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Earning the Name on the Jacket

The older I get, the more I have come to realize that the greatest and long-lasting lessons I have learned in my life have come with a certain degree of humiliation and perseverance.

Humiliation is a tremendous motivator, that is, if one allows it to be.

In 1979, during my first year of full-time teaching and coaching, I was appointed to be the head coach of the freshman football team. It was my first e crack at being a football coach and by the grace of God , Trinity-Pawling gave me an assistant coach named Carl “Popeye” Ray, an alum of the school and former All-American center at Dartmouth College.

Carl Ray should have been the head coach. But, he would have nothing of it. He genuinely wanted me and the boys to succeed and did everything he could to try to make that happen. Carl taught us football in the purest sense. He also taught us valuable life lessons. Most of all, he taught us that winning at football had little to do with the final score, but everything to do with bonding as brothers who left everything they had on the football field.

How fortunate I was to begin my football coaching career learning from a legendary football man in Carl Ray. You might recall I wrote about Carl in this article, titled “Coach Popeye”:

https://www.revengeofthebirds.com/2021/8/27/22644228/coach-popeye

As the head coach of the freshman team, I was asked to be be a Varsity assistant on game days. The coaching staff met every Saturday morning at breakfast in the school refectory and head coach Dexter Morse and defensive coordinator John Hutchinson would go over the game plans. The athletic director, Miles Hubbard would lay out the schedule for the day.

Five minutes into the first meeting, I knew I was in the presence of three extraordinary coaches, each in his own unique way.

Dexter Morse was a happy-go-lucky coach who always went about his business making the boys laugh, bonding with them as individuals and getting them fired up. He was a coach who always acted like he was playing with house money. Dexter ran the offense like a riverboat gambler. Back in 1979 some teams were still playing the wishbone and wing-T. Instead, Dexter ran a pro style offense, which pleased the Rooney family because Danny, Art Rooney’s grandson, was our version of Terry Bradshaw.

I will never forget the day when we were practicing on the Varsity field and three Mayflower moving vans pulled up to unload a treasure trove on Pittsburgh Steelers’ 5 man and 2 man sleds, tackling dummies and goal post pads.

John Hutchinson, as defensive coordinator (and much lauded Varsity baseball coach who helped to develop pitcher Kirk McCaskill into a major league star for the Angels and White Sox and Mo Vaughn as an American League MVP with the Red Sox), was the perfect “bad cop” to Dexter’s “good cop.” “Hutch” was a no-nonsense, do everything right by the book teacher of the game. His defensive game plans were meticulous and tailored each week to the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. Hutch always believed in playing the best players, regardless of their seniority, which is why he had no reluctance to start Mo Vaughn at linebacker as a freshman.

By the time I had arrived in 1979, athletic director and head basketball coach Miles Hubbard was already considered a legend in those parts. His basketball teams were always at or near the top of the league Tri-State League standings and were perennial invites to the New England Class B Championships for being one of the top 8 teams in the region.

Of the three, I had already met Miles Hubbard because he had already asked be to be his JV basketball coach and his assistant on Varsity. I had assumed the same role at Ridgefield (CT) High School the year before, Thus, a week before school started he invited me up to a watering hole on Route 22 where was drank Miller Lites and drew plays on cocktail napkins.

I will never forget that first evening I met with Miles and how, even as a coaching legend, he opened the conversation by saying, “You know, Walt, I’ve been doing this thing for close to 20 years, but I will be the first to admit I still have a lot to learn about the game. So, tell me what kind of man offense did you run at Ridgefield?”

So, it was at that first coaches’ breakfast that I learned from Dexter that my role on game days was to relay Hutch’s signals and suggestions to him on the sidelines that Hutch would walkie-talkie down to me from the coaches’ tower.

Leave it to me —- I would quickly manage to screw that assignment up.

At a key juncture of the first game, while high fiving the players after Danny Rooney fired a perfect 35 yard pass to Kevin McClatchey (future owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates), my walkie-talkie must have gotten turned off. Moments later, in one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, the whole fan section behind me shouted in unison “HEY WALT”!

