There was a hill right next to the practice field at Carroll College, where I played quarterback in the early 1980s. If in the course of our drills on any given day I made a mistake — be it a wrong read or a fumble or some other transgression — the coach was quick to make me run said hill.
The coach was also my dad, Bob Sr.
He spent 28 years coaching at Carroll, located in Helena, Mont. In that stretch (1971-98) he went 163-90-2 while winning 15 Frontier League championships and making eight appearances in the NAIA playoffs. There was never much doubt I was going to play for him — I had charted plays from the sideline when I was in elementary school, after all — and never any question he was going to be hard on me when I did.
Suffice it to say that coaching has changed a great deal since I played — that indeed it changed over the course of my dad’s long tenure at Carroll. Seldom these days do coaches rattle the cages of players — i.e., grab someone’s helmet by the facemask and yank it in order to drive home a point with an offending protege. And those that do, as was the case with Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher and Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt in 2019, face criticism from all angles.
No question, it’s a different era. Draconian preseason camps like the one the legendary Bear Bryant oversaw at Texas A&M in 1954 — later immortalized in the book and movie “The Junction Boys” — are a thing of the past. And should be, given the accent on player safety. Physically abusive coaches have largely gone the way of the Wing-T. And again, that is as it should be.
A couple of points, though. I don’t feel any worse for the wear for having had my cage rattled, something my dad, who died in 2018 at the age of 81, did in fact do to me. Nor do I believe, as I approach my 37th year in the profession and 16th as a head coach, you do players any favors by failing to challenge their pride.
I always appreciated the coaches that coached me hard — if not in the moment, then certainly in the long run, because I knew they cared for me and that I learned more from them than if they hadn’t approached things in that fashion. And just to clarify — when I say that they coached me hard, I mean that they demanded maximum effort and demanded that things be done correctly.
In coaching the first thing you’ve got to do before you demand something is confront players when they’re not doing things right — when their behavior is not correct or their technique’s not correct, or whatever it is — as opposed to just letting it slide. I guess coaching them hard to me is just the ability to confront and demand. That’s how I’ve always approached it, and how I will approach it now, in my new job at Missouri State.
By the way, I began my career as a graduate assistant under my dad, back in 1983. One of the players in my charge was my younger brother Paul, who was also a quarterback. Rest assured that I made him run a lot of hills, too.
He seems to have come through it OK, having gone into coaching himself. He’s now the head man at Idaho.