phoenix MVP Billy Waltrip led the Tigers to state tournaments and wound up in the minor leagues himself. Waltrip told me this weekend there were times when he hated Smith. Sometimes it was just an unpleasant word or critical remark, or getting in his grill when he himself thought he was doing everything possible.

 ”I got mad at him at times,  but more at myself. Because I new I was better then that and that’s why he jumped on me, to only push me, not to make me worse,” Waltrip said.

In new school, that’s called abuse.  Momma’s boy or Daddy’s girl can’t take that.  In that world, tough means running out a grounder but getting a drink afterward.

Some coaches sell out to this new school and compromise their standards. And once they’ve done it, they’ve set a standard. And there’s no going back.

Boosters own you. And in the end, as in the case of the story of my friend, a kid gets cheated, the team doesn’t have the best lineup, and no one wins, not even the booster and the kid who started eight games he didn’t deserve to.

Smith’s not alone in saying to heck with it, even with administrative backing. At least he got that. Some don’t have the administration with the intestinal fortitude to back them.

So there’s too many “old school” coaches and teachers, for that matter, saying to heck with it.

Eventually, I can see a classroom taught by an online teacher, a team by an online coach, with parents that can change downloads like they change You Tube videos.  

All because most of the good ones will be burned out.

Well, at least the boosters will still have to do fundraisers.

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