After my boss, Jerry Tarkanian, retired in 2002, I was faced with a decision. Where was I going to work? I had been in college basketball nearly my entire adult life – 4 as a graduate assistant at three different schools, 11 as an assistant at three other institutions, 8 as an associate head coach at two others and 7 as Tark’s director of basketball operations – for a grand total of 30 years at nine Division I universities. Working in the field that long, I had made friends and gained the respect of some, if not many, of my peers. I had two or three options to continue doing so.
Picking up and leaving wouldn’t be a challenge. After all, I had moved 16 times and lived in nine states since graduating from college. What was another one. It was only when Andy, our older son (who had just completed seventh grade – he was the president of his class), said, “Dad, do we have to move?” did I realize that nearly all of my moves came when I was single and childless. Now it would mean selling a house, buying another – in our price range and in a good school district for our rising 3rd and 8th grade boys, plus getting a job for my wife who had more than two decades of working for the federal government. All to chase the dream of, one day, becoming a head coach – with no guarantee that will happen. It’s not like, “OK, you’ve coached 40 years. Congratulations, here’s a college team where you can be the head coach.”
One of the coaches at Fresno State mentioned to me that, if I wanted to coach on the high school level, he had a great deal of pull at a local school that had recently dismissed its coach. More and more, the NCAA had been limiting practice time for college coaches with their players. What made coaching high school in California attractive was you could coach your team nearly every day of the year. I got that high school job and conducted practices in May and June – before I even started teaching. In late June while I was at my computer, filling out a form to take the team to Los Angeles for a summer tournament, I felt a sharp pain in my mid-back. It turned out to be a herniated disk (my fourth) that required emergency surgery – that kept me from living the rest of my life in a wheelchair.
The remainder of the summer was dedicated to physical therapy. I showed up for orientation walking with a cane. While that was excruciating, it wasn’t nearly as painful as hearing, as I did in each of the three meetings, that “teachers should document everything, as our parents are a very litigious group.” At the time I was also a member of the National Speakers Association and my main topic was “Team Building” – how the number one characteristic of any great team is trust. My new employers were telling me I should document everything while I was getting paid to speak to groups, often quoting Stephen Covey’s line, “In a no-trust culture, you live in memo haven.”
Unwisely, I thought that my diverse experiences throughout the nation, in addition to my membership in NSA, would allow me to enlighten my new colleagues that maybe the trust thing, combined with hiring better lawyers, was a better strategy. Vegas would have given Don Quixote shorter odds against the windmills.
When No Child Left Behind became the new (mainly political) rallying cry, our school district, consisting mostly of upper middle class families, decided that a necessary addendum would be, “Every student should go to college.” Only not every student in our school wanted, needed nor should have gone to college. It was almost as if the district powers were saying that other schools, the ones that didn’t measure up to us in standardized test scores and such, ought to be supplying the cashiers, bank tellers, plumbers, painters, roofers, auto repairmen and all those other vital professions that many of our kids would have been superstars at, if we’d only helped encourage and train them.
That motto was expanded by a new superintendent (who was as egomaniacal as any “leader” I’ve encountered – and, not shockingly, lasted a year). He pompously made the statement that every student was to take at least one Advanced Placement class during his or her four years in high school. Heck, we had some kids who couldn’t even spell “AP.”
What brought on this blog was an article on Albert Einstein I read last night. One of his life lessons was entitled, “We are all born geniuses but life de-geniuses us.” Beneath it read something I wish all the administrators at that school district would highlight and place on their desks, mirrors and refrigerators. In fact, I forwarded it to several of the teachers from the district, with the hope they’ll pass it along. It said:
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”