A Career Retrospective
In order to make sense of my career in athletics and education, I need to start with two men who set me on my way. I never consciously strove to “be like” John Colman (my high school coach) or Mickey Heinecken (my college coach), but playing for the football programs they built led me to think that sports was a better use of my time than law, medicine, business, or the priesthood….45 years later, here I am.
Both men came from programs with a great system, where they learned the art of teaching and motivating. Colman, an ex-Marine, coached as a graduate assistant at Alabama under the legendary Bear Bryant. Heinecken, son of a famous Lutheran theologian, played for and later assisted Davey Nelson and Tubby Raymond, the geniuses behind the Wing-T offense at Delaware. Both found their head coaching opportunity far from the traditional centers of football excellence. Colman traveled south to the American HS (Colegio Americano) in Mexico City, while Mickey went north, to Middlebury, Vermont.
These coaches lived in a world where every week presented a discrete, finite challenge: score more points than this week’s opponent. They became masters at devising game plans that were well-suited to our strengths, designed to exploit our opponents’ weaknesses. More importantly, they communicated to all their players the urgency and importance of their role in that game plan. That world made perfect sense to me: you work hard, you lay it on the line with your teammates, you win, or you lose. Then, you put ice on your bruises and sprains, learn from last week’s mistakes, and do it all over again, but better the next time, against a new foe.
During the 45 years since graduation, I have done a lot of things:
- College coach: 19 years
- High school coach: 10 years
- College teaching: 1 year
- High school teaching: 16 years
- High school AD & Dean: 21 years
My career has allowed me to enjoy lots of accomplishments beyond winning and losing games. Since coming to Wardlaw+Hartridge 10 years ago, we have taken on several initiatives. Among them:
- Creating more sports, to better match students’ abilities and interests
- Improving the athletic facilities
- Strengthening the coaching staff, in their role as teacher-coaches
- Providing more athletic training expertise, while improving our administrative efficiency
- Helping steer the GMC and NJ Independent Association, to build a better athlete experience
- Promoting student understanding of the value of sport in their lives and celebrating their successes
And yet, the best way for me to make sense of it all is to evaluate how well I lived up the example set by my early role models. I’d like to think we have followed the examples of Coach Colman and Coach Heinecken in our methods:
Learn about the challenge: whether it is called scouting or research, it is essential to know as much as possible about the challenge ahead: what potential pitfalls do we face? Also, how have other people succeeded against this opponent / challenge? What is likely to be the most promising avenue for us?
Honestly evaluate our own resources: How good are our people and what are our people good at? Long-term, we might provide training to help our people address a weakness; short-term, we need a strategy that plays to our strengths.
Approach the task every day with enthusiasm: your energy can help inspire others.
Believe in your plan but be honest enough to know when it isn’t working, and wise enough to find an alternate plan that will work better: on the surface, this mandate seems to ask the coach to hold contradictory viewpoints at the same time. I prefer to paraphrase President Reagan’s “Trust, but verify:” “Have faith, but check the data.”
Continually learn from the best in your field: new ideas keep expanding the field – anyone who refuses to enlarge their knowledge base will quickly make themselves non-competitive.
Constantly demonstrate your faith in the value of this mission: the job we have chosen has value; it is inherently choice worthy, and it helps you to remind others of that fact.
Aim to create something special, an organization other people want to belong to.
Coming to Wardlaw+Hartridge has been a fantastic leg of my career journey. I thank everyone who allowed me to come here. Just as importantly, I am grateful for everyone who served as a partner and helped create meaning for the work we do together. It has been a great family to belong to.
P.S. About the sub-title, A Career Retrospective: Many of the Classic Rock-n-Roll bands of my youth used the term “retrospective” to give their “greatest hits” albums more weight. I had always known about the Buffalo Springfield album by that name. Turns out that Eric Burdon and the Animals, and Herman’s Hermits also put out albums called “Retrospective.” Who knew?