Volume 43, Issue 4 - April 2008
Expectations were high for this group of 15- and 16-year olds. As freshmen, the team had gone undefeated in what, at that time, was considered to be the toughest conference in the state. And the games were usually not close. By the second half of most games, the second stringers were getting the bulk of the playing time.
“Okay, you bunch of cream puffs,” he bellowed at our very first meeting. “It’s my job to turn you bunch of sissies into real men. And believe me, it won’t take me long to separate the real men from the boys around here.”
We were dead silent, and while there was this slight amount of fear just under the surface, there was also the feeling that we were going somewhere and that the coach probably knew the best and quickest way to get there. After all, there was something to be said for becoming a real man. I mean, we all knew we couldn’t remain cream puffs forever.
“Start running,” he screamed as he pointed to the quarter-mile oval track that went around the football field, “and don’t stop until I tell you to stop.”
After a few laps he stopped us, let us get some water and then lined us up in front of him.
“Are you tired? Are you hot?” he yelled.
Of course we were hot and tired. It was 90-something degrees and not a cloud in the sky. We shook our heads in unison.
“Well, remember this,” he went on yelling. “No one has ever drowned in sweat. And furthermore, if you can’t stand the heat then get out of the kitchen. Now get back to running.”
Day after day he worked us without mercy, screaming and cursing and constantly reminding us that history had yet to record a drowning death due to sweat. If anyone dared to moan, he’d get the standard “no pain, no gain” fired back at him.
The man worked us like animals and while we were the best-conditioned team in the conference, we were also without a win after our first five games. One night, after a long and grueling practice that concluded with the customary two-mile run, our quarterback, Tom Rush, spoke up.
“Coach,” he began, “I’m a little discouraged. We haven’t won a game yet, and this Saturday we’ve gotta face a team that’s undefeated. We’re disorganized on the field, our plays are third-rate and we don’t always seem to have the right people playing the right positions. We’re gonna get killed!”
“Men,” the coach responded, “always remember, from an aerodynamic point of view, the bumblebee cannot fly. As for you, Tom, if you were pulling on the oars you wouldn’t have time to rock the boat, so go back out there and run an extra mile for me.”
The entire team stood silent to see what Tom would do. We were all totally spent and an extra mile was just too much to ask. But before he could move, the coach came up with yet another of his never-ending sayings.
“Tom,” he stated in that “know-it-all” voice we’d all come to dread, “in life, you’ll find that there’s no traffic jam on the ‘extra mile.’”
Tom quit and so did several others. We never won a single game that year and in looking back on the experience I now realize that the coach was like a lot of people I’ve met over the years, particularly in business. For you see, a lot of people know the cute buzzwords and catchy phrases of the business world. They talk a good game and they wrap themselves up in what seems to be worthwhile efforts and preparation. But when the game’s on the line, they really can’t perform. Ultimately, they move on. I believe the consulting world is filled with people who know the words and have the appearance of knowing what it takes to succeed; they are, as the old coach would most likely have said, “all show and no go.”
I ran into Tom Rush the other day and asked him if he had ever heard anything about the coach. He said he had. Unfortunately, it wasn’t good. Apparently the coach was vacationing in Mexico last summer when a bumblebee stung him while he was bicycling along a dangerous mountain road. He lost control and ran over the edge, breaking both of his legs. Funny thing, though; he had evidently cycled exactly one mile past the hotel where he was scheduled to spend the night when the bee got him. I wonder if he was sweating at the time.
Lyle R. Hill is president of MTH Industries of Chicago. Mr. Hill’s opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine.