By Dr. Zack Steele
I wish I could talk about eyes this week, but with the recent happenings at Hewitt, I won’t be.
Let me begin this column by saying I was not in favor of hiring Jim Sanderson as head coach of the Hewitt-Trussville basketball team. I have nothing against the guy, and from all accounts he’s a fantastic basketball coach and man. I was in the camp for hiring Jeremiah Millington, the longtime Husky assistant and former standout player. That ship sailed, however, last April when the powers -that-be elected to go with Sanderson, an experienced winner who has won a national championship at the small college level.
Jim Sanderson’s hiring was supposed to bring stability to a program that has seen a revolving door of head coaches since the end of the 2012 season.
If you remember, 2012 was the year Hewitt made its deepest run ever in into the basketball playoffs. Tim Reeves and Jeremiah Millington took a very young group to the regional finals, knocking off Mountain Brook along the way. Yes, Mountain Brook, the team that has won two of the last three state basketball titles. As a matter of fact, until Hoover knocked off the Spartans in the state finals last season, the last team to beat said Spartans in the postseason was Hewitt.
But Reeves was relieved of his duties following that season. Perhaps the powers-that-be wanted to go in a different direction. Perhaps they only wanted a coach that only coached basketball and didn’t split time with football. But a chain of events was set off that has left Hewitt basketball in disarray ever since.
For the 2012-13 season, the Huskies turned to Zane Arnold. His coaching style was more “in your face” than Reeves and more up-tempo. The results on the floor were less than optimal, as the Huskies finished with a 13-18 record. Arnold’s style was not suitable to the powers-that-be or to some of the parents of players. “Too brash” we heard.
Just like that, Arnold was out and the Huskies were in the market for a new coach.
Hewitt then turned to Mike Dutton, a longtime area coach and all-around nice guy. Dutton’s style was up-tempo, emphasizing getting off shots quickly on the fast break. A decent season in 2013-14 looked promising, but depth issues and personnel misfit for the style resulted in a 7-23 record in the 2014-15 season. The games were not even competitive, and changes had to be made.
At first, Hewitt flirted with the idea of hiring Jeremiah Millington as a co-head coach with Dutton, but elected to open the coaching search and eventually go with Sanderson.
It now appears Sanderson may never coach a game at Hewitt. Parents of a few players complained that his style is too harsh. Too much yelling and harsh discipline was his downfall, among other things.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t feel the team relationship portion fit the program and we decided to go in a different direction,” Athletic Director Karen Johns said in a statement.
I titled this column based on a chapter in the book “The Matheny Manifesto” by major league manager Mike Matheny; it’s a great read for anyone with a child in youth sports. The premise of the book is that parents are ruining sports for their children by screaming at them at games, meddling with coaches about discipline and playing time, and causing drama for their child’s team.
Since 2012, depending on who you ask, Hewitt has fired two basketball coaches — if you believe the press release, technically Arnold “resigned” — because one or two sets of parents had a problem with that coach’s style and philosophy. I translate that as “coach is too hard on my son, so I’ll raise a big enough stink that a change occurs.”
What does it say about our society when two or three sets of parents can complain enough about Jim Sanderson that the powers-that-be decide to remove him before he’s ever coached a game? Is the same policy in place for the chemistry or Spanish teacher who pushes the kids who make C’s who could be making A’s? Will the bus driver who speaks harshly to a child disrupting and potentially causing safety concerns on the bus lose their job if and when it happens?
I have had many coaches and teachers in my life that pushed me to be better. Several years ago I went back to my hometown and paid a visit to my old high school basketball coach at practice. He was an absolute tyrant. He’s won more than 750 games. I remember being berated by him so badly that I often thought about hanging up my sneakers. When I walked into the gym that day, he stopped his pre-practice talk to introduce me. “I rode Zack harder than any player I’ve ever had here,” the coach told his team. “But he was one of the tough ones and now they call him Dr. Steele.”
My point is that kids need to be pushed. Kids need to understand that nothing in this life comes easy. They don’t learn that life lesson unless they experience it. It will make that player a better and more productive adult one day.
Parents do their children a disservice when they complain about a coach working a kid too hard. School administrators do those kids a disservice by firing a coach because parents complain.
The most perplexing thing to me is the powers-that-be had to know what they were getting when they hired Jim Sanderson, who, much like his father, was known for being a fiery guy who pushed and got the most out of his kids. Why hire a coach like that and then not back up his methods? Everything that I heard from current players and parents was that he pushed the kids very hard, but never did anything malicious. The message sent by his dismissal before ever coaching a game is a disturbing one: If you don’t like the coach pushing your kid to be better, complain enough, and the powers-that-be will fire him and bring in someone new.
The chapter in Matheny’s book describes about how he was upset with one of his junior high coach about playing time. Yet his parents never said a word, even though he was probably better than the kid playing ahead of him. When Matheny complained to his parents, their reply? The coach is right, even if he’s wrong. And if a coach is doing his job, even if he’s wrong by being a little too tough on the players, he’s still right.