Drama Coach

The continuing, gripping saga of a coach who loses even when he wins.

One of the staples of column writing is the annual gimmick column. There's the Christmas gift handout, where the columnist cynically doles out things he either cannot afford or has no control over ("I'd give George W. Bush an IQ as high as his approval rating"). And then, a week or so later, there's the New Year's resolution column, where, invariably, one of the resolutions they make is never to write another such column ... and then they do it again the next year.

I, myself, try to avoid clichés. None of that Christmas and New Year's stuff for me. Instead, I have my annual How I Got Fired From Coaching column. This always gladdens the hearts of all of my vegan, home-schooling, hate-mail writers. My multiple (nay, almost annual!) firings prove unequivocally that one can pour one's heart and soul into a project, come out with spectacular results, and then still get squooshed like a bug by someone with just a little bit more authority and absolutely no sense of humor.

It also serves to blast a gust of foul wind in the direction of the fragile flickering flame of hope and justice, thereby keeping all those poor fools out there from getting any silly ideas about some mythical convergence of hard work, success and fairness.

As I mentioned last year about this time, despite a career coaching record of 175-12 and never having had even one academically ineligible player, I've been fired several times. Not only that, but four different times, I've been fired after coaching an undefeated team. I don't do anything illegal or improper. I'm just im-noying.

Most recently, I got fired in 2000 after coaching the Amphi freshman girls' basketball team to an undefeated season. The varsity coach wasn't happy with my coaching style, the team's success, my popularity, our shot selection, my eye color and a whole lot of other stuff. The school principal at the time seemed almost giddy to be rid of me, having once likened me to a kid who purposely colors outside the lines.

Yeah, I understand his criticism. All I ever did was have every kid pass every class (with a C or better; Ds are unacceptable), then have every kid play in every game, and then have every game end in victory. I'm surprised the administration didn't go to court to try to get their money back.

Not long after the varsity coach fired me, he quit and went to another school. (Oddly enough, I really liked him and I thought we worked well together.)

Amphi hired another coach and he asked me to be his JV coach. But the principal had already hired one, which is highly irregular.

I just shrugged and figured I'd sit out a year. But then a funny thing happened. The Amphi Varsity started out the season 2-9. The new coach (a truly great guy) was having some problems that kept him from concentrating fully on his coaching.

So I get a call from the principal. I go to see him and he basically says, "Tom, we know we fired you and pretty much treated you like dirt, but the varsity team is struggling and we need your help. Can you come back and coach? Oh, and we can't pay you."

How the man is able to sit in a chair with testicles that large remains a mystery.

I, being the idiot I am, naturally said, "Sure." Hey, one kid is more important that a thousand administrators.

I'm not the greatest coach in the world. All I do is bring a certain amount of energy to things, some enthusiasm, a little humor. The kids worked real hard over the Christmas break and things started going better. After the 2-9 start, we went 10-5 the rest of the way. We moved from eighth (and last) place in the conference up to fourth, capped off the regular season with a rare win at Sierra Vista Buena, and even made the playoffs. (It actually would have been even more spectacular, but we lost one- and two-point games, respectively, to the top two teams in the city down the stretch.)

When the season was over, I didn't get a "thanks," a "good job," nothing. The varsity coach quit after the season and I applied for the job. The principal dragged things out for months and, in the end, I didn't even get called for an interview.

They hired some coach based on the recommendation of the guy who quit and went to another school! But the new coach blew off the entire summer and then called to say he didn't want the job. I got dissed yet again and they finally talked the freshman coach (with one year's experience) into taking the varsity job.

I laughed and went about my business. But then the acting principal (one of my favorite people in the whole world) called and said they needed a freshman coach. That's cool with me; I don't care what level I coach. But then he said I'd have to apply and go through an interview. Enough red flags went up to start an entire stampede of bulls.

The interview "committee" was headed by the new coach and yet another administrator who finds my demeanor somewhat less than military. The only people who were interviewing for the job were a teenage girl just out of high school, a first-year teacher with no coaching experience, and me.

I'm pretty sure I finished third. I really messed up the interview. I used the word "win" once and then completely lost my mind and used terms like "excellence" and "high standards" several times each. They had no choice, really.

So, to sum up: When it comes to my dealings with Amphi, I've been dicked more times than Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption.

I'm coaching at another school now, one that will remain unnamed at least until we reach the Final Four of the state championships in February. The team I'm coaching has a good chance of being the best in school history. It's a smaller school, so there are fewer administrators for me to anger.

Looks like I'm just going to have to work harder.

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