Bill Walsh, whom I consider the greatest football coach of all time, thought of himself as a teacher of the aspects of football.
Walsh, who took the moribund San Francisco 49ers from a laughingstock to a dynasty capturing three Super Bowl titles in nine years, taught his players from his expertise on the game.
I’ve seen videos of him lecturing, explaining, questioning, guiding and making certain they knew both the how and why of each and every thing he wanted them to learn.
Not only that, he expected all 53 players on the roster to fully understand and be ready at a moment’s notice to step into a game in case injury occurred.
How many of you have heard of Jeff Kemp, Mike Moroski or Steve Bono? These were all backup quarterbacks for the 49ers who played in games when either Joe Montana or Steve Young got hurt.
They all had 300-yard games and led the Niners to victories that helped keep the team on track to win championships.
Walsh also drafted players who were outstanding students first and athletes second. He wanted players who would study film and the playbook with as much effort as they put in on the field.
Walsh abhorred mistakes and felt if he taught his players instead of merely coaching them, his teams would always be prepared.
Additionally, Walsh taught men to be coaches in the NFL. Many of the coaches in the league today were trained by him or by people he had given the tools to be head coaches.
His influence is everywhere in football today.
His book 'Finding the Winning Edge' is the gold standard for football coaches throughout the country.
Now that is teaching.
The best coaches I know today are the ones who also are teachers at their respective schools.
The first one I would like to acknowledge is current Hancock College women’s basketball coach Cary Nerelli.
I’ve known Cary for almost 40 years, beginning when he was cross country and girls basketball coach at Morro Bay High School.
His cross country teams went to the CIF Southern Finals Finals every year he coached, as well as the California State Championships each year.
That streak was over 25 years long. His basketball teams always challenged Santa Ynez and St. Joseph for supremacy in the old Los Padres League.
Why were Cary’s teams always so good?
Because he was a teacher first and he was darn good at it. He taught Advanced Placement History at Morro Bay. Not only that, he taught the teachers who taught AP History at various conferences throughout the state and I think even the country.
I honestly think if he started coaching twiddly-winks, he’d make that team a champion, too.
Another friend of mine, Kit Myers, coached championship track teams, cross country teams and volleyball teams at Santa Ynez High School for over 25 years. But he was a teacher first. And his teaching responsibilities were far more challenging than most, as Kit taught special education students.
The level of patience and creativity necessary to be successful with his students transferred to his outstanding efforts and results as a coach.
Another special education teacher first and coach second was Jesse Davis of Cabrillo High School. This man had one of the biggest and best personalities of any coaching colleague I have ever known. He often taught athletes on my teams how to get better when we had a meet against one another.
You see, Jesse was a teacher first and foremost, and helping student-athletes understand the fundamentals of whatever sport they were playing dominated his thinking processes.
I’ve mentioned Ken Reeves in previous columns but I have one little story that I think exemplifies his emphasis on always teaching a lesson.
At the early season cross country invitational held at Morro Bay several years ago, I saw Ken gather his junior varsity boys team around him after their race to discuss their performance. He singled out one boy and fined him.
Yeah, he fined him — I think it was 10 cents. The infraction: tugging on his jersey during the race. It was because he broke running form to do that tug. I was amazed Ken even spotted such a thing, let alone manage to turn it into a teachable moment. But that is what the great ones do.
There are always lessons to be taught and learned. The best coaches find ways to do just that. Most schools like to hire on-campus coaches because they know that teaching is the primary goal in any school setting.
A classroom teacher seems to intuitively know the athletic field is just a different classroom and the teaching never stops.