Coach's Perspective: David Svoboda 12/8
By David Svoboda PrepsKC staff writer
PrepsKC was able to do something this fall that Randall Zimmerman, Paul Brown and Steve Hopkins had no luck in trying to achieve – force me to the press box.
The Junction City and Basehor-Linwood head coaches had tinkered, at times, with the notion of sending me – an experienced offensive coach and a trusted set of eyes and ears – “up top” on Friday night.
But to no avail.
Call me selfish, but I wanted to be on the field, near the action. And, most importantly, near the players – who were “my boys.”
When I ended my high school teaching and coaching career in 2010, I knew it would be tough…especially on Fridays in the fall.
So it was great to have a new Friday night gig. PrepsKC afforded me the opportunity to cover the best games each week, even though I had to make that dreaded trip “up top.”
From that perch at stadiums around the metro – and from the front seat of my car on a rainy, cold Missouri playoff night (a neat story for another time) – I saw great athletes, fantastic coaches, and even paid attention to the band, cheerleaders and crowd for the first time in at least 20 years.
What I came away with was an even greater appreciation of the game we all love.
The metro had five teams in state title games. I was fortunate enough to get a chance to cover all five, though my looks at Blue Springs South, Eudora and Staley all came so early that what I was seeing was greatness in its infancy.
Olathe South and Blue Valley got an early look and a later one, and though I don’t consider myself an expert, you could feel the vibe each team was giving off. And it was a powerful vibe.
Championship teams aren’t just filled with great athletes – though that certainly helps. These teams also bleed, sweat, laugh and cry with each other. And yes, though football is the most macho of high school sports, they love.
Seeing that love each week, in places I had heard of but never had the pleasure of visiting, was a gift that I was truly honored to receive.
Since I spent the 18 years prior to this one as a coach – giving and receiving some of that love – it is coaches I feel best in evaluating and talking about. Boy, did I see some great ones at work…and was lucky enough to form friendships with a few, and renew some long-time friendships with others.
During the first few weeks of “my” season, I got to watch Blue Springs South’s Greg Oder, Eudora’s Gregg Webb, Louisburg’s Gary Griffin and Staley’s Fred Bouchard do their magic with their kids. I had seen all four at coaching clinics and the like, but observing them “running” games was like taking a master class.
At mid-season and late in the regular year, I got my first peek at Bishop Miege’s Tim Grunhard, Olathe North’s Pete Flood, and a second look – though the first one had been seven years earlier – at Shawnee Mission East’s courageous Chip Sherman.
Grunny had a surprisingly calm sideline demeanor, and let his talented offensive and defensive coordinators do their jobs. But there was no doubt as to who was in charge. Flood, who would resign at season’s end, also impressed me with his character in the face of adversity – as I saw him in two defeats. But it was Sherman, coaching while battling cancer – and on his team’s senior night, no less – who made me realize how lucky I was to be part of the lives of so many kids…and simply to have good health.
When I charged into the postseason, covering 11 games in just 25 days – and a remarkable five in a seven-day span – it felt as if I was again a coach, burning the midnight oil, grinding.
The postseason brought out the best in the teams, and coaches, I was privileged to cover. Included in that group were Lawrence’s Dirk Wedd – a friend for over 20 years, from our days as youth baseball coaches – and Blue Valley quarterback coach Paul Brown, my first “boss” in the metro. He was the Basehor-Linwood head coach at that time, and I became his receiver coach and confidant in the face of a tough two years.
Seeing the delight of both men in seeing me was humbling, to say the least. I haven’t been a constant presence in the life of either man, but both treated me like we’d just seen each other the week before. That, folks, is just one indication of the magic which is high school athletics. Friendships last. Love endures. It’s like nothing else I’ve experienced.
My best postseason memories, however, involve Louisburg’s Griffin and Blue Valley head coach Eric Driskell.
Griffin is one of the most down-to-earth men I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. I saw the first and last games of the Wildcat season – both defeats. The first defeat was tough, as it snapped a long winning streak for the 2010 Class 4A Kansas champs. The second defeat was tougher, as it ended Griffin’s days as coach of his son, Garrett.
Simple words can’t describe the love I saw those two men show for one another that night. Garrett had given his all for his team, his school, his small town…and his dad. And now, it was over. Finished. Through.
tears flowed, and rightfully so. And while witnessing all of this, while standing between the two on the field, I missed coaching like I had at no other time this fall. It may not be at the high school level, but I will coach football again. Next fall. For sure. That type of emotion has been missing in my life, and I want it back…and football is the only thing that can provide it.
Watching Driskell coach his team in three different games cemented that decision. Here’s a guy I knew only from a chance meeting at a coaching clinic shortly after he had taken over the job from Steve Rampy. He was the guy who had edged out Paul Brown, my friend, for that job.
I can now see why the Blue Valley brass was so enamored with him. Driskell is integrity, aggressiveness, character, toughness and heart all rolled into one very impressive coach…and man.
My postgame interviews with him were like talks with a long-lost friend. He was quiet, yet always brutally honest. And he wears his emotions on his sleeve – and his love for his players and fellow coaches is always out front.
In other words, he’s just the kind of coach I want to be when I return next fall – maybe to a CYO sideline near you.
When I get there, I’ll have a little bit of a lot of great men inside me. And for that, I have PrepsKC to thank. Even if it did mean having to be in a stinkin’ press box on Friday nights in the fall.
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