In Part 2 of Building A Small School Program, I want to address the elephant in the room at many small schools…the relationship between the head basketball coach and the head football coach. Basketball coaches get together and bash the “pecanheads”. Football coaches thrash the evil “thump thump” coaches…it’s all too common. Who gets hurt the most? The kids who get caught in the middle. For players, if a coach ever tries to convince you not to play another sport, or pesters you about their sport while you’re playing another, please understand what that means…he doesn’t care about you, he cares about what you can do for him. Winning is tough enough without having to worry about coaches at the same school cutting the legs out from under other programs to benefit themselves. It doesn’t have to be that way and there is only 1 absolute: Coaches don’t ever fool kids…they know if there is division on the coaching staff. That’s the kiss of death for small schools that rely on multi-sport athletes.
If you coach basketball in Texas, particularly East Texas (or bEASTtexas as we prefer to call it in this neck of the woods!), then whether we like it or not, we have the burden of proof…we must prove to the AD/HFC that we can be trusted. At many small schools the success of the football and basketball programs can be influenced greatly by the head coach of the other sport. As the 7th grade football offensive coordinator at White Oak, I may not have had a huge impact on the overall success of our football program, but as the head basketball coach, I could have a huge impact on the demise of our football program. The same is true for the AD/HFC, or in some cases HFC/AD, he may not do a lot to help the basketball program but he can sure do a lot to hurt it. The “thump thumpers” and “pecanheads” all have their arguments but to me the bottom line comes down to 2 things….the character of the coaches and whether or not they want kids to succeed or use kids to help themselves succeed.
Most small school (4A & below) basketball programs count on multi-sport athletes, especially those that play football (ours was about 50% at White Oak), and most of the time the basketball coach will also coach football. That’s life in Texas and life in a small school. When I first became the Head Coach at White Oak, I had to convince my AD, Coach Andy Griffin, one of the best high school football coaches in Texas, to let me have all of the basketball players during athletic period during basketball season. In order for this to happen, I had to convince him he could trust me. So, first of all, I worked my butt off when I coached football for him. Fortunately for me, I like football, I want to do well at whatever I do, and I want to see kids succeed, so that part was easy.
Secondly, I had to prove to him that basketball would not be a bail out for getting out of football offseason and that it would actually be a benefit. At White Oak, we normally had around 30 kids in our HS basketball program…we didn’t have a lot of extras hanging around. The reason for this was simple….basketball was demanding. I wanted the kids who wanted to work, the kids who were tough, and the kids who wanted to win. I believe this helped our basketball program be successful and I believe it helped our football program as well….we only got the kids that truly wanted to play. As far as conditioning, footwork, developing mental/physical toughness, agility, discipline, work ethic, and character development, there was not a better off-season football program than White Oak basketball. I believe our football coaches knew this and they respected it.
Finally, I was fortunate enough to have a basketball off-season. In some small schools, this is a football coach’s worst nightmare. At White Oak, it was an attribute to our football program. The first 3 weeks of fall basketball offseason was strength and conditioning, with 3 goals in mind…develop mental toughness, physical conditioning, and teamwork. It was the equivalent of basketball boot camp and I believe it was the most demanding 3 week period in White Oak athletics and our kids took pride in the fact that they could excel at something that was extremely demanding…it created attitude!
Our off-season kids started training for this 3 week period on the first day of 2-A-Days on their own. Football starts training, basketball starts training….that’s how we did it. During our days on the track and in the bleachers, it was common to hear our football kids yelling encouragement to our off-season guys as they ran because they knew it was tough, they respected them, and they knew those guys running would also be leading the student section under the Friday Night Lights. You only came to offseason basketball if you loved the game and you were willing to work. That’s the way I wanted it and that’s the way our football coaches wanted it.
As I stated at the beginning, as the basketball coach, I believed I had the burden of proof….prove I could be trusted. I coached under 5 athletic directors and I was fortunate to have a great relationship with all of them and they were fair with me in return. I was passionate about fair and I would fight for fair but I always made sure I’d done my part first.
In summary, the basketball coach and the football coach will probably always have their guard up to a certain degree. It’s the nature of being competitive and it’s the nature of having to share, but it comes down to those same 2 things….character and caring more about kids than you do yourself.
I’ll close with this. On our way to Austin in 2012, I received a text from a local AD/HFC that said “Every football coach in East Texas is pulling for you.” That meant a lot to me because we were about to accomplish something that very few ever get to experience, a State Championship, and most importantly, we had done it the right way.
Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!