SIDELINE SLANTS

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
It’s lonely at the top. Ask President Bush. Ask former President Clinton. Ask Martha Stewart. Ask former Nebraska football coach Frank Solich or any NCAA Division I college football coach. Ask any Major League Baseball manager.

For that matter, ask a head coach at any level of participation from middle school to professional.

Being the one in charge is gratifying and satisfying when things go well. It’s not quite so wonderful when things go south. In reality, the one at the top frequently gets more credit or blame than deserved.

The head coach gets the interviews, the praise, the blame and the second-guessing.

The head coach is responsible for setting the tone for that particular athletic program. A successful head football coach is good at delegating some tasks, but when all is said and done, the results rest on his shoulders.

Not all assistant coaches want to be head coaches. Many are justifiably content being an assistant. But most coaches I know are competitive enough by nature that they would like a chance to be in charge if given the opportunity.

The opportunity has become reality for two football coaches in Hillsboro this fall. Both were assistants last fall, but now they’ll take their turn at being in charge.

There are some striking similarities between Tabor’s new head football coach Mike Gardner and new Hillsboro High School coach Len Coryea. Both were promoted from within, and both take over programs that have experienced recent success.

Of course, there are differences, too. Tabor’s football history includes winning seasons about as often as Hillsboro gets a 10-inch rain in July, while HHS has won on a consistent basis.

Former head coach Tim McCarty rightly receives much of the credit for turning Tabor’s once-beleaguered football program into a winner, but Gardner is credited with taking a defense that frequently leaked like a sieve and turning it into one of the stronger defenses in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference.

There is a definite advantage in promoting coaches from within. The coaches are familiar with the athletes, and the athletes are familiar with the coaches, and that should reduce the learning curve for both the coaching staff and the athletes.

But hiring from within also has its risks. There’s no guarantee that a successful assistant coach will be equally successful as head coach. If life teaches us anything, it’s that history can’t accurately predict whether Gardner and Coryea will be good head coaches. You can find those who made the transition successfully and others who didn’t.

Coryea has served as an assistant football coach for two very successful coaches. If nothing else, Coryea knows what it’s like to be in a position of leadership. He’s also a member of the Hillsboro City Council and a council member at church. My guess is that he knows a little about being second-guessed.

I also have a hunch that Gardner will be a good coach, but only time will tell whether he can recruit well enough to field competitive teams, and at the college level, that’s half the battle.

Regardless, no realistic Bluejay fan should expect a repeat of last season’s success. Tabor graduated too many good athletes, which is a novel concept in their football history.

Don’t get me wrong. The cupboard is far from bare, but neither is it full to overflowing. There are many more question marks this season, and no one knows how the younger players will fill the shoes of those who have left.

Everyone loves a winner. Unfortunately, coaches often find out who their real friends are when they lose or when things go bad.

I don’t know how many games Gardner and Coryea will win, but in a very real sense they’re already winners based on the following quote from an unknown author, who said, “Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the true failure.”

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