Coach's Corner: Sam Knopik 6/3

Sam Knopik

By Sam Knopik
Posted: June 17, 2010 - 12:12 PM

The Coach’s Corner is a place where several area coaches will give their views on the state of coaching at the high school level.

The American Football Coaches Association holds their national convention every January. Traditionally the AFCA has served the coaches from the NCAA but in recent years has begun to recognize NAIA and high school coaches as well. There are quite a few coaches from the Greater Kansas City area who attend every year and join the 6,000 other attendees for the four-day conference.

The AFCA Convention is unlike any other. Coaches would fall short of their assumption to think of it as a clinic. Rather, it is more like a week long football retreat. I have always returned with a feeling of having my batteries re-charged.

However, like anything else, a coach is only going to get out of the convention experience from what he puts in. Many of the topics and presenters are philosophy based, an extremely important and overlooked phase of a football program by young coaches. Other presenters are not even football coaches but touch on issues that hit the core of our profession.

Important presentations have been made on raising suicide prevention in our communities, public-speaking strategies, insight from players who have suffered a spinal cord injury and what is in place to assist them and their families. Some very powerful messages have been sent from former mafia members concerning sports-gambling, and this past winter I was energized by a presentation that challenged coaches to coach their player’s hearts for success.

However, for those who need to get their X’s and O’s fix they are not disappointed. There are several opportunities that are quite a bit different than your run of the mill football clinic. The only rules for these sessions are the presenter can only use the dry-erase board and he has no agenda. The discussions are generated from what the group wants to talk about.

Without a doubt the most productive and fun opportunities for X’s and O’s sessions are all around you at the convention. Always have a pen on you so you can turn an ordinary café napkin into a chalkboard with the guy you are having a coffee with. Better yet find those opportunities to be a part of a chalk talk on the patio window or mirror in a staff’s hotel room. These behind-the-scenes clinics offer more than a traditional clinic in their content but the rewarding element in the company you make in the process. It takes a little bit of work to do more than just sit in the back of an assembly hall but the payoff is outstanding.

Anyone who has gone to Convention has THEIR story, some coaches have several stories but there is always THE STORY that serves as his pinnacle convention experience. Typically this story comes from a coach’s first convention and that would be true in my own case.

However, in Nashville two years ago, it was the first convention of some friends of mine, we were in a downtown country music bar late one night because it was empty and the live music was more of our liking than the packed-in shoulder-to-shoulder place down the street. While the singer was doing an amazing rendition of Pancho and Lefty, Mike Leach and entourage, entered and found a seat in the back corner.

Two first year assistant coaches I was with had been talking about Mike Leach the whole trip and I thought these guys were going to pee their pants. They quickly gathered themselves and sent a whiskey up to the man. They were rewarded with a 20-minute bull session with Coach Leach who told them he couldn’t ever come back to Missouri due to “he was a wanted man.” But that is their story not mine, but it is good.

My first convention was in New Orleans 2003. Like my friends from Nashville I was a kid in a candy store. Here were my heroes. They were all there in living color not behind a barricade, or on a sideline, or on TV. They were sitting at the same dinner table with me, or sharing a beer with a buddy in the lobby. If this wasn’t heaven I knew I was close. I wanted to do everything I could at that convention including trying to get into meetings I wasn’t allowed. Some they let me stay and others I got booted out. I was like a sponge. I really had no idea what this event or organization was all about but I was going to find out.

My dad went with me that year and he had last been to an AFCA Convention in the early 1970s. Obviously, it has changed quite a bit since then including a climaxing Coach of the Year Dinner on the last night of the convention. Dad and I were riding the elevator back up to our room and with nearly 2,000 dinner guests all leaving at the same time you can imagine how crowded our elevator was. The last couple to enter was Larry Coker and his wife. Coach Coker’s Miami Hurricanes had just lost a heartbreaking National Championship game to the Ohio State Buckeyes days before. Can you imagine?

As the last one on the elevator he was obliged to stand aside each time somebody wanted off. As the departing coach walked by Coach Coker they would say something to the effect of, “Good game Coach,” and tap him on the side of the arm. With a genuine appreciation he would always reply with a nod of the head and, “Thanks.” So, this pattern of awkward wound tearing continued for about 15-floors. Finally the last guest had left the elevator leaving the Cokers, Dad and me. He turned to us and said, “Everybody keeps telling me good game. I thought it [expletive] sucked.” With that he and his wife exited the elevator and Dad and I exchanged high fives. That’s my story.

Sam Knopik is the head football coach at Pembroke Hill High School.