Ted Kwalick, an All-America tight end under the legendary Joe Paterno at Penn State in the 1960s, once said something that brilliantly (and amusingly) summed up the relationship between a football coach and his players.
“The older I get,” Kwalick said after departing Happy Valley for the NFL, “the smarter Joe Paterno is.”
The point is this: Coaches ask a lot of players. Check that — they often demand a lot of players. They tell them things they might not want to hear, and ask them to do things they might not think they can do. And they might not always use the kindest phraseology, either.
But I firmly believe that coaches have the players’ best interests at heart — that they want to bring the best out in them. And that will benefit them in the long run. As with Kwalick, most of them come to realize that, if only after the fact.
I’m in my 37th year in coaching, and my 16th as a head coach — my 15th in the college ranks. I feel like I develop young men. You bring them in, get them when they’re 18 years old, and basically raise them.
A lot of times they were not only the best players in their school, but the best ones in their county, maybe even their state. They get to college, and they find that everybody has a similar resume. They are no longer a big fish in a small pond, but just another fish in a very crowded, very competitive pond.
It’s our job as coaches to literally get them up to speed. In essence they have to earn a masters degree in football, if they want to take things to the next level. God gave a lot of kids talent out there, and there’s a lot of people walking the streets that have talent to play in the NFL. But the difference is, can you become a student of the game? Can you perfect your technique and fundamentals? Can you understand what’s happening around you and adapt?
The best of them can. When we recruited quarterback Lamar Jackson to Louisville in 2015, his exceptional athletic ability was clear from the start. We played him right away, and he continued to develop as his freshman year wore on, to the point that he was named MVP of the Music City Bowl, having played spectacularly in a victory over Texas A&M.
But Lamar wasn’t satisfied. He studied hard that offseason, really came to understand what defenses were trying to do against us. And his work ethic was already off the charts. He practiced at full speed, every day, and was extremely coachable. (As a side note, for a coach it is an incredible luxury when your best player is also your hardest worker. Sets the tone for the entire team.)
Lamar’s efforts led to an incredible 2016 season — one in which he put up ridiculous numbers and made one highlight-worthy play after another — and resulted in him earning the Heisman Trophy. Two years later, the Baltimore Ravens took him in the first round of the NFL draft, and in 2019 he was the NFL’s most valuable player.
So yeah, you push guys for a reason. You push them to become the best version of themselves. And hopefully they realize that in the long run.