Dear Coach

Leadership is on my mind. The kind that helps people to flourish, the kind that does just the opposite.

A sportswriter, in a piece for Sports Illustrated, noted that my father may have been the only coach in America who kept geraniums wintering in his basement, wore a hat, and said “Oh my” a lot. “Oh My Is a Four Letter Word” became a ubiquitous bumper sticker around Pittsburgh in his day.

Another sports writer wrote about how much my father loved the game of basketball and quoted him saying, “But I don’t understand why thousands of people come to watch and why it matters to so many if we win or lose.”

One time, when one of his players missed a layup that would have won the game at the buzzer, my father, surrounded by reporters in the locker room, was asked, “Why did (name) blow that layup?” My father thought for a bit and then said, “Well, if he didn’t miss it, and instead blew it, I guess he wanted to.”

Have you ever had friends falsely accused to the point that it cost them being able to bring their goodness into the world? I can’t voice how terrible that is. It’s happened to four cherished friends of ours recently. Done under the kind of blind, cruel, fear-inducing “leadership” so popular these days. Cruelty that can’t be undone.

On the other hand, there was my Dad. A real leader. How brave he was.

Dear Coach

Dear Coach,

Remember the time you left me in after I’d missed seven in a row, tossed a few out of bounds, and let my man score twenty? Bad night. But you didn’t pull me. You must have taken a lot for that. I can still hear the boos. I thought they were all at me. Why’d you leave me in? I’ve thought about that lately. Did you really think I’d come around? The other guys were furious sitting there watching me screw up. And after the game? What did you say? You must have had a second thought. It hit me last week. I was thinking back, remembering certain games. After that one, I wanted to run away. I had a thousand excuses. My family’s fine, kids are growing up. We took a vacation this year. My mother’s doing OK. Business is business, up and down. If you’re ever in town, I sure hope you’ll stop to see us.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Nebraska Territory

Subsequently published in Losing Season (CavanKerry Press)

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On April 1 (perfect!) my new book, St. Peter and the Goldfinch, will be released by Wayne State University Press. Preordering is up at that link, and Julie says stay tuned for news of a PARTY!

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30 thoughts on “Dear Coach

  1. Jack,

    Your post came at a perfect time! (And, as usual, it made me weep a bit.)

    Nathan heads back to campus today, after 6 days home, to start preparing for his next game against Slippery Rock. They’ve had a tough year so far. New coach who was left with no big men by the old coach. We had three 6’8″ players graduate last year, including one who led the nation in blocked shots for three straight years. Now we are playing with no true post and Nathan leads the team in rebounding with 6.9 per game. You don’t want Nathan leading your team in rebounding if you are going to win.

    So Seton Hill only has 2 wins in the first ten games.

    They led East Stroudsburg just before the Christmas break, up by 9 points with 1:36 to play in the game. East Stroudsburg is the number one team on the east side of the PSAC. It looked like it would be a storybook ending; Seton Hill finally getting a big win, an upset.

    And then our freshman guard, a wonderful player who will have a very fine career, pushed a guy on a power lay-up, didn’t make a play for the ball, got called for his 5th foul (a flagrant), allowed the ESU player to make the lay-up, sent them to the line for two more free-throws, and gave them possession of the ball.

    Well, everything changed, the game went to overtime, and we lost.

    Nathan was really torn up about that loss.

    So this morning I had him read your post and had him read the Sports Illustrated article with your dad.

    It really helped him think about what he is going through and what is important, really important.

    I thank my lucky stars each day that we met in Oregon on that trip decades ago. Your friendship has meant so much through the years, and now you are helping my boys get through things, too.

    Love ya, buddy!



      • Todd is a remarkable man: truly exceptional writer, athlete, father, husband, friend, environmentalist, teacher and and and and
        He will be moved by your message, very moved.

    • Todd, this is such an astonishingly terrific father message. What
      a gift for forever you and Shelly are to those remarkable sons.

      And I thank what lucky stars I have that we joyfully collided at Oregon.
      You have sustained me ever since. And your believing that is so important.

      Let’s keep Nathan loving the game itself.

      Love and care always and always

  2. I need to remember to grab the tissues before I open your link. I’m often going to hunt for them after. Thanks for your faithfulness, Jack.

