Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Passing of A Great One

Haven't had much time to write, but I wanted to share this one for sure.  My former head football coach, Dan Haley has passed away.  Haley, like many other coaches, was more than just a coach.  He was a father figure, mentor, and life-long friend to anyone he ever coached.  I had the pleasure of both playing under and coaching for, Coach Haley in the late 90's.  I learned a lot about, not only the game, but about how to treat players, and that a coach can give his players so much more than X's and O's.  Coach Haley, who has a very impressive record to say the least, was even more impressive when he was doing what he did and loved best, mentoring young folks.

When I first met Coach Haley, I had no clue what to expect.  He was a large man, but very humble looking, and then he spoke.  He had this booming voice, and he enunciated everything with perfection, despite having that traditional Kentucky drawl.  I've had several football coaches through the years, and worked for several others, but Haley was a guy that didn't speak at you, he spoke to you.  He deeply cared for his players, and he made that known, right up front.  He made no bones about the fact that you were his players, and that he was going to do everything within his powers to not only make you a good football player, but help to make you a good person.  I always liked that, and a lot of my coaching nowadays reflects that same dedication that Coach Haley gave me.

Some things Coach Haley taught me as a player were the triple option, to be detailed in your preparation for your opponent, the way defenses defend offenses, and how to properly execute a trap and a log block from the guard position.  There were countless other items he taught within the scheme of the game, but these I remember the most.  He was very no nonsense in his approach to the game, very business like.  There was time for fun, but when he was teaching, it was all business.  I liked this very much about him, as his professionalism was unparalleled by any coach I had before or since.  I liked the way he made me feel like I didn't want to just play for him, myself, or my teammates, but the fact that he taught us to go out and be the best it is at whatever is being asked of us.  It didn't matter if you were a scout team linebacker trying to give the offense a look, you go out and you do that to the best of your God-given ability to help the unit as a whole, and because that is how EVERY man should embrace EVERY task he's faced with.  This has stuck with me through the years, so much so, that I even just used it yesterday when talking with our third string quarterback about his lack of motivation.  Anyhow, Coach Haley taught me an awful lot on the football field.  I remember him taking over an hour to show our quarterbacks how to take the snap from center and to step properly on the inside veer play.  I truly credit my love of triple option football to Coach Haley.  He was an absolute master of it, and knew exactly how it should be run, and knew exactly what needed to be done to adjust it when it wasn't working.

Off of the field, Haley was a man who could talk your ear off about anything.  He loved when players would come by and see him in the off-season.  He'd talk til' you could'nt stand it anymore and then talk some more!  I always was ready when he sat down to tell a story, or just shoot the breeze.  I knew that hidden somewhere in his talks, was a message.  Every time he opened his mouth to talk to young people, there was a purpose to it.  I remember our running back, after getting a big first down run against our rival one year, jumped up and flexed his muscles, almost drawing a flag.  Later, on the next week, after we won (of course) and our coach was reviewing the film of the same run and stopped the tape (yes, it was tape back then) and said "<> was that really necessary?".  Our running back looked down, and then back up at coach and said "No sir, I was just in to the game and happy we got the first down".  Two plays later he fumbled on the 14 yard line, and again, Haley turned to the running back and said "Son, this is why you don't do what you did two plays earlier.  You need to learn to be humble.  Being humble is one of the greatest skills anyone can learn in life".  With that, he proceed on with the film.  I never saw our back draw attention to himself again the rest of the season.  He did fumble a few more times, but he didn't make the focus of the game on him, and again, that really stuck with me over the years.  When a player scored a touchdown, there were no end zone dances, you simply handed the ball back to the official and went to celebrate with your team.  Team was always important to Coach Haley, he was completely about it, and totally committed to making the team his and every body's main focus.  

Haley was also very, very detail oriented.  Me being an OCD cat like I am, took to this with earnest.  He was ALWAYS prepared.  I NEVER once went to a meeting, practice or film session and saw him unprepared.  I came in one time, as a young coach, who's job it was to break down the kickoff and kickoff return teams for our opponents, with nothing in my hands but a blank notepad.  He gave me an off stare at the beginning of the meeting, but that was Haley, he always did things like that.  When the meeting got to my part where I was supposed to get up and show what I'd learned, he stopped me about halfway through me drawing on the grease board and said "How do I know this is what they are going to do?".  I turned and said, "Well coach, I've watched three films and this is what they've lined up in every time".  To which he replied, "I know you know it son, but you haven't given us anything to look at.  All the other coaches have printouts for me to look at, what did you bring?".  I said "Nothing, coach, just my notepad."  He looked at me and told me he noticed it was blank and was wondering how I remembered all the stuff I'd watched on the film yesterday without writing it down.  I told him I had written it down so I could commit it to memory, which he liked, but didn't care for the fact that I didn't bring it with me.  After an awkward five minute exchange he let me continue with my presentation.  I felt humiliated, especially being the youngest coach on the staff.  I took a hell of a lot of ribbing anyways, but this was worse, this was the boss!  After the meeting he asked me to stay for a minute.  I just knew I was fired and hadn't been on the job but three months.  That wasn't Haley though, he saw a moment he could teach a young coach something and he used it.  Even with his busy schedule, he stopped and took 10 to 15 minutes out of his schedule to make me a better coach.  "You need to go into any endeavor you go in to, prepared.  When you come to a meeting next time, I expect handouts and notes.  I don't want any chicken-scratch either, I want nice illustrations and good notes on what information you are presenting."  The next week, I was on, I had handouts and a ton of data on my part of the game plan.  Once the presentation was over, even the old salty defensive coordinator came up to me and said "good job".  Again, Haley stopped me after the meeting and he looked me in the eye and said, "Way to take coaching son, good job", and turned and walked away.  He had that impact on you though.  I've never been unprepared for another meeting for the rest of my career, and I've been called "detailed", "OCD", and a "mad scientist" for my over-the-top attention to detail approach, but I will not change.  If Haley wanted it that way, and he coached me to be that way, then that's the way I'll be!

Yeah, that's me...

The part I really regret about writing this, is the fact that after I left coaching for Coach Haley, I never saw him again.  It's been 15 years since I've seen those glasses looking at me out from under that all-too-familiar skull cap he always wore to keep his bald head warm.  I really regret that.  I called him when I was interviewing for my first head coaching job and got him to send me a letter of recommendation.  With it, he attached a book he'd written, entitled The Difference Between Winning and Losing, of which I plan on sharing with you once the season is over.  He told me to read it, before I took my first job.  However being right up at the time of the deadline to apply for my job, I didn't get to read the book.  I actually didn't read it until after I got fired.  I sure wish I'd have read that book, I wouldn't have even applied for that first head coaching job.  The book is full of Coach Haley, and his perspective on the greatest game ever invented by man.  As I stated earlier, I plan on rereading it this off-season, and sharing with you some things I've taken from it, that will hopefully make you a better coach yourself.

If I could get one more chance to talk to Coach Haley, I'd thank him for helping make me the coach, teacher, and most notably the person I am today.  Coach Haley had a profound impact on my life and he will be missed by countless others.  Again, thank you Coach Haley for everything you did for me, and I promise, to stay humble.  See you over the goal post coach...