Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Victim of His Principles

"[Hipple's] rules were almost a form of asceticism . . . Hipple valued instilling discipline over a fleeting victory."

Excerpts from The Iowan magazine, Sept. / Oct. 2011

By Nick Bergus

The great coaches--think Vince Lombardi, John Wooden, and Bear Bryant--are quoted for their wisdom on character as much as they are hailed for their innovative strategies and tactics.

Les Hipple's name isn't as familiar as those legendary coaches of the Packers, UCLA, and Alabama, but the boys he coached at Marion High School from 1945 to 1965 would probably say he was cut from the same cloth.

As coach of the Marion Indians' football, basketball, track, and cross-country teams, Hipple won 32 state and conference championships. He's a member of both the Iowa football and basketball halls of fame . . .

Hipple had rules . . . There were unwritten ones and 10 written ones that were sent home to parents of football players every fall. The boys were expected to follow them year round. The rules were almost a form of asceticism: no smoking or drinking, no staying out late, no serious dating, no skipping practice, no swearing, and no driving except under very specific circumstances . . .

The rules were strict, but the coach expected all of his athletes to follow them. Those who didn't comply--whether a captain, leading scorer, or backup--were benched or removed from the team. Hipple valued instilling discipline over a fleeting victory.

The coach believed his rules and methods were the bedrock of Marion High School's athletic excellence. But as the values of his athletes' parents shifted, and as the school administration changed, Hipple's strictness, and his refusal to adapt his methods in any major way, led to his downfall . . .

The greatness of great coaches like Hipple is due in part to their strictness . . . The refusal to change, however . . . eventually becomes a liability. And as stability becomes stubbornness, even great coaches can become victims of their own unwavering principles.