There’s No Place Like Home

As early as my junior year in high school, I knew I wanted to someday be the Head Basketball Coach at White Oak High School.  For that reason, when I graduated from SFA in the spring of 1988 I applied at one place…White Oak High School. It was my alma mater and the only place I wanted to be.  Unfortunately, there were no openings at WOHS in the spring of 1988 and I learned quickly that when applying for a job, it helps if there is an opening! So with my 4 year degree in my back pocket, I had to make a choice…apply for a teaching/coaching job somewhere else or continue to work at my summer job on the maintenance crew for Longview ISD until a spot opened up at WOHS.  For me, the choice was a no-brainer…I chose carpet cleaning. I hadn’t gotten a degree to just teach/coach, I had gotten my degree in order to teach/coach at WOHS and I was determined. Thankfully, it was God who had placed this determination within me and finally, in August after 2-a-days had already begun, a position opened up at WOHS and I was hired. The coach I was replacing gave me some advice upon his departure, “Never stay at one place over 4-5 years.  If you do, they get to know too much about you.” Well, I didn’t listen very well.

In this entry of Coach With A Purpose, I will be discussing the pros and cons of going home as a coach.  Within the coaching fraternity, there are strong opinions on both sides of the debate as to whether or not, from a professional standpoint, coaching at your alma mater is a good decision.  For me, I’d never have it any other way but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been challenging in some aspects. So, for those of you reading who might be considering going home, I would like to share my experience with you.

When I was hired, I was 22 years old, single, and very naive.  Almost every teacher on the high school campus had taught me as well as almost every coach on staff having coached me.  Many of the high school students had family members I had grown up with or that I knew them from having been in WO since kindergarten.  In fact, many of the high school students knew me as “Ron” and weren’t too sure about this “Coach Boyett” stuff. Finally, one of my students was married and had a young child and though I was the teacher, I’m sure in many ways she knew much more about life than I did.  

So, I knew the situation I was going into would be awkward in some ways…for me, the students, and the staff.  When you go home, that’s part of it. Consequently, if you intend to stay at your alma mater, you have to avoid some pitfalls right out of the gate.  

First of all, if any of this is going to work, it is crucial to have laid a solid foundation because when you go home, there are people who know pretty much everything about you….the teachers, many of the students, and the community.  If you were lazy in the classroom, gave poor effort or had a bad attitude as an athlete, or lacked character while you were in school then going home is probably not for you and mainly because you most likely wouldn’t get hired! So, if you are currently a student and ever have thoughts about wanting to come home to coach, please be aware that you’re writing your resume right now.  If you go home, you can’t run from your past.

Secondly, particularly because of my age, I had to be diligent about establishing boundaries with the students…I was no longer their friend, their sister’s former boyfriend, a friend of the family, or in a couple of instances, your cousin…at least as school.  I couldn’t be Ron anymore. I knew this process could be confusing for many of the kids I had grown up knowing but I had to cut the chord and at times it was painful for me and the students. However, it was necessary and I can’t emphasize enough the importance of establishing these boundaries right off the bat for young coaches that go home.  If you don’t, you are only making it harder on yourself and your students.

Thirdly, though in my case this was never a problem, it is necessary to establish with the staff that you are no longer their student but a peer. Of all the things I dealt with when I started out, this was the easiest for me because of the quality people we had on our teaching and coaching staffs.  However, I know for other coaches who have gone back to their alma mater, this has not been the case.

Fourthly, I had to establish some separation between me and the parents of the players I would now be coaching.  Similar to the familiarity with the students, many of these parents were either my friends, friends of my family, or just people I knew in the community.  Like most small schools, I was at least acquainted with most everyone in town. Though many could not understand my rationale for doing this I felt this was the way it needed to be done for several reasons.

As I stated in an earlier entry, the main reason for this separation was for the benefit of my players.  I wanted to minimize my personal relationship with their parents so it would never be used against them. When their kids get involved, people can be cruel and though over the years it has definitely isolated me in ways and limited my friendships, I was willing to do this for the sake of my players and to insure that I remained as objective as I could.  For me, this has been the hardest part of coaching in my hometown and there are probably times I take it to the extreme but that’s just how I’m wired.

Fortunately, just as kids graduate, so do their parents so this separation is not permanent but I would rather take the hit myself than have my players deal with undue criticism based on my relationship with their parents.  Though it has never been personal, I know some parents take it this way and don’t understand why I don’t involve myself more in the social side of things. Fortunately, after several years of consistency, I had enough “graduated” parents that understood the process and word started to filter down.  Don’t take it personal, that’s just how he is.

Though it was difficult, especially my first 5-6 years, to establish the system that I felt was necessary for success, I believe the process worked and I’m glad it did because from the beginning, I was in for the long haul…I never wanted to coach anywhere else.  If you are considering going back home, I would encourage you to think over the pros and cons. It can be done and I hope the points I have made above will be useful in helping you to make the decision that is best for you and your family.

In conclusion, as our program started to become more successful on the court, I was asked many times by other coaches, “Why don’t you go somewhere else? Why don’t you look to move up or go to a place you can win more?”  I understood what they were saying, and as a coach, there is nothing wrong with looking to move up the ladder in order to advance your career or secure a better financial situation for your family. It’s just wasn’t for me.  I wanted to win as much as the next guy….I just wanted to do it at White Oak. For me, I agreed with Dorothy, “There’s no place like home.”

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!