9:18 AM |

He was my brother’s favourite football coach. He was a leader who bred leaders. He was a thinker who saw the game at many levels and brought his players into his multi-dimensional game plans. He was committed, aggressive, confident, realistic, and hard. He didn’t take excuses. His game plans were levels more sophisticated than other league coaches.

“Pain is temporary. Glory lasts forever,” he told his players. He brought them all the way, sometimes through undefeated seasons with no touchdowns against. His team always lost to the same cross-town rival with expensive training equipment, we called it a curse.

He came for family dinners, he wrote Christmas cards, he inspired his players to be great men, on and off the field. He commanded your attention, and spoke succinctly, making each word matter. He taught them to be valuable, to feel important and become key players in their lives.

He bothered some players’ parents with his gum-chewing, clipboard-throwing anger directed at a stupid call or an enemy touchdown slipping through. His face would redden, his temper flare, when his carefully orchestrated game plan was tainted by inattention to detail or carelessness. He demanded excellence, and often received it.

My brother graduated from his coaching and moved on. They kept in touch and shared their love of the game and admiration for each other. My brother was the player coach wanted him to be, wanted his own son to be. They admired each other’s intellect, skill and observational ability to outsmart opponents, not just beat them. They continue talking and shaking hands and watching big games occasionally.

I saw him yesterday, a broken man. He was wearing a suit, not his track pants and whistle. He was telling me about his new job with the fallible desperation of a man convincing himself he’s happy. His job does no justice to his passion for football. Football doesn’t pay the bills though. I’ve seen him through a slew of jobs that don’t satisfy, that he has to do, that break down at hi character and confidence with every internal memo reprimand. He is a sliver of the man I knew as coach. He stood in his suit and carefully gelled hair as a man who’d given up on proving his worth, but still holding on to weekend football for some purpose.

He gave me his card, told me to pass it around.

“I hope I can come to your wedding,” he told me.

“I’d love it if you could,” I said.

He walked back to his card with his head hunched over, the result of ears of downhill disappointment and receding hope in the restorative power of football coaching.