For Dan Pride, who played linebacker alongside Dick Butkus with the mean and nasty Chicago Bears, coaching football at Coast Christian in Redondo Beach has been unusual, to say the least.
It's not just that Coast Christian has fewer than 80 students, plays eight-man football and doesn't have its own field to practice on or play games.
That was adjustment enough for a former pro.
But how does an ex-Bear deal with a team that, because of its good-natured Christian spirit, was too nice on the field.
That was the problem Pride faced when he took over the team last season.
"When I first started playing here, I'd never hit anything before in my life," center Grant Schauerman said. "At first, my blocking style was just to get in the way of the guy I was supposed to block. It felt funny hitting someone."
"Some of us used to go up to the line, look at a defensive lineman and say, 'He looks too nice to hit,' " fullback Dwight Engman said.
But not any more. Friday at 7:30, Coast Christian (11-0) will play St. Margaret's (10-1) for the CIF championship of the eight-man Small Schools Division at El Camino College. And you can be certain that they will hit their opponents--hard and often.
"We used to want to find ways around defenders, now we want to go through them," defensive tackle Grant Anderson said. "If we get a sack, we want to make a lasting impression on the quarterback, pound him into the ground and make him remember who we are."
But the compassion is still there.
If an opponent is hit and doesn't get up immediately, the team drops down on their knees in the huddle and prays for the player. In fact, even before the game begins, the team prays for a safe, injury-free game. After the game, they pray and thank God that no one was hurt.
"For the past two years, I've told the team almost every day that you don't have to become mean to play football," Pride said, who led Coast to the CIF semifinals last year in his first year as coach. "But only to develop good work habits and to work to the best of your capability, which takes some aggression."
Yes, the Saints--the school's nickname--are the same nice guys who go to church together every Wednesday night. They only have changed the way they view football.
"I've had to teach the players how to change their personality, to play tougher and more aggressive," Pride said. "I push, drive and train them as hard as I did when I played with the Bears. Some of the parents objected to that at first, but once we started winning and they saw the discipline I'd been striving for carrying over to other parts of the kids' lives, they supported me.
"I tell the kids you can listen to me tell you to get tougher and more aggressive but only you can do it."
"Because most of us are Christians, we have to be schizophrenic," Anderson said. "You have to become an animal sometimes to make a tackle or block. We don't play dirty or take cheap shots, but just play aggressive and hit our opponents hard."
One opponent, however, which was losing by more than 20 points, began to play dirty, according to Anderson.
Opposing players "were taking swings at two of our players," Anderson said. "We don't like that, but we'll talk with our pads and plays. We had a big lead, I can understand how tempers might flare."
Pride believes that the prayers before the game help his team remain calm. "It helps clears our minds and gives us peace, reminding us why we are out there, which is not to fight but win," he said.
Pride said praying also gives his team an advantage. "We don't pray to win, but just to play to the best of our ability," Pride said. "It helps to know that when everybody is playing their hardest, we also have faith in God to let us play our best."
Pride may be far removed from Wrigley Field in Chicago and his NFL glory days from 1969 through 1971, but he is enjoying teaching and coaching.
Although the crowds at Coast games aren't large, they are noisy. A pep club of 30 members cheers almost nonstop, and family, friends and former players boost attendance to about 125 at home games (at Mira Costa), more than the school's enrollment. Every time Coast scores a touchdown, "When the Saints Go Marching In" crackles from a tape cassette player and everyone sings along.
"I've thought about coaching at a bigger school," said Pride, who has coached on the high school level for the past 10 years. "But every year a new crop of kids comes in, and they believe in you and you get faith in them."