Parents, quite naturally, want the best for their children. Football coaches who hope to keep being football coaches want what's best for their teams. It is an unfortunate reality for both parties that the desires of each don't always coincide.
The result is a parent-coach relationship that is sometimes far from buddy-buddy.
Parental pride can be a wonderful thing, but it doesn't exactly lend itself to impartiality. Asking a father to give an unbiased evaluation of his son's athletic talent is like asking a playwright to review his own play.
So, being subjected to second-guessing--some of it downright nasty--is an unwritten part of every prep football coach's job description. Mike Milner, Fountain Valley High School coach, has learned to be philosophical about it.
"The way I look at it is this," he said. "There are three things everybody thinks they can do. Number one is make a movie. Number two is write a book. Number three is coach a football team."
What makes it different at the prep level is that parents can voice their opinions from the stands every Friday night--usually well within earshot of the coach in question--or at the booster club meeting the following Tuesday. Some parents are able to harness their pride enough to limit themselves to dropping a subtle hint or posing a polite inquiry. Others, as Orange County coaches can attest, make rude and sometimes insolent demands.
The majority of the complaints, coaches say, stem from playing time, or lack of it. There are only 22 starting positions on a team, and for nearly every player who isn't among the starters, there's a parent or two who thinks he should be.
Milner said he has been fortunate to work with some supportive parents during his six years at Fountain Valley. But bad apples can leave a bitter aftertaste that's difficult to get rid of.
"I've been threatened physically several times by parents whose sons were not playing," Milner said. "I've had parents tell me that if their kids didn't get scholarships to Arizona State or UCLA or wherever, they would sue me.
"You get some over-achieving parents who live and die with their sons and they get carried away. We tell our kids they can come to us and ask us why they're not playing and we'll be very honest with them and explain what areas they need to improve in to become better players. But sometimes when parents come to us and ask why their son isn't playing and we're very honest with them, it's difficult for them to take."
Jim Rawls, Garden Grove coach: "I think when you become a head football coach you become a politician. Like it or not, the parents are important to our careers. Sometimes, you have to say what they want to hear. Most parents who are so involved with their kid's athletic careers can't deal with truth."
Ed Blanton, Estancia coach, remembering the reaction of the father of a quarterback who had been benched in favor of a player who went on to become an all-league selection: "I don't think he'd spit on me if I was on fire."
Bob Lester, El Modena coach: "Every coach who's been in the business for a while has had a bad experience with parents."
The following is a look at a few that stood out in the minds of area coaches. Some were recalled with laughter. Others weren't so funny.
Just This Once, For Aunt Millie and Uncle George--A personal favorite of Milner's involves a second-string receiver whose position was occupied by one of the team's most talented players. Milner said his receiver coach got a phone call a few days before an important game. The caller was the father of the back-up receiver.
Milner: "The conversation went basically like this. The father said, 'I have relatives coming in from back East to see my son play. They're coming a long way. I wonder if you could start my son in the game.'
"He was asking my assistant to start a kid over someone who had earned that position from the beginning of the season."
Milner characterized the reserve player as talented, but not hard working. The decision of the coaching staff was to keep him on the bench and start the more deserving player.
"The father did not understand our reasoning," Milner said. "My coach said something to the effect that he was not Father Flanagan and this wasn't Boys Town."
The Not-So-Subtle Approach--Lester recalled an instance in which a father resorted to plain and simple intimidation in an effort to get his son in the starting lineup.
"I was threatened one time to play a kid, or else ," he said. "It was this great big Samoan guy. His son was the worst player in the world. He didn't say what the circumstance would be if I didn't play the kid, but before the game, his wife came to me and said, 'You'd better do what he says. He's crazy.'
"I didn't play the kid. After the game, I kept my big line coach right by my side, just in case, but nothing happened."