When I turned around, there was Hutch waving to me to turn my walkie-talkie back on. Dexter had to call a timeout, because we weren’t able to get Hutch’s call for the defense in on time. I could tell that Hutch was fuming. And rightfully so. On the other hand, Dexter found the whole incident hysterical. He said that from now on he was going to tape a “HEY WALT” sign on the back of my football jacket.

Over a couple of beers that night up at Miles’ house, Miles pulled me aside and said, “HEY WALT! If there is one guy you need to earn the trust of it’s Hutch. He holds everyone to the highest of standards, which is why he is such a great coach. Just so you know, Walt.”

Therefore, speaking about football jackets, during the first game I noticed that Dexter, Hutch and Miles wore navy blue TP jackets (pictured above) with their names (Coach Morse, Coach Hutchinson and Coach Hubbard) embroidered in gold opposite the gold TB emblem.

That week I went to the school store nd bought the jacket. Now all that was missing was “Coach Mitchell” embroidered in gold opposite the TP.

At the next game day breakfast meeting I asked the coaches if I could get my name embroidered on the jacket. Dexter laughed and Hutch rolled his eyes. Miles said, “I’ll cue you in on that after meeting, Walt.”

After the meeting Miles said, “Listen Walt, we have a tradition here that when the students and the coaches decide that a coach deserves to have his name embroidered on the jacket, they will all pitch in and give you one. It takes time and effort, Walt.”

Later that year, I asked Miles if he and the coaches wouldn’t mind presenting Carl Ray with one of the jackets. What a great joy it was to see Miles hand the “Coach Ray” jacket over to him at the freshman football banquet that Carl and his dear wife Ruth hosted at their house. The jacket meant a lot to Carl and Ruth, the players and me.

After my first year as head coach of the freshman team, Dexter promoted me to head JV coach and by my fourth year he promoted me to full-time Varsity assistant.

In that fourth year, when I arrived for the first day of tryouts, I opened up my locker and there it was —- the TP jacket with Coach Mitchell embroidered to the right of the buttons.

Dexter, Hutch and Miles had been lurking in the shadows and just as I pulled the jacket out from the locker they ran over and shouted, “HEY WALT!”

In terms of being on a team of brilliant coaches, it was the proudest moment of my coaching career.

Perhaps this may shed some light as to why I feel so adamant that Kyler Murray wait another year to earn his stripes. For those of you calling me a “Kyler hater”, you are getting me wrong. I believe in Kyler’s unique talents, but I strongly believe that if Kyler takes a more humble approach in trying to earn his payday, then he and the team would be far better off.

One of the worries about Kyler is that he has been given too much, too soon.

What I learned from the jacket experience is that the best way to be rewarded is not to ask to be rewarded, particularly when I hadn’t deserved it yet —- but, it comes ever so more sweetly when the key figures around you are the ones to decide when you have earned it.

This is why I believe that being humble, highly motivated and held to the highest standards is the best ticket to an everlasting legacy and level of achievement, the kind where one’s name can last in people’s hearts and minds forever.

Miles Hubbard —- The Miles H. Hubbard Court at Trinity-Pawling School

https://www.trinitypawling.org/alumni/mileshubbard

Dexter Morse —- Dexter and Barbara Morse Field at Worcester Academy

https://www.worcesteracademy.org/news-detail?pk=643603

John W. Hutchinson —- The Elizabeth Hutchinson Scholarship Fund Trinity-Pawling School

Elizabeth A. Hutchinson Memorial Scholarship Fund

Established by husband (John W. Hutchinson) and daughters (Laura and Christa) in

Liz’s memory. Elizabeth was a teacher of French and active member of the community

at Trinity-Pawling for two decades (1975-1995). The scholarship is awarded annually

to a student of good character and motivation who makes a positive contribution to the

is given to the boy’s involvement with foreign language (French) and athletics.

Mo Vaughn —- Mo Vaughn Field at Trinity-Pawling

The man at the podium is Miles Hubbard. The big man accepting the dedication is Mo Vaughn.

John Hutchinson is the first one to shake Mo Vaughn’s hand (at the end of the video) after the dedication plaque is unveiled.

“My name is more important than myself.”

— Pierre Cardin.