From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

Why Coaches Really Coach

Enthusiasm is the electric current that keeps the engine of life going at top speed . . .

B.C. Forbes

It was July. After a hard recruiting season and coming off a particularly tough playing season, it had been an unusually draining year. As head football coach at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, I had taken on an almost impossible task two seasons previously: heading a football program where there had been no such program for over 25 years. After beating the bushes and visiting what seemed to be an endless array of high schools and student athletes’ homes, I had assembled what was to be the finest group of incoming talent I had ever recruited.

Suddenly I was shaken from my self-imposed reflection. My secretary informed me that there was a young man who insisted on seeing me—not requesting, but insisting in a loud and pushy way. I asked her if he looked like a “football player” (big, mean and confident). “No, he looks like a guy who is coming to play, party and maybe study once in a while,” she said.

I asked her to tell the boy I’d see him, find out what position he played and have him fill out our information form.

She returned within 30 seconds. “He’s five-foot-eleven, 165 pounds and plays defensive end. He’ll never make it.” Both of our returning defensive ends were over 225 pounds. Each was over six feet three inches tall and had been a two-year starter.

As any college football coach will tell you, a good percentage of your time is taken up with “wanna-be” athletes who insist on playing until it is actually time to show up for practice. I braced myself for the usual drill. But there was no way to prepare myself for what was about to happen. Not only for the next 30 seconds . . . but for the rest of my life.

I got halfway out of my office when I was greeted by a veritable avalanche of enthusiasm.

“Hello, Coach Brooks. My name is Michael Gee. Spelled G-E-E. I’ll bet you never heard of me. But you will. I guarantee it!”

I said, “You’re right. I have no idea who you are or, frankly, why you’re even here. We’ve finished our recruiting and we start practice in less than six weeks. Our roster is closed. I’m sorry, but . . .”

“Coach, I’ve researched it already. Football is a student activity. I’ve applied and been accepted as a freshman. I want to go out for the team. And you have to let me. I know the rules, Coach, but let me tell you why I can help you. I was a pre-season pick last year as an all-conference player. I started the season. I was always tired, always run down and I couldn’t put much pressure on my leg. I went to the doctor. The news wasn’t good. I had a malignant tumor in my thigh. But it’s okay now, Coach. I promise. Chemotherapy and rehabilitation have cleaned it up. I’ve even been working out. Coach, I know I can help you. I guarantee it! I can even run up to a mile without stopping.”

I was really taken aback by all of this. My first response was to insist on a doctor’s release. He gave it to me. I then asked if it was okay with his parents. He gave me a letter from them. He had me.

As it turned out, Michael Gee had me for the next four years. More correctly, I was lucky to have him. Three games into his freshman year, he was a starter. He led the team in sacks. He led the squad in tackles. Our inspirational leader, Michael became team captain. He even became an All-American! In addition, he was a dean’s list student and active in every phase of campus life.

And Michael Gee savored life. When I was fortunate enough to win my 50th career victory, Mike Gee was the first player to congratulate me. When we beat our biggest rival, Mike Gee hoisted me to his shoulders. When we lost a tough game, Mike Gee was the first one to say, “Hey, Coach, it’s just a game.” Mike Gee was our son’s first baby-sitter and the type of young man I hoped our son would become.

I often wonder what brought him into my life. I certainly don’t have the answer. But I can tell you this. I learned a lot more from Mike Gee than I ever taught him, and that is a gift—the one that really does keep coaches coaching.

William T. Brooks

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