Where You Are is the Best Place to be

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my college coach was a legend – or at least well on his way to becoming one.

I went to Centre College as a freshman quarterback in August 1983 and our coach was Joe McDaniel. Coach McDaniel is the winningest football coach in the history of Centre College and the field was named in his honor in the fall of 2011.

I was the scout team quarterback until mid-October, when I tore my ACL in practice. I was not a very good player, but my dad, who had enjoyed quite a bit of success as a defensive lineman at Millikin University in the early ’60s, had told me that once I got to college, I would enjoy practice.

He was right. I lived for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Those were the days that I would run our scout team offense against the first-team defense. The scout team ran the plays of the opposing team each week to get our defense ready for Saturday.

It was a lot of fun, always running a different offense on a weekly basis. My goal every day was to make the defensive coordinator so mad that he made the first team defense and us, the scout team offense, do grass drills (up-downs).

I know that sounds like a strange goal – for us to be punished. But I liked it because it meant he was furious, which meant we were moving the ball and scoring on the first-string defense.

Here are three things that I learned, or at least made an impression on me, playing for Coach McDaniel:

• Listen to your players.

It was customary that in weekly preparation, Tuesday and Wednesday, the backup offensive players were the scout team for the first-string defense, and vice versa. On Thursdays, it changed. All players stayed with their side of the ball – all offensive players were with the offense, defensive players were with the defense. This was to make sure that if a backup had to enter the game, he would know the game plan.

So, one Thursday, I was standing down with the offense watching the first team prepare. I tapped Coach McDaniel on the shoulder and said, “Coach, you and I both know I am not going to play Saturday (I was pretty far down the depth chart). Let me go down to the defensive end of the field and help them get ready for Saturday.”

He didn’t crack a smile or show any emotion. He just looked at me and said, “Go.”

After that, every Thursday I was with the defensive backups running their scout team. It was a lot of fun and it helped our team to prepare better.

The longer I coach, the more I appreciate an older, experienced coach listening to the last-string, 18-year-old quarterback. I try to remember that moment when my players came to me and ask questions that normally I would not think of or want to do.

• Regardless of the score, your first string plays the entire first half as aggressively as possible.

Even after I had my ACL, I continued to chart the plays on Saturdays in street clothes. One Saturday we were destroying Rhodes College, and the final score was 61-0. Coach McDaniel was calling timeouts and throwing the ball deep at the end of the half. I can’t remember the score, but at the half I think we had over 40 points.

The Rhodes coach was a good friend of Coach McDaniel’s. At halftime, I was walking off the field with Coach McDaniel when the opposing coach came running over saying something to the effect of, “Joe, what are you doing? Why are you running up the score?”

Coach told him that in the first half, your team remains aggressive and tries to score as much as you can. After the first half, that is the time to back off.

That has stuck with me as a coach. Regardless of the score, we usually continue to play aggressively until the half. We were on the other end of that the past two falls when we played Highlands High School. I understood what was going on.

I know that approach has made opposing fans, coaches, and players angry with me, but your team needs to be able to play at least one half of football as aggressively as possible. The running clock helps with some of that now anyway and I believe your kids need to get to play as a reward for a week of practice and to continue to improve so they can reach their goals.

I will admit there have been times I felt so bad for the other team that we did back off. Not a question of whether or not we had the right to do so, but my gut just told me it was the right thing to do.

• Appreciate your team and where you are.

One Saturday, as Coach McDaniel spoke to us before the game, he mentioned one of the big games in the nation – I think it was the Oklahoma-Texas game. Coach told us that he knew that game was considered the most important game in the country that day, but that there was no place he would rather be than right there coaching us.

I had never heard a coach say anything like that. But, he could say it because he was sincere and it was from the heart. That moment has really helped me as a coach appreciate my teams and players and every opportunity we have when the lights come on and it is Friday night.


These columns were first printed in the Maysville Ledger Independent and edited by Sports Editor, Zack Klemme who is currently  a sportswriter for the Ashland Daily Independent