    • Your glorious egg ornaments are dancing on the tree!
      It’s a heart such as yours that the poems and notes are for. I
      am ever grateful that they are landing where they belong.

    • I’ve got a ways to go before I come close to what dear you give and give and give.
      I hope Christmas has been a warm time for you and your gang! : )

  3. Jack
    Dear Coach prose so right on! My dad, a coach 92 years old on Christmas Eve is still a moral beacon for many of his athlete/students; Also it made me reflect on the three coaches that influenced my life through all the years of my competitive swimming…leading me through life’s lessons as well as the “stuff” of competition’s wins and losses…Thanks for the memories…peace ta

    • We are coaches’ kids!
      Man, we gotta talk about this.
      And you are the hero who also is willing
      to swim upstream!
      Here’s to joy-filled times where it’s warm!
      Peace ta, yes!

  4. No wonder you are as you are…coming from a coach like this…. After family leaves in January (5) I will be in touch about a One-on-One session end of January. And praying I have a poem by then!!


    • My gosh, Sam! How would you ever remember that!!!
      How I’d love to go to the door some day and there you would be.
      I sure hope the days are being good to you.

  5. Nice , very nice, piece, Jack. Although I will acknowledge that the word nice seems to have fallen from our vocabulary much like kind, generous, sweet and many more. In our current cultural ambiance tougher words, words with course edges, that are accusatory have replaced softness with hardness. It is wonderful (another word with threatened extinction) to read the blending of this two worlds, or perhaps better still your re-introduction of the values, your father lived by: film, principled, daring, respectful as well as kind and generous. I have no doubt knowing you that your father could be tough and tender. How never having met him? His son lives these same values with equal (at least) conviction – the expression may be different but there is the same vital core. Nice, very nice, piece, Jack.

      • Oh I knew what the words were meant to be. I know you. And I know
        spellcheck’s lack of nuance.
        You also have given me another idea as followup to the misuse of
        sentimentality; this time one on the loss of the words that embody
        care,tender, sweet etc. Poet Galway Kinnell when asked what his
        “world view” was, answered, “Tenderness toward existence.”
        And you are most certainly an embodiment of tender/tough.

    • Whew! I’m trying to steady myself after reading your message, Richard.
      You profoundly understood my dad, how he was exactly as you say, which then
      come together in “tender/tough.” I tried to embody that in this week’s post
      by juxtaposing my response to my father with the tough stance toward the
      demagogues at the college. Thank you so much. I am glad I have this comment
      to turn to when I need that loving kick that sustains. I miss our times.
      Get down here, ya hear!!!!

      • I hear ya, Soon very soon I will head south and I may even bring one of my Christmas presents: neat glasses. Linda gave me four glasses scientifically proven to enhance the joy of (in our case) bourbon neat from sniffing,heating and cooling. All that needs to be added is conversation but I figure we got that covered.

  6. Thanks for the great article in SI on your dad. Buzz what a great name, and it seems a great man! His team seems to have represented him, and his truthful approach to the game.

    Oh my, how humble and respectful he was to his occupation, and what a great effort he got from his young men!

    BTW, how did his young overachieving Panthers fare after that 19-1 start, with a string of 19 in a row?

    Let’s plan to do lunch next week? You can tell my all about it then!

    We just got back from a great holiday week, with Dawn’s wonderful family, last night after only 10 1/2 hours on the road. That trip can take up to 12 worst case. Everything, Went our way! Weather, traffic, tolls, pit stops, you name it! It was an all time record performance for the family. Dawn called her Dad as we entered the garage and told him We arrived safely. His response was great, and no way you are home already! Our average is 11 1/2, our prior best was 11. This was like staring 19-1, well perhaps not that good.



    • My gosh, Nick, you found that article~! AMAZING! And so very kind you.
      Yeah, let’s enjoy lunch and chatter.
      And congratulations on the land speed record!! I bet there wasn’t a
      single, “How much further, Dad?” out of Lillian.

  7. Jack, oh how I’d love to have known your father. He left quite a legacy. A son who continues to guide and support so many of us through clumsy shots, boo’s. A son with gentle, wise suggestions that push us through those bad days and keeps us writing our stories. ox

    • Okay, I’ve taken a deep breath and let my eyes clear.
      Thank you. You always write with such loving precision.
      I hope I don’t have try to tell you how very much it means to me.
      ox back to ya!

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