Friday, July 29, 2011

The Coach's Argument

"Congratulations, coach!"

Coach Stevens couldn't go anywhere without hearing that same refrain. That's what happens when you've made an epic run to become world champion. But while the rest of the staff and players celebrated with abandon dancing on cloud nine, Coach Stevens remained in purgatory's prison. He was still reliving The Argument.

Halfway through the playoff run the team was faltering, down 2-1 in a five game series with the outlook dark and grim. Something had to change or they'd be watching the rest of the playoffs from home. In the coaching room, tempers flared between the staff members, each arguing his own solution that "has to be!" Stevens had been the most adamant of all. He'd been right before and he was right again and the doom he predicted if his strategy was not embraced would be fatal and complete.

"You better goddam listen to me! This thing's not going to work any other way!"

But he was wrong, wrong as could be. In fact, hearing him speak only crystallized the correct decision for the head coach after hearing how wrong the alternative sounded. The next game proved the decision correct, Coach Stevens wrong and as the team soared ever higher Stevens sunk ever lower, never making it passed the night of The Argument. True, part of him still enjoyed the success but his heart was not in it. They had won, he had lost.

With a manicured, detailed lawn and a house stocked with every amenity a man making $400,000 a year should have, the coach's home was his glorified tomb. The muted big screen on which he'd studied so many game films that enabled him to present his own little piece of truth to contribute to the greater good now spewed images of players celebrating with the heart and guts champions require – but a championship stillborn had the coach had his way with his erroneous advice.

The glass tumbler engraved with the team's logo brimmed to the edge with medicine from Dr. Jack Daniels. With nothing to offer where was his future? Was he just going to keep making bad argument after bad argument for the rest of his career? Negative, faithless, stubborn - a dead rock around the neck of the franchise. It had to be coming, the dreaded off-season phone call. How many times had he helped decide a player's fate, speaking of the necessity to cut ties once and for all?

The clarity of the cure had always been his ally. Now he was the disease. Where would he go? Go back to coaching college or even high school? What if the freefall continued unabated? What if he couldn't teach at any level without offering the wrong decision? Not for a second had the coach ever doubted his career, the one thing in life he could count on. “Coach Stevens always brings something valuable to the table.” How did he end up this has-been, his winning vision lost?

As the square glass bottle emptied itself into the coach's mournful soul no answers came. What could he do? Ask his successful neighbors for help, to see life for him? It was as if the clock struck midnight and he was a coach no more. For the rest of his days he'd have to explain his fall from grace, working as a clerk in a back room listening to endless whispers of "he was somebody once". Better he'd never been a coach at all than live with this public shame the rest of his life.

Once again he heard the angry, adamant tenor of his voice: "You better goddam listen to me! This thing's not going to work any other way! I can't make this house what it should be, it's stuck the way it is!"

Only this time the angry face raged from almost a year ago, right there in his living room to a wife he'd been pushing away for years. Like a sink hole, his inadequacies pulled him further and further away from her but never did he say a word. Their life melted into a lie, a house of cards that could no longer stand. He couldn't tell her his truth: he wasn't good enough for her anymore. She'd been the light of his life, they marrying on a prayer. But the final leap of faith the coach never made, instead slipping back into the darkness, blinding him from the reality of their love.

Divorce was supposed to solve all his problems - but it only cemented them.

This dream season - the one that should have been the happiest of his life - saw a coach increasingly agitated, easily frustrated when a solution did not present itself right away. Sometimes he argued for argument's sake, not even agreeing with his own staked position. Of decisions he was hyper-critical, of remarks hyper-judgemental. The coach fell to be possessed by a curious drive to find a fact about which he and he alone was correct and the rest of the world wholly in the wrong. The more he chased this rainbow's end the more enthralled his desire to be The Only Right Man, his definition of winning redefined.

Just as in his marriage, the coach's spirit slowly split apart from the team. Hands were extended in friendship but his hard heart refused. They just couldn't understand what he was going through. As a man, he was finished without his wife. As a coach, he was finished without being a man. How could he believe he cared about the good of the team anymore? His vendetta on life all that mattered in his stubborn refusal to come clean.

"Damn, the bottle's empty."


News reports the following day showed genuine shock and grief with the apparent suicide of Coach Randall Stevens. To have the team's dream season marred by his loss saddened them to think he could not share in the celebration. Some privately wondered about the effects of the divorce but he'd been one who'd offered often brilliant advice and only that aspect they chose to share on camera. As the dirt piled on his grave, many wondered who was this man they’d worked with for so many close years.

How fleeting success when living on the run from love.

The meaning of success

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