It was just before practice on Friday evening and the last few parents were walking across the practice field toward our small group. Coach Frank’s team had already gone through its stretching routine and had left to run their lap before the real work would begin.
Frank is the kind of coach that you'd send your kid to when he doesn’t quite understand why he needs to work just as hard in the classroom as he does on the field. He's the coach who will teach your child why it's wrong to harass another child. He’s the coach who will always follow up with a phone call.
As he looked around to begin the parent's meeting, everything that had been a part of his work day was sent far away — perhaps to also take a few laps as to not interfere with his words to all of us. He is a man who like so many other coaches on the field, slip out of their business modes and into a mentor's role in the space of half a parking lot.
So by the time he began to speak, he'd forgotten that he’d just driven 30 miles home from work. Everything that had been a part of his work day had all been locked in the car — exchanged for a bag of football equipment.
In front of us was a man who could not hide his love for what he was there to do. Most of the parents were probably expecting to hear that the offensive line looked solid and the defense was as stingy as he’d seen in seven years of coaching in the league.
But Coach Frank wasn't there to speak to us about what type of offense he was running or who he thought his quarterback would be. He wasn’t there to discuss blitzes or sacks either.
That's not to say that he was not in his coaching mode — but Coach Frank doesn't just teach football. Sure the team runs through the same play 20 times a practice until they execute it perfectly. And they learn to tackle and block and everything else you'd expect a football coach to teach your football player.
But when Coach Frank is standing in front of the parents of his players, his smile is as big as three footballs. That is when he has you in his grip. And if you'd allow him, he'd tell a story about each and every one of his 24 players. Stories that would make you look at your child and the sport in a way that you would never expect to. His stories are as poignant as your favorite fairy tales and filled with the wonder that makes a football huddle sound like the Magic Kingdom.
To Coach Frank football is just a game. And you get the feeling that he wouldn't mind going undefeated and winning the championship. Just don't expect him to say it. There are more important things to do: like teaching respect and how to be a good teammate; like teaching how hard work during practice equals extra playing time on game day; and like how his job is to teach life lessons as much as proper blocking techniques.
You sense that winning games is a bonus to Coach Frank. The real rewards are the relationships built with teammates, the pride of being a part of something wonderful, and the trust in knowing that the person to your left or right is going to have your back.
He made it clear that he yells a lot — but with words of instruction and critiques that are constructive. If he needs to have a conversation with a player, it's always away from the others. If Mom and Dad need to be a part of it, they will get a quick invitation. Playing on his team is a privilege and bad behavior is the fastest way to lose it.
For as many coaches as there are that will run onto a field to assist in beating down a referee, there are a 1,000 more like Coach Frank. A thousand more like Coaches Chris and Justin, and Coaches Phil and Tony.
As the meeting ended, I could tell that every parent had gotten what they had come for: an understanding of what to expect from the coach; and that they could count on respect and communication being a two-way street.