COACH’S CORNER: Inner-city coaches battle issues both familiar to others and unique in building up their programs

North Side coach Mike Brevard talks to his team at halftime on August 28’s game against Bishop Dwenger.

Several weeks ago, I sent emails to a few area coaches. Several responded, one being Coach Mike Brevard from North Side.

We spoke a time or two and finally connected last Monday. Our conversation covered our first four years of building a program – identity, struggles, personal growth and various other topics.

The discussion started with the goal of highlighting the trials of coaching in the inner city. Throughout the two-hour talk, the focus changed course. It turns out Coach Brevard and many of my stories were not that different. in fact, they sounded almost the same. 

The first set of challenges are hurdles you find at all schools. Taking over any athletic or co-curricular program or building a positive school culture takes more than a head coach, principal or superintendent. It takes a community.

Attendance at inner-city school games is low, and so is attendance at programs around the country that don’t have community support. When Coach Brevard brought his squad to THUD (full-speed, full-pad scrimmage, but no take-down tackling) in Waterloo during the summer of 2016, not many supporters came and watched. In 2019, there were near 150 people who came to watch a similar event.

However, attendance is a lagging indicator and is a shallow judgment of how strong support for a program is. It’s easy to be a front runner or one of those “well back in the day” kind of folks. The forward moving will learn from history, not dwell in it. 

Everywhere I have been that has built continued success has maintained a highly-supportive parent or community involvement program. Coach Brevard has created that at North with his “Touchdown Club.”

Many of the area communities have had a ton of success with those outreach programs. Columbia City is one of the best. It’s crucial that when parents are intimately involved, it doesn’t entitle them to execute upon a derogatory opinion about everyone’s hard work.

The parents committed in the clubs are often the largest supporters within the community. I have witnessed a small group of parents’ influence in driving success. The inverse, where an individual who has nothing to do with a football program works effortlessly to destroy it out of revenge-driven towards the school district, has also occurred.

The only way a program can be successful over the long term is to be essential to the community. Otherwise, a coach and program will always be fighting a losing battle. 

Sports are a significant part of our country’s culture, with football the most popular nationwide. Whether you like it or not, a football season’s success can drive or destroy a festive school spirit. It’s a celebration of all fall sports; the band, cheerleaders, and football are together the school year’s tone-setter. It’s not just about the wins and losses, but the atmosphere built on those select Friday nights.

The school board and administrators must recognize and support this fundamental idea. They don’t have to like it, but it must be respected if the administration is unwilling to hire quality coaches and teachers within the building as educators. I will argue to my grave that the best teachers are the coaches or directors that are involved in the extra and co-curriculars. 

Jimmys and Joes win football games, there is no doubt about this. If a team has a handful of Division I guys on the roster and the coaching is sub-par, they will still win many games.

If you want to judge a football program’s head coach best, wins and losses cannot be the sole factor. People should continuously ask three questions: 1. Are athletes who can play football playing? 2. Do the athletes on the team continually demonstrate a culture that promotes constant growth? 3. Does the coach have systems in place that make OK players good, good players great, and great players exceptional?

If a coach has a losing record, but an administrator or community can answer yes to all three of the above questions, I bet that the coach is a pretty good one.  

More and more schools are having a hard time hiring assistant coaches. It seems there are fewer and fewer men in secondary education, and having a willingness to coach seems like a detriment in the hiring process. So the need for lay coaches is in increased demand.

Lay coaches are fantastic in so many ways. They want to be there, they tend to be community guys who love the program and genuinely wish for success.

North Side football coach Mike Brevard runs team workouts on July 13 at the school’s Chambers Field.

The downside of lay coaches is the coaching schedule. They are at practice by 3:30 or 4 p.m., put in 16-hour weekends and must organize practice plans organized during the day. If you can find an individual who can fulfill those expectations, watch film, and balance their career, the program has a gem.

Most lay coaches can’t meet those program needs. This further places requirements on the dwindling number of full-time staffers. 

Spousal support is hugely imperative. Fiscal issues and social media may be the leading causes of divorce. I bet coaching can’t be far behind. Starting young, spending nights at school, working long weekends and being home with your mind elsewhere are just the tip of the iceberg that many spouses must work with when married to a coach.

