Thursday, October 30, 2008

Coach Nickas! I kinda like the sound of that...

Earlier this past summer I received a phone call from an old college acquaintance She had heard about some golf classes that were being offered by our alma mater, Westminster College; and was wondering if I was the one they had tabbed to teach them. I wasn't even aware they were teaching classes down there. Now, I do teach some classes at the University of Utah, but up until that point, I was completely unaware that Westminster was offering any classes. Three days later I got a call from the Athletic Director from Westminster asking if I'd like to go to lunch and discuss a few things. I'd been working during the winters as a public address announcer for the basketball teams ever since I got out of school and I assumed that they were going to talk to me about teaching some of their golf classes.So we sat down and talked a little about basketball, and how awesome the teams are going to be this year when we were joined by the women's basketball coach, JD. He'd also been the men's and women's golf coach on the side ever since my old college coach, Coach DP quit. The team had recently risen up to become pretty successful, placing 2nd at the NAIA regional tournament just 2 years ago. So imagine my surprise when he said that he wanted to scale back his involvement in the golf program and concentrate on basketball full time. I asked him why, and he replied, "Because we think you can get them to the next level." Without any kind of a formal interview or application or anything, they offered me a coaching job. I don't even think they got the actual sentence out before I said I'd do it.
The hitch though, I didn't exactly inherit that awesome team from a couple of years ago. In fact, only two players from that Men’s team remained, and they were both graduating in December. There were only three returning ladies from last year’s women’s team! We actually had to do an on-campus recruiting drive to fill the rosters! It was not exactly a moment that most of the big-time programs have to deal with. Anyway, we managed to find five more guys that could shoot reasonably well for that side of things, but the women's team is a different story altogether. 5 out of the 8 gals on the roster had absolutely no competitive experience whatsoever! And 4 of those had been playing for 4 months or less. I always had a desire to coach the program, and I’ve been pining away for the gig for years, but in every vision I've ever had I was inheriting an established team. They were asking me to basically build the thing from scratch and we had less than 1 month until our first tournament at Montana Tech.
To top it off, I didn't quit my Assistant Pro job at the University of Utah, I've been doing both. But what that meant was that every moment I wasn't in the shop or teaching private lessons, I was basically teaching the bulk of my team how to play golf. Which is a gargantuan task compared to just making a few swing tweaks. But for a solid month, those kids worked their asses off, probably slacking off on their studies to learn how to play the game properly. They practiced hard almost every day and I put my social and professional life on hold to get them ready. They were primed to take on the world, and as we rode the same bus I never thought I'd ever thought I'd ride again six years ago, I couldn't help but beam with pride.
So they competed, and I coached my ass off. In fact, I seemed to be about the only coach that was out on the course with the players. I had always hated the fact that I rarely ever saw my coach out on the course, so I made it a point to spend at least a hole per round with every one of my kids. Actually I pretty much decide that my coaching strategy was to do pretty much everything the opposite of what he would’ve done. While the other coaches were holed up in the clubhouse watching football, "waiting for scorecards" I was out reading putts, getting yardages and delivering snacks and drinks for the kids. And the end result of my awesome coaching job? The Men took 7th out of 9 teams and the women took 8th out of 9 teams after the first tournament.
That was pretty punishing to the old ego. There was one bright spot, one of my guys won the individual! But overall I was kinda down on myself. But then I remembered the words of my old Junior College coach, the only coach I've ever really gotten along with, when he said, "you can't hit the shots for them." I flashed back to when I was in school and how I never really felt like I played up to my potential because of the weight that class, work and relationships had on my mind. And I realized that those kids were going through the exact same stuff that I was going through a few years ago. So on that long-ass bus ride home from Butte, Montana, I talked to the kids about what they felt that I was doing right, and what they thought I could do better. Together, we kind of re-designed our practice sessions to make them more efficient, and by the end of the ride home we were talking about just about everything BUT golf. Damn, I felt like I was back in college again!
The next week the men managed to improve by one spot in the standings, and while the ladies didn't move up, they dropped a full ten shots off their stroke average as a team! And the following week, at the Rocky Mountain Invitational, at the Peter Yegen Club in Billings, MT, they gave me what might be my finest hour as a golf pro. Going into the last round at the same course I once littered with vomit (see tomorrow’s “Dorm Days” flashback story for the full skinny), the men trailed the hated Carroll College by nine shots for 5th place (the top-4 teams are unbelievably loaded this year). Carroll had been taking us out behind the woodshed all season long, and had been doing a fair amount of shit-talking along the way. I really wanted to beat those guys, so I gave a couple of the guys my first f-bomb laden pep talk of the season. I was trying to channel Al Pacino from "Any Given Sunday" but sounded so ridiculous that we were all cracking up! It must've loosened them up a little bit because those guys ended up breaking one of my old teams' single day scoring records, 4-under par as a team! We also edged Carroll by twelve shots on the day and 3 for the tournament! The ladies, well it's not important where they placed, but out of the fifteen rounds (3 apiece) that the 5 team members played, there were 8 personal best rounds recorded! Their team average was now down by 30 shots better than the 1st tournament. Pretty insane! I don't even think they realize how proud of them that I am.
The Fall college golf season has concluded, but it picks back up in the Springtime. But unlike in previous years, I'm not going to break this team up. We're going to keep working at it through playing and practice until the snow flies, and I’m going to try to hire a trainer to write them up a weightlifting and cardio program for when there's snow on the ground so we can hit the ground running come April. I'm also setting to work on recruiting, which is something I've never done before. It's out of control, but I've got to say, the last two months have easily been the most rewarding of my entire career and maybe my entire life.. Our Sports Information Director is a little swamped, so our team website hasn't been updated in a hell of a long time, but here's an article about us. It's a .pdf file so it might take a few minutes to download. Scroll down to page 6:

Here's a few photos of myself and some of the kids from this past fall season:

The team stuffed into a little bus (a short bus if you will) on our first trip

Throwing out a little encouragement to one of our men's team, Nick CruzDiscussing a little strategy with one of my ladies, Jesika Hilton

Go Griffins!

No comments:

Post a Comment