We were at a meeting on his campus. He was showing us around, pointing to bushes, trees and buildings. Doing that sort of thing. He was an old football coach. He walked like every joint in his body needed a shot of WD-40. The hair he had left was snow white. He leaned forward from the waist up. There was a hobble in every step. His handshake could break a vise.
He wore a championship ring on his finger.
We got to talking, just the two of us. I was dying to ask him a question about winning.
He had played on a National Championship team. That was back in the fifties. His team was undefeated one year. He started in every game he played.
He earned his degree. The head coach said he had to if he wanted to play ball. He went back for a Masters.
They gave him a job as an assistant coach. It was his dream job. He gave them ten years.
In those days, college coaches made just a smidgen more than chemistry teachers. He and his wife nearly starved to death. He just learned to coach kids on Saturday afternoons.
He went on to be a head coach. His teams won a lot of games. He had an impressive record. His players were still calling him at Christmas and on his birthday.
His teams were better than most. But he never got another championship ring.
He retired. That didn’t work. When I met him he had found a college that gave him something to do every day. He welcomed important people and showed off his campus.
We sat on a bench.
“Tell me, how did motivate your teams to win? What did you do? How did you get them to play their best, game after game?” I was curious. I wanted to know how the coaches made things happen.
“Mike, first, you had to have good boys. Bear Bryant said he could take a handful of boys with the heart to play and beat any team that the talent, but no heart? We recruited boys who wanted to win, who had the heart to win.”
“But, how do you get them to play so hard?” I wanted to know.
“That’s the easy part. We never, ever asked them to play hard. We never asked them to do their best.”
He could tell I was confused.
“High school kids have no idea what they can do. They don’t know how good they can be. They caught our eye because they were head and shoulders above most of their teammates, talent wise. They’ve been good all their life. But they were going to be just another football player in the college. That’s why we looked at their attitude, their heart.”
“What did you do?” I asked.
“From the first day, we only asked them to do one thing. We asked, we coached and we demanded they do their job…and do it better than anyone else.”
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