Buddy Ryan notwithstanding, assistant coaches are conditioned to stand in the shadow of their head coach.
They are reclusive. They are specialists. They are neither scapegoats nor heroes.
Yet at the center of any winning high school football team is a well-trained, tight-knit nucleus of assistant coaches.
Take Crespi, Canyon, Thousand Oaks and Granada Hills. Each has effective assistants. It is no coincidence that all probably will go to the playoffs this season--and have a combined record of 32-3-1.
Bill Redell, the coach at Crespi High and a burly, imposing man, says: "You won't find a better coaching staff in high school."
He admits he's prejudiced. But he believes. And it's hard not to believe him.
In his office, pictures of professionals such as Herschel Walker of the Dallas Cowboys and Randy Cross of the San Francisco 49ers hang on the walls. So does a picture of the late Portland Breakers team of the U.S. Football League.
Slick, colorful Crespi programs clutter his desk top. A thick playbook that makes "War and Peace" look like a pamphlet sits on a shelf. Inside it are more pro sets than most high school athletes can read in a semester, much less use.
The pro look to the nine-man coaching staff at Crespi starts with Redell.
"I don't teach any differently now than when I coached the Portland Breakers," says Redell, a quarterback in the Canadian Football League during the 1960s. "I just don't teach them as much. These kids are in a professional surrounding."
But Redell--who doubles as an administrator, organizer, and counselor--doesn't normally teach his players directly. That's the assistants' job.
"I coach the coaches," he says, "and the coaches coach the football team."
The assistants make a diverse group. His defensive coordinator is Frank Bean, who says he finds the work at Crespi more challenging than his previous job as linebacker and special teams coach for the Boston/New Orleans/Portland Breakers in the USFL.
"It's more of a teaching situation here than it is coaching," Bean says. "I have to be the best teacher that I can."
Kermit Alexander, the offensive back coach and Redell's friend of 25 years, played with the San Francisco 49ers and the Rams in his 14-year career. Jim Benkert, the offensive coordinator, has no professional experience but complements the Crespi coaching package.
Redell doesn't consider memorizing a playbook the most important criterion in his hiring strategy.
"The coaches here are my friends and they're of the highest character," Redell said. "The least of the reasons they're here is their football knowledge."
Says Benkert: "We all work well together. This is a team, a family. I wouldn't go to any other school.
Granada Hills Coach Darryl Stroh has been known to call his offensive coordinator Tom Harp a misguided liberal. Harp likewise likes to call Stroh a redneck.
"We laugh about it," Harp says. "When we're talking about political and social things, it seems like we're real different."
When they're coaching football, though, the two are in harmony.
"Our aims on the football field are the same; we both hate to lose," Harp says.
For two seasons, Stroh worked under Harp on Granada Hills' B team. For the past two seasons, Harp has served as an assistant under Stroh on the varsity.
Harp doesn't mind. He has enough to deal with as an assistant--like fielding abuse from the bleachers.
"I must have some kind of pull, the way they've been yelling from the stands this season," says Harp, who alone decides what the Highlanders do when they have the ball.
"Tom's totally in charge of the offense," Stroh says. "In fact, the less I know about the offense, the better. I don't find myself second-guessing. I respect what he does."
All the Granada Hills coaches, including veteran line coach Bill Lake, have distinct roles.
"I think the head coach has to do more of the motivating and discipline," Harp says. "Coach Stroh sets the tone. He has a little bit more responsibility. The head coach has to do more of the administrative things--scheduling, answering phones, managing the equipment."
And that leaves time for Harp to do what he enjoys most. "I like the game, the kids. I like coaching."
And he thrives on motivating his players.
"I believe in getting the kids to work hard because they want to, not because they have to," Harp says. "That's why I like being an assistant."
He's just a 5-8, 155-pound blip on a football field crowded with big Canyon Cowboys. He's just an assistant coach on a staff that produced a 46-game winning streak.
But still, people notice him. At practice. During a game. In the locker room.
That's because Brian (Scooter) Stiman, in his own words, is the "little guy with the big mouth."
Harry Welch calls him his co-coach.
Stiman yells at his players and grabs their face masks. He's not violent, but he's emotional. "That's my Italian temperament. I got it from my mother," Stiman says.
"I don't accept kids not giving their all. I don't accept kids breaking down."