Baseball Hall of Fame broadcaster Joe Garagiola’s first book was titled, “Baseball Is a Funny Game.”
It turns out, so, too, is football.
At least, that’s how it seemed last week during two key sessions at the New Mexico High School Coaches Association’s annual clinic at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Albuquerque.
“You love football more than me,” Bobby Bowden recalled his wife claiming. He had the perfect reply: “College or pro?”
Coaches had the opportunity to hear Bowden talk a lot about his career, most notably at Florida State, on Tuesday and then 12-year NFL veteran Mark Schlereth spoke to them on Wednesday.
Both were priceless — with a lot of similarities, if one was listening closely: Bobby Bowden, 57 years a coach; Mark Schlereth, a dozen years in the NFL.
Bowden, 84, coached the Florida State Seminoles from 1976 to 2009. During his time at Florida State, Bowden led FSU to an Associated Press and Coaches Poll National Title in 1993 and a BCS National Championship in 1999, as well as 12 Atlantic Coast Conference championships since FSU joined the conference in 1991.
After a difficult 2009 season and amid questioning fans, Bowden announced his retirement from FSU on December 1, 2009, just weeks after his 80th birthday. His final coaching appearance was the 2010 Gator Bowl game on January 1, 2010, with a 33-21 victory over his former program, West Virginia.
Bowden finished his career second in all-time wins by a Division I-FBS coach with 389 wins. A March 6, 2009, NCAA ruling requiring Florida State to “vacate wins for any games in which an ineligible player participated,” threatened to remove as many as 14 of Bowden’s wins from the 2006 and 2007 seasons in relation to an academic scandal; Florida State appealed the ruling. The NCAA upheld the ruling on January 5, 2010. Upon final investigation by FSU, it was determined that Bowden would vacate 12 wins, bringing his final career record to 377-129-4.
Bowden said it was his first time in New Mexico, and he liked what he’d seen.
Cibola High girls basketball coach Lori Mabrey, who lives in Rio Rancho, picked him up at the airport and said when Bowden got in the car — wanting to sit in the back, seeing that a woman was driving — he was hungry. She and her husband Buster, executive director of the NMHSCA, drove the old coach to the Frontier Restaurant, where they made sure he ate some green chile stew.
After receiving an introduction and applause from the jam-packed room, Bowden probably surprised some when he said he doesn’t go to football games anymore.
“I’m one of those guys who’d rather watch it on TV than fight the crowds and the parking,” he said.
Noting he’d had “six different jobs,” he said, “I’ve learned a lot. I ain’t talking X’s and O’s. There might be some things that might help you … maybe one idea that might win you a ballgame.”
Basically, here are Bowden’s topics:
Pressure: “When I was coaching, I did my best not to put pressure on my boys,” he said, refusing to say that a win in the upcoming game could get them a championship. “I would talk to them about the possibilities . … Just do your best — can you do any better than that?”
Parents: When a parent would inquire why his/her son wasn’t playing, even though he was better than the kid playing that position, Bowden would stray into genetics and how it was the parents’ fault the kid wasn’t good enough to be playing.
“You don’t win games, you lose them.” Bowden said the Seminoles would beat themselves and it was important to “correct the errors where you won’t be repeating them.”
‘We’ve all been fired.” Bowden mentioned his three sons who are coaching or have coached and a son-in-law who’s an assistant to one of his sons. “We all got one thing in common: We’ve all been fired.”
Then, he provided a lengthy list of advice, some followed by jokes:
- Get mentally tough or get out of coaching.
- You may be wrong, but you’re the boss.
- Don’t listen to the fans, or soon you’ll be sitting with them.
- The greatest mistake is to continue practicing a mistake, and you can’t coach dumb players.
- Team rights supercede individual rights.
- Responsibility (thrust upon an assistant) without authority will fail.
- If you got two partners that always agree, one of them is not necessary.
- The best steel must go through the hottest fire.
- If you can’t train a dog to do what you want him to do, train him to do what he can do.
- If you get a lemon, make lemonade. After that, add a little vodka.
