Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Meet the Coach

This is a blog about a book and about writing that book, but it is also about a man. It is for anyone who knew Les Hipple and anyone who reads the book about him--and anyone who had a coach he or she would like to remember.

The book, A Coach's Life, is due out this summer, but the dialogue can begin now.

Here's an introduction to Les Hipple, taken from the book. Hipple, thirty-two, has just taken over the reins at Marion High School in Iowa.

The Marion Indians of 1945 discovered that Hipple did not yell much. He never cursed at his players or punched or kicked them as his predecessor had. He sometimes growled. He fumed when his players did not live up to his expectations, but the emotion was transmitted not in a scream, but in a grimace, a head shake, or a cold stare. Some said his lips trembled when he was really angry. He governed his players not so much with words as with gestures, postures, and facial expressions. His glare was so icy it could freeze a boy in his tracks.

Hipple had, as other players have said about their coaches, "God-like tendencies," super-human powers of observation, the ability to see what was in their hearts, and judgment that was as immediate and ruthless as it was fair. Some players over the years feared him. A few saw a twinkle in his eye or sensed subterranean warmth under his severity, but they were a minority. Most of his players regarded him with fear-tinged awe . . . He was deadly serious about what he was doing . . . Whatever was going on here, it wasn't just a game.

And though Hipple was relentless in his concentration on fundamentals and conditioning, a meticulous student of the games he taught, a masterful strategist, a keen judge of character and talent, and a genius at motivation who could turn gangling boys into disciplined athletes and good athletes into great ones, he was not unique among coaches in these matters. In his dedication to his craft and his success in terms of victories, he ranked with the very best, but other coaches had winning percentages as good or better.

Hipple outdistanced most great coaches in one respect, however: He repeatedly turned out championship teams in four different sports--football, basketball, track, and cross country. He was elected to the state halls of fame for basketball and football, an honor he shares with only a few other men. When Hipple started coaching, multi-sport head coaches in high schools, especially small ones, were common. When he stopped, some thirty years later, they were rare. His commitment, his love of coaching, his versatility, and his sheer stamina set him apart from all but a very few coaches.

His rules made him unique. Over the years, they became the most significant aspect of his coaching reputation. Eventually, he was known all over the state as much for his rules as for his victories, and since his rules were often a matter of rumor instead of fact, his reputation for fearsomeness grew far beyond reality.

With the onset of the 1945 football season at Marion, he introduced his rules to players and parents who had been accustomed to a casual approach to sports. "Hipple told all the players to bring their parents to the school for a meeting," recalled John Vernon, a junior that year. "He handed out the rules and read them aloud, and all of us, parents and players alike, had to agree to abide by them. It was kind of like joining the military. You take a step forward, make a pledge and you're in, for better or worse." Both parents and the players had to sign a statement agreeing to the rules.

Here are the rules in summary.
  1. No smoking or drinking.

  2. In bed by 10 pm every night except Friday and Saturday, "when we may stay out until 12:00, although this will not be done often."

  3. Dates with girls must be kept at a minimum. No going steady. "If we must see a particular girlfriend between classes or at noon, we will drop athletics."

  4. We will not miss practice. If for any reason you must miss practice, you must receive permission ahead of time.

  5. We may not drive cars except on Sundays during specified hours and even then we will not "just drive around town."

  6. We will use only proper language at all times.

  7. We will take the best possible care of our equipment.

  8. We will keep our dressing rooms clean, at home or away.

  9. We will take off and put on our football shoes outside when it is muddy, in the lower exit when not muddy.

"You, as a Marion Indian, cannot do some of the things other students do," Hipple wrote in 1952. "If you think more of smoking, drinking, dating or going steady, staying out late at night, or riding around in automobiles, then you are not willing to 'pay the price' and it is best for you not to take out a uniform . . . To be on a championship team you have to be a champion yourself."

--Dan Kellams

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on the book. I enjoyed reading the introduction of Les Hipple.