“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” This quote, usually misattributed to Vince Lombardi, actually was coined by the legendary UCLA football coach Red Sanders who led the Bruins from 1949-1957 and coached them to their only national championship in 1954.
“It’s just a game.” This quote, accompanied by a sly grin, came out of the mouth of Chuck Kyle ’69 last week at the First Friday Club when he and fellow Ignatius coach Mike McLaughlin ’85 offered a round-table discussion of sports-and-faith related questions moderated by the legendary George Wasmer ’50.
As college bowl season concludes and college basketball season ramps up, it’s refreshing to listen to two coaches who, despite a combined 21 state and eight national championships, believe that coaching success is measured not by wins, but by the quality of the people who come out of your program.
The difference between coaches like Chuck and Mike on the one hand and coaches who live by the Red Sanders philosophy became very stark for me the morning of their talk when I was watching the recent 30 for 30 film “The Last Days of Knight” about the somewhat volatile former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight.
So often coaches will put forth the proposition that they are really “teachers” and that their role is similar to that of those who stand in front of young people in a classroom. Sadly, no one – or, at least no one in authority at most American universities – finds it strange that these “teachers” can act with impunity as long as the number in the W column is a lot bigger than the one in the L column. Imagine someone saying about a college biology professor, “Well, sure he grabbed a kid by the throat, but have you seen how many of his students get into medical school?”
So many big-time coaches, for all of their rhetoric to the contrary, are simply people who never grew up and came to grips with the fact that, to again quote Chuck Kyle, “it’s just a game.” And just like with all of the other games that children play, a sport can teach us great lessons about how to interact with others, how to be a good leader and a good listener, how to deal with the good and bad in our lives; and how to be honest, how to act with integrity, and how to play by the rules.
I can’t begin to express how proud I was to be in the room with Chuck and Mike, two friends and colleagues, and two men who truly are teachers – no quotation marks necessary. And the great thing is, to call them teachers isn’t a backhanded way of saying that they don’t win games or they don’t have any intensity when they coach.
These two men have shown for decades that when a call doesn’t go your way or a player makes a major mistake you don’t have to go beet-red in the face and throw a tantrum – or a chair. They have shown that you treat your players like you would treat your students in a classroom, or even better, how you would treat your own child.
As Mike and Chuck shared stories and insights it was apparent that their deep and abiding faith is the ground-floor of everything that they do and that there is no disconnect between them as Catholic men, tremendous and devoted husbands and fathers, and their teaching roles with the soccer, football and track & field teams at Saint Ignatius. They both have a true sense of what role sports should play in the lives of our students, and how involvement in a sport can make us better, but only if we always keep in mind that in the end “it’s just a game.”