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Higher calling maybe by staying at high school level?
 

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Higher calling maybe by staying at high school level?
  • Auburn's Gus Malzahn took a successful high school coaching career all the way to Monday night's BCS Championship Game against Florida State.

    Auburn's Gus Malzahn took a successful high school coaching career all the way to Monday night's BCS Championship Game against Florida State. Associated Press

Some high school football coaches who roamed the sidelines last fall could be next to graduate into the college ranks.

At least that's what this Monday morning headline on Yahoo Sports indicated: "Auburn's Gus Malzahn proving high school coaches can get it done at the next level."

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A few hours later Malzahn led Auburn into college football's national-championship game against Florida State. The Tigers' coach didn't just pass through the prep ranks. He spent a combined 14 seasons at three Arkansas high schools.

So it can be done. A coach can matriculate up from interscholastic football to intercollegiate football.

"Oh," Pat Forde quoted Malzahn on Yahoo, "there's some great high school coaches out there that just given the opportunity could be doing the exact same things I'm doing here."

Hopefully, he's correct.

Just as hopefully, the best will resist the urge.

That's selfish of me, but it just seems that good coaches are needed more in high school than in college. "Good" means the ones who not only can coach but who can mentor and guide and serve as a conscience and overall help young men grow from boys into men.

Of course, this is a version of, "How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paris?" When a high school coach sees Malzahn command such a big paycheck, that much attention and so much glory, it would have to be a tough package to resist.

But is it as enjoyable as what Malzahn experienced as recently as eight years ago? Maybe, but maybe not by much.

"You know," Auburn's coach was quoted by Yahoo as saying, "some of the fun things about coaching high school is mowing grass and moving water pipes and clearing out locker rooms and toilets."

Now, I'm not sure how many coaches out here in the suburbs have to carry out those duties or, if they do, look upon them fondly. But there's something sort of romantic about it.

"I think that's the grass roots," Malzahn's quote continued. "That's where you really learn your work ethic and really your appreciation."

Then on Friday night or Saturday afternoon, everything becomes even more worthwhile when a youngster who once tripped over chalk lines crosses one to score a winning touchdown.

Or even better, he translates in the classroom some of the lessons he learned on the field, or goes on to become a great teammate in the workplace, or becomes secure enough in himself to become a good husband, father and citizen.

Oh, yes, I suppose that a big-time college coach can exercise similar influence but too often relationships with boosters are more important than relationships with players.

Don't blame the coaches; blame the system in which winning, money and marketing are loftier priorities.

It's only natural for a coach to want to graduate from high school to college and then maybe even to the NFL. The American way is to be ambitious, always aspiring to do more, always moving upward and onward financially, professionally and personally.

Anybody might find it difficult to believe that staying on the high school level and molding the character of kids is more rewarding than being paid millions of dollars while preparing bigger kids for pro football.

Thank goodness thousands of coaches remain dedicated to prep sports. More than a few are qualified for the next level, but they recognize that a higher calling isn't always, well, a higher calling.

So, cheers to Gus Malzahn for his Coach of the Year consideration in the college ranks.

But bigger cheers to high school coaches for the work they do with much less fanfare around the suburbs, the state and the country.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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