- Dependability is more important than ability.
- Persistence is a great thing. Here, Bowden told a story about installing a large sign on the practice field that said “Persistence.” Later, he added another large sign, “Enthusiasm.” The next sign read “I am the boss” and put it on the tower, from where he coached at practice. “Three days later, my wife came and took it back home,” he said.
- Nothing is accomplished without enthusiasm.
- Hire the best men available (to be assistants).
- Performance, not potential, is what counts.
- Treat each job like it’s the last one you’ll have.
- Read Proverbs.
Mark “Stink” Schlereth, 48, who said you don’t pick your own nickname, it’s foisted on you, showed he may have potential as a standup comic.
But it was as a football player that he gained his fame — “From the time I was 12, the only thing I wanted to be was a professional football player” — although he’s gained notoriety as an ESPN-TV analyst and ESPN-Radio show co-host (the Sedano & Stink Show originated from ESPN Radio 101.7′s studio in Rio Rancho Tuesday evening); had a role for two years on “The Guiding Light” (he was Det. Roc Hoover) and had bit parts in a couple of movies.
He’s proudest, though, of being a husband and a father. (His son Daniel is a professional baseball pitcher, currently playing with Class AAA Toledo.)
Born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, where his high school football team played only seven games each season, he said he was fortunate to get a scholarship to the University of Idaho.
His choices had come down to Idaho and Hawaii; he decided against Hawaii because he had grown used to 55 degrees and drizzle. “Sunshine and 82 degrees (in Hawaii)? I would’ve gone crazy.”
He told how he “whined, begged and pleaded” to get his senior season on the team, after he’d been “retired” by the team because of injuries. He admitted he wasn’t the best student, majoring in general studies and proclaiming, “My education is an inch deep and a mile wide — I can talk all day in generalities.”
He’s had 29 knee surgeries, and worked hard to play six seasons for the Washington Redskins, who took him in the 10th round of the 1989 draft. He then played six seasons in Denver, and has three Super Bowl rings.
Schlereth, the starting left guard, “singlehandedly won Super Bowl XXXII,” remembered for the “helicopter play” on third-and-6 executed by quarterback John Elway that led to the win over the Packers.
“Had I not missed my block, he would have never been forced out of the pocket. … Bronco fans, you’re welcome,” he said, to a room full of applause and laughter.
Schlereth said he predicted the Broncos would win anyway, given it was being played on Jan. 25, his birthday — and he would be turning XXXII on the day of Super Bowl XXXII.
That was certainly a highlight of his journey, which he said is better than the destination. That journey included showing up at NFL tryouts of an Idaho teammate, Marv Washington, and catching some much-needed attention from the scouts.
He has fond memories of playing for head coach Joe Gibb, in Washington, where he played in the Redskins’ victory in Super Bowl XXVI, and for Mike Shanahan in the Mile High City. He was sorry to see the Redskins cut him, after they decided he wasn’t going to be able to help them anymore.
“It felt great every time we played Washington and shoved it up their cans,” he said. And, as a Bronco, he enjoyed beating the Oakland Raiders, whom he said were 1-11 vs. his Denver teams.
He almost echoed what Bowden had said on a few topics:
Importance of role models: Schlereth credited his parents, his high school coach and his college and NFL coaches. “You (coaches) have the opportunity and obligation to impact guys you coach.”
The relationship business: “Every one of us is in the relationship business,” he said, “and we all have to develop those relationships.”
It’s important to set your priorities, with your family and your god ahead of the game.
Schlereth also referenced reading the Bible, quoting his favorite scripture.
“Lose yourself — it’s about us,” he said, referring to the team and not individuals.
Schlereth said Gibbs talked about players making plays for the first three quarters, and then having integrity and character win the game in the fourth quarter. “Lead from the seat or lead from your feet,. … Get involved.”
Proud of his years in the NFL and his ability to play hurt and for the good of the team, Schlereth pointed out, “Playing pro sports doesn’t make you a professional.”
All those listening to the former NFL player had no doubt they’d been hearing from a real professional.