Winning Is Not Why I Coach (or Played)

It was 1994 and I enrolled at UMass Boston.  Pride had me turn down a scholarship to D2 American International as I felt I was D1 material (oh the teenage mind).  I had not played football since my senior year in high school (1989).  We started the season with 9 players.  We went on a recruiting mission to just field a team.  I believe we made it up to 19 players.  Coaches had to step in during practice when we scrimmaged.  My best friend on the Mike Kennedy and I loved practice.  We had this little pre-practice drill where we would race to a cone, square up and slam helmet to helmet to try and light each other up.  I still remember the vivid, multi-colored stars that resulted from these impacts.  We were so stupid, but it was fun.  I have had one neck surgery and am looking at another two.

We had little to no chance of winning on Saturday.  Iron man football is tough.  You can do it at the high school level and below, but the 4th quarter was always the great equalizer.  First game of the season we went into the 4th quarter down 7-0 and lost 34-0.  It was more of the same each week.  Week 6 we got crushed at Maine Maritime 56-0.  Part was being over-matched and other parts were guys sneaking their girlfriends into the hotel the night before and a ton of injuries.  We finished the game with 15 players, with 13 that were pretty healthy.  I got a 2nd degree sprain of my MCL early in the second quarter.  It was here that I truly understood why I played football and why winning was not of the greatest importance.  I told the trainer it didn’t hurt that bad and he did a criss-cross taping job to stabilize the knee.  I missed a few minutes and went back out on the field.  My brothers in the huddle told me to go back to the sideline.  I could barely walk.  I easily could have stayed on the bench.  We were down 49-0 at this point and nothing was working.  For me there was no other place I would rather be than on the field with my brothers.

The next week with a different line-up we had a first week tailback break the school record for longest TD run on consecutive offensive plays.  He rushed for close to 250 yards in a hard to swallow 46-32 loss to MIT.  We almost won the following week as we lost late to Fitchburg State 14-7.  The final game was a huge game.  We were 0-8 and our opponent Framingham State was 0-8.  The game became known as the Toilet Bowl.  They came out on the field and were truly intimidating.  Black helmets, visors, pants, jerseys…  We were playing Darth Vader’s team.  Well, we indeed did win the Toilet Bowl as we lost 19-0.

I finally came to the realization after that season that football was about more than winning.  I learned to play for the love of the game.  I learned to play for the other guys in the huddle; true brotherhood and family.  I played to punish the guy across from me.  It was this season that truly molded my mentality and how I approached coaching.

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As a coach I do not talk to my players about winning.  It is my job to mold them into football players that play because they love this great game.  My linemen are given one goal and that is to win the punishment battle.  We do not care about wins and losses.  We care about punishment.  Winning takes care of itself.  Winning titles had been fun, but it has been in defeat where I have been prouder of my players.  We had just won back to back state championships and were looking at replacing 90% of those players.  We struggled through a 5-6 season, but my players truly embraced the punishment mentality.  We went into the seventh game of the season at 3-4, but had been outscored 76-6 over the previous two weeks.  We had players quit the team.  We had players quit on themselves.  We had some great players step up.  Our fullback who was the MVP of the state championship game the season before offered to play TE.  That gave us one TE and played with a split end because we had to.  Our opponent that week had just beaten the top team in the state 15-8 the week before.  They were loaded.  The newspapers had us losing by 35 points.  We went out and did exactly what we had coached.  We punished them.  We beat the living crap out of them.  No we did not win on the scoreboard.  In fact, the 34-14 final was closer than you would think, but we had punished them.  My players walked by me at the end of the game and said “how do you like that?” referring to punishment.  Looking at their faces you would have thought we had won another state championship.  As we went through the line shaking hands we walk through with our heads held high.  Our opponent hobbled through with their heads down, helping each other along with the expression of pain in their faces.  They did not win another game after they played us.

Coach how you will and I will coach how I do.  I do not coach to win.  Scoreboard be damned.  It is about one thing and one thing only.  Play clean and play hard.  Play to punish the man across from you.  PUNISHMENT!  If winning is how you judge to success of your team then you are most likely going to be disappointed a lot of the time.    Some of you are loaded with talent.  It is not a luxury I usually have.  It is funny when coaches talk about the success they have had, especially at clinics.  The point to the video we are watching and point to the half-dozen D1 players they have on the field.  Well, you sure had better win with talent like that.  You really have to be simply incompetent to lose when you are loaded.  It is far more impressive to meet the coach who goes 6-5 with little talent and no college football prospects.  I would rather pick their brain to find out how they remain competitive year in and year out.

Submitted by Jeff Cziska

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