After all the recent bad football news, it might be time to pat some good people on the back.
Two weeks ago, I was invited by the McNamara Academic Center to be the honorary football coach for last week’s San Jose State game. Coincidentally, this is the first time in my more than 20 years at the University that there are three football players in one of my classes. I know — bear with me.
While growing up many years ago on the south side of Chicago, I was imbued with more than my fair share of cynicism. I have never attended a football game for several reasons, although I do watch the games on television.
I had an enjoyable, enlightening experience. On Tuesday afternoon, I met with the academic advising staff who said that the Honorary Coach program is intended to provide opportunities for faculty and staff to obtain an “insider’s view” of the University of Minnesota’s football program and gain insight into the role of athletics in the lives of student-athletes. People were up front in saying that having football players in my class contributed to my invitation.
I talked at length during many activities about the academic lives of university athletes. I came away very impressed with the efforts of the academic advisers, the program they run and the interests and performance of the players they counsel.
Of course there is football. Later Tuesday afternoon, I attended a position meeting and the team practice. The quarterback’s meeting was interesting. The if-then play calling plan based on observations of the opponent’s previous games may fit with our emphasis on fostering critical thinking, especially when implemented in real time in a game with teams adapting to changing situations.
I spent most of the team practice time talking about the place of academic advising in what I found to be a huge athletics operation. But it was impossible not to be caught up in the individual and team activities. Footballs flying; coaches coaching, music playing; players and coaches becoming individuals, not stereotypes — it was an amazing show and experience.
The highlight of the week was Saturday. The world’s greatest granddaughter and I were on the field for pre-game warm-ups and in the locker room for the pre-game speech. On the field, we were two wide-eyed rookies in the center of a real spectacle. Running onto the field with the team — wow. The game? It was a success, but I would have called a few different plays.
Have I gained any techniques to use in my teaching from the coaching I observed? Yes, but I cannot list them, as we coaches don’t reveal our advantages.
I’ve not yet drunk the Gatorade, but have had a few sips.