Marion coaches reflect on Mike Leach and the changes in their sports
With the report of recently fired Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach locking Adam Jones — a Texas Tech player — inside of a janitor’s closet even though Jones had suffered a concussion, Marion coaches, — past and present — administrators, and players reflected on the national story and the way coaching has changed.
One of Marion’s longest tenured coaches, football coach Grant Thierolf, had a unique perception on the situation because of his experience playing Division 1 College football at the University of Kansas.
“The thing that has been underreported was that it was two guys (including former Kansas coach Mark Mangino who was also fired for similar coaching indiscretions) who never played college football,” he said. “Until you’ve been there you can’t really know what kids go through.”
Thierolf believes that he has avoided a lot of problems with parents — like Adam James’ father Craig who was a former college football player and a current analyst for ESPN — because he has always kept his locker room and practices open. Fathers can listen to Thierolf’s speeches with their sons at the end of games and join in the prayers.
“You keep your practices open; you keep your locker room open,” he said. “You don’t have as many issues. Nobody misinterprets a message because they heard what we said.”
Thierolf said that football practices are much less violent today than they used to be. Coaches are worried about losing a player to injury during a practice.
“The liability aspect has come up,” he said. “Kids are bigger, faster, stronger than they’ve ever been.”
Marion wrestling coach Chad Adkins has coached for 10 years. Adkins said that the biggest difference in sports now is that the athletes are different.
“All of our coaches yelled and screamed at us all the time. All kids don’t respond to that,” he said. “Kids are a lot more empowered now-a-days.”
In wrestling, the transformation of players is good for the sport because players are more motivated to work hard.
“They know how hard they have to work to be good,” he said. “Ninety-five percent of our kids work really, really hard. They’re easily motivated.”
Jeff McMillin is the newest Marion coach, in the midst of his second season as the varsity boys basketball coach, but he has studied experienced coaches. To McMillin, it’s all about stylistic differences.
“Bob Knight is anti-politically correct. John Wooden never raised his voice. He stopped cursing in 1932,” McMillin said. “It’s how you can relate to the players on your team. You have to know your players.”
Dealing with injuries is an important part of coaching for McMillin. He is cautious — bringing players back slow from injury. He worked with Mitch Cady — who tore his MCL and fat pad in his left knee during a football game — so that Cady could stay part of the team while he was rehabbing his injured knee.
“If a kid’s out with an injury, you always want him at practice,” McMillin said. “They still have a roll to carry out.”
Former Marion boys basketball head coach Marion Ogden believes that the disciplinary measures coaches used to take are either frowned upon or off limits. He cited this example: if a teacher came to him and asked for his help getting through to one of his players who was disruptive in her class, he would run that player ragged at practice until his behavior improved.
“Now parents complain, ‘You can’t discipline my boy in basketball because of what happened in school,’” he said.
Ogden also thought there have been some positive changes in sports. Ogden said that coaches used to withhold water from players, a practice which would be unheard of today.
“We gave kids salt pills and then we didn’t give them any water,” he said.
Ogden also said that the Texas Tech administration was the driving force behind Leach’s dismissal.
“Everything revolves around the administrative support a coach receives,” he said.
In Marion’s case, the administrative duties fall to athletic director Tod Gordon and the USD 408 Board of Education.
Gordon said that the school has an evaluation tool that he uses on coaches every year. He includes player feedback and his time spent observing practices and games.
Gordon also said that it is next to impossible to shield his coaches from the cries of disgruntled parents.
“It’s a small town. If the parents are upset, usually I hear about it and my coaches hear about it,” he said. “They let me know when they are disappointed or when they are extremely supportive.”
The board of education is at the top of the coaching totem pole with the ultimate power to fire or hire a coach. USD 408 Superintendent Lee Leiker and the board examine yearly evaluations provided by Gordon to keep abreast of the coaching situation.
To Leiker the biggest change in high school sports has been the year-round evolution of the sports.
“We have camps and open gyms all summer,” he said. “Kids are expected to be involved year round.”
How do the players — the ultimate judges of the coaching world — feel about the job that coaches in Marion are doing?
Cady has experienced just about everything as a Marion athlete. He played most of a tough football schedule, but when he was injured against Southeast of Saline he noticed the way his coaches tried to protect him: keeping him out of practices and games. Cady went through a stretch this December as a basketball encouraging his teammates from the bench. Now he is ready to play.
“I had to come back after Christmas because of physical therapy. Coach asked me every 10 minutes how my knee was,” Cady said. “I like being told good job. When I get down on my own play, (McMillin and Thierolf) say, ‘Make it up on the next play.’”