A marriage must be healthy to survive the coaching schedule and constant bashing on social media and from the stands. That abuse and ignorance tend to hurt the coach’s family more than it does the coach. Just keep that in mind when you want to whine, scream, complain or personally attack an individual who essentially works for pennies an hour. Your actions don’t hurt the ones you intend to. Coach Brevard and I are lucky to have that strong spousal support at home. 

There are significant differences in coaching an inner-city school compared to a suburban\country school. The racial balances are more substantial and the higher crime rates facing inner-city schools is an added difficulty. I will fight until I am blue in the face that athletics is one of the few realms within our country that overcomes significant socially created differences because of the mission-based existence that builds an athletic program’s foundation.

Watching Coach Brevard’s growth within his program is evidence of that. He and his staff should be proud of what they are accomplishing. In the face of political contention, social upheaval, a global pandemic and even the sport politicization, many coaches are successfully navigating through trying times.

Listening to Coach Brevard and his staff, how they handle these challenges and hearing what they do to support their boys and families always takes me back. Specifically to a verse Coach Chris Creighton would say back in the 2000s and still states frequently refers to today; Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

I fully believe that strong staffs and programs are more significant than wins and losses. So what does vision mean for programs?

No matter what the vision is or whether you know it, you can see it lived out. What is the No. 1 similarity between success in the inner-city and the suburban\country programs? They provide continual support to the young men and women who commit to the program vision and mission. When coaches are feeding kids, providing appropriate shelter, purchasing clothes, helping them pay for camps, opportunities or relevant experiences they can’t afford, you see it.

Many young men battle homelessness, drug issues, abuse, no electricity or water and educational concerns. Athletic programs are often one of the only firm foundations in that individual’s life. The thousands of dollars spent over the last decade out of coaches’ pockets make a difference solely to get young men to seize the next stage. It helps parents, communities, schools and programs and often goes unnoticed.

You can only hope that the young student-athletes take the opportunity and use it to improve any situation they wish to overcome. As coaches, you know if you are successful if you create life-long mentor roles, and the title “Coach” is given in conversation, even when you are out of it.

Execution of the vision is apparent when you see these results. I am sure Mike Brevard and several of his staff members will notice that when their chosen time as a coach has concluded. That is authentic leadership executed.

No matter who you are, where you are from, your background, political beliefs, religion, race, and ethnicity… surround yourself with people on the same mission that believe in the same foundational vision. Make sure it is positive and not an idea that embraces playing the victim, which is a mentality that results in an insurmountable perpetual downward spiral.

The vision is a substantial part of what builds personal, community, and program success. When tragedy occurs, like a passing of a player, those programs and communities are built to sustain such a painful blow. Grieving and pain tell a young man’s story that then allows their memories to live forever. The circumstance means when you play, work and pray, it is not just FOR but TO LIVE with the memories of the fallen in your heart. 

In this very instance, after Coach Brevard and I’s conversation, the reason we came together shifted to building support after the tragic loss of Theo Redmond, who graduated earlier this year and was an integral part of the North Side football program.

The situation became about taking what made Redmond such an electric and gravitating young man and emblazoning those qualities upon the hearts of those he positively impacted. By living with those qualities, his memory will never fade, but continue to influence those who thoroughly love him.

Whenever that situation arises, take care of the people who need you most: your family, neighbors, and the community. Embrace a path of positive growth. Don’t tear down others because you are upset or triggered. Revenge only prevents inevitable success. Make your surroundings a better place and imagine the progress we can all make. For most of us coaches, that is helping one student-athlete at a time.

So wherever you find your community, take charge, overcome indifference, and take our mission together to make our little corner of paradise a better place.  

Yours in the Pursuit of Excellence, 

Pete Kempf

Coach’s Corner is a weekly feature at Outside the Huddle written by Pete Kempf, former DeKalb High School head football coach. Coach’s Corner appears every Monday during the prep football season. These opinions represent those of the writer. No opinions expressed on Outside the Huddle represent those of any of our advertisers. 

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