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V For Victory 

Coach Bob Vielledent Is One Of The Best Coaches In Arizona, Even If He Can't Complete A Sentence.

HAVING NEVER IN my life been accused of being good looking, I tend to give a little extra appreciation to those in this world who succeed in various endeavors without really looking the part. I'd go to movies and say, "Wow, that Jack Elam did a great job." That sort of thing.

Along those lines, I've learned over the years that you don't have to look like Jeff Scurran to be a successful football coach. It's okay to look like an average human. That's part of why I like Bob Vielledent so much. That, and the fact that he could make me laugh at a funeral, probably even my own.

Bob is a long-time football and basketball coach in TUSD and has recently taken on an added responsibility. He just started taking care of his son, which is about time, since the kid's 16.

Actually, Bob is the new athletic director at Sahuaro High School, a school so (choose one) a. arrogant; b. proud; c. annoying that its stationery reads "50 state championships in 31 years." (Really, how hard can it be to win state titles when you have Dick McConnell as boys basketball coach, a softball program which comes up with an endless supply of kids who apparently were wearing ASA diapers in the cradle, and, all snottiness aside, people like Bob Vielledent around?)

See, Bob is one of the best coaches in the state of Arizona, but he toils in anonymity because, except for a stint as varsity football coach at neighboring Santa Rita, he has spent decades coaching non-varsity teams at Sahuaro. He is a rarity--an ego-less coach apparently content to rack up staggering win totals with no eye on supplanting whoever his boss happens to be at the time.

In basketball, he has been Sahuaro's junior varsity coach and assistant to the legendary Dick McConnell for 17 years, racking up a jayvee mark of 261-45 in that time. That's an average record of around 15-3 per season. He's actually getting better as he goes along; the past five years, his teams have had a mark of 88-10.

He also coaches the junior varsity football team at Sahuaro. At one point his teams won 40 straight games over parts of five seasons. "Then," he explains, "I let my kid (Marc) play, and now the record is 50-5-1. I try to pin all five of those losses on Marc, but in a couple of them he wasn't on the team, so they'll be pretty hard to stick."

Most coaches with such stellar numbers would either be fielding offers to take the varsity reins at other schools or plotting a palace coup at their own. Vielledent spends his time trying to get the Sahuaro gym named for his best friend and mentor, Dick McConnell, while in football, he's content to keep feeding monsters to the varsity squad, which is perennially one of the best in the state.

Given the turnover among head football coaches in District 1 schools, Vielledent probably comes to see his bosses as transients. It takes someone special to just roll along outside of the spotlight. (At the city's most successful 5A football program, Amphi, freshman coach Bud Warnke will be going into his 19th year in that position, having won around 90 percent of his games over the past two decades.)

Vielledent did get a varsity job once. When he took over the football program at Santa Rita, the Eagles were horrible. Bad facilities, bad attitudes, bad records (both on the field and of the police variety). In seven seasons at the southeast-side school, he racked up a mark of 41-30-2, including three trips to the state playoffs. Then he went back to coaching jayvees at Sahuaro. He's just different that way.

His coaching ability aside, V's real talent is his ability to talk for 17 straight minutes, using nothing but non sequitur sentence fragments, occasionally laughing at a punchline he has chosen to keep to himself. By the time he stops to draw a breath, the guys who are sitting with him are painfully contorting themselves to keep from participating in a group pee-a-thon.

It goes like, "We're walking in Flagstaff...three in the morning... Peabody...(Unintelligible)...when I used to fight fires for the Forest Service...the guy drove us to Utah when all I had said was 'U-turn'...Joan Bonvicini...human speed bumps...muncher(?)...Disney Channel...butt-flake...Roman Polanski dancing with Jeane Kirkpatrick...like a lawyer in church...so, he's got her pinned against the wall and she's still trying to figure out the exchange rate...like a fish out of Milwaukee...the guy couldn't coach Dennis Rodman into dressing funny...they go together like mustard and shoe polish...he's trying to dribble the ball...Sam Levitz...Popeye's chicken...about as welcome as an auditor at Sabino."

By the time he's done, I feel like I've done 8,000 sit-ups, and he hasn't completed a damn sentence!

I got to know V a few years ago when we were both working at the same summer basketball camp. We'd be working different stations and to ease the boredom as the week dragged on, he would pick the kid in the entire camp who appeared least likely ever to be a ballplayer and send the kid with messages to other camp counselors. The kid would get in a lot of running but very little ball-handling.

(We won't mention which basketball camp it was to keep to a minimum the lawsuits from camp parents whose kids went on to become soccer players.)

I haven't worked at that camp for a couple years after I had trouble convincing this one kid's dad that the word "terrorist" doesn't always have a negative connotation. But I'm going back to work next week's session. V has some new stories to tell and Lord knows I need the sit-ups.

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