Bill Marlow heard the knock on the door last spring, but he wasn't going to budge. Not with pizza on the dinner table and the NBA playoffs on TV.
And certainly not when he saw who was waiting outside.
'I wasn't going to open the door," says Marlow, a Laguna Beach High School senior. "But my mom made me."
Enter the intruder.
Mike Barron, Laguna Beach's new football coach, invited himself in and offered the family a great big howdy.
How about some pizza? they asked. No thanks, he answered. I'm here to talk football. You know, the game this town seems to have plumb forgot. Anyway, I just came by to tell you I expect to see ol' Bill here tomorrow at spring practice. And I don't want to take no for an answer. Well then. It's settled. See you there. Good night.
And so it went. From Emerald Bay to Arch Beach Heights, Barron traveled the streets of Laguna Beach last spring with his high-powered sales pitch. Suddenly, boys all over the city were saying yes to suiting up and working out. Saying yes to the one sport they always thought was uncool.
It was the beginning of Barron's grand plan: Boost the number of Artist players, instill some pride and positive thinking, and soon you'll be on your way to recovering from the ugliness of the past four years--specifically, the 6-33 record Laguna Beach has since winning the Pacific Coast League title in 1987.
Trying to revive struggling programs is nothing new for Barron, a 50-year-old Bob Uecker look-alike. Before a community college pit stop--he spent the last two seasons as an assistant coach at Rancho Santiago--Barron was the head coach at Santiago and Buena Park, a woe-is-me combination if there ever was one.
In his only season at Buena Park, 1986, Barron went 0-9-1, tying Rancho Alamitos in the season opener, and getting whomped by Troy, 63-7, in the season finale. He had better luck--statistically anyway--at Santiago, going 14-15-2 over three years.
Barron believes Laguna Beach offers a much more viable opportunity. Even with only about 600 students, the school has been a success in certain sports, proving that a winning attitude exists. The football program simply needs to tap into the source--and stay with it.
"Last year," Barron says, "the sophomore team went 7-3. You'd think those kids would come out. They didn't."
He slams his fist on his desk. The room shakes.
He says he made 600 phone calls last spring, trying to persuade boys to come out for football. The response, he says, was unimpressive. Although there are 78 boys in the program--23 on varsity--Barron knows there are plenty of potential team members out there. For example, the 220-pounder who wanted to spend his after-school hours taking French lessons.
"They all said they just didn't want to play football," Barron says, lowering his voice. "It's just not a priority here."
So Barron and the Artists do what they can. Which at this point means working hard, playing tough and being happy with their first victory of the season last week, despite the fact it was against the Dana Hills junior varsity.
Ask the Artists about Barron's methods, and nearly all roll their eyes. Apparently, laid-back Laguna has finally met with intensity and discipline. At the start of the season, Barron requires each player to pledge to a "Code of Pride" (act like a winner, look like a winner, etc.) and "Code of Silence" (no talking on game days), and a few other "Codes," all of which sound like movies starring Chuck Norris.
There were the standard cosmetic changes: repaint the team locker room, helmets and stadium, issue inspirational quotations and poems, pass out skull-and-crossbone stickers for big hits, etc. There were surprises, like requiring team naps before every game.
Reaction among the players has been mixed, which isn't surprising. A new coach is bound to step on a few toes, especially when the toes are wearing Birkenstocks.
For the most part, though, players are happy with the change. Morale is up, dissension is down. And those who once thought they didn't want to play are happy they did.
"It's funny," he says. "Last year, I quit halfway through the season. I thought I'd never come back. So sometimes, I can't even believe I'm out here."
Barron figures it's just a matter of time before every Laguna Beach boy will want to play.
"There were kids here who, frankly, were turned off on football," Barron says. "Now, I believe I have their attention."
If not an open door.