Steamboat Springs The easy parts are the most obvious ones. Coaching high school sports means a Friday night spent on the football sidelines or a Saturday afternoon offering encouragement from the side of the track, right?
If it were that simple, maybe everyone would do it. But local coaches say the obvious moments are but a small fraction of the commitment it takes to coach a high school team, and that’s why there are so few who are rising to the occasion.
“You have to love it,” all-seasons Soroco coach David Bruner said.
A number of factors have made it difficult for Routt County’s smaller high schools to land and keep coaches for their programs. Factors including low pay and changing school faculty have made things difficult on local administrators.
“It is a trend that there’s less interest,” Soroco Principal Dennis Alt acknowledged.
For many, coaching long was a goal. Mike Luppes coaches Hayden’s boys basketball team and serves as the district’s superintendent. He said coaching basketball always has been a love of his.
“For a lot of us, that was one of the reasons we went into teaching in the first place,” he said. “It’s very enjoyable 99 percent of the time. You’re working with kids who love what they’re doing, and when you get kids who want to do something, there’s no more fun group to work with.”
Any coach will acknowledge it’s a “gotta love it” kind of profession. The hours can be mind-numbing. Practices can soak up every evening, all season long. Games can wipe out entire days and weekends, thanks in part to the long distances local schools have to travel even to play league contests.
Add in hours watching tape and scouting opponents, figuring and filing stats, arranging transportation and lodging, and any of a thousand other things that can come up, and it gets obscene.
“We don’t even attempt to count the hours,” Luppes said.
Bruner may coach more than anyone in Routt County. He coaches football in the fall, basketball in the winter and track in the spring. The hours, combined with the minimal pay that comes with those positions, certainly could be a limiting factor for many would-be coaches.
“It doesn’t pay much,” Bruner said. “You probably get paid $2 or $3 an hour when you figure it all in.”
There are even more headaches, however.
“There aren’t as many people doing it, and I think one reason is parents,” Bruner said. “They give coaches a lot of grief. With that, the time commitment and the money, a lot of people don’t want the headaches.”
Alt, meanwhile, cited yet another factor, pointing to a shift he’s noticed in the school’s faculty.
Several decades ago, every coach also was a teacher. That’s often still the case, but it’s becoming increasingly less so.
“Teachers have focused more on academics,” he said. “That’s where their passion is. That’s a great thing, but it’s made it so you look outside of the classroom for coaches sometimes.”
Looking for pools
At least in Hayden and Soroco, even looking outside the classroom has been met with limited success.
Bruner actually tried to step back from it to some degree last year, resigning as the girls basketball coach. He had hoped to spend more time watching his daughter play middle school basketball.
There wasn’t a single applicant to replace him, however, and when winter came, he again took the whistle.
“I love trying to help the kids, to see them be successful and to take them from a certain spot and get them to another spot,” he said.
That wasn’t the only Rams coaching search to go without an applicant. The boys basketball job suffered the same fate the year before Athletic Director Andy Johnson stepped up to coach.
An assistant track position last year attracted one application, and that coach backed out after checking out a schedule that included week after week of predawn bus trips to meets across the state.
The problems are plenty familiar on the other side of the county.
“We had a head coaching position last year, and we advertised through the summer,” Luppes said. “At one point, we had one candidate, and we decided to advertise more because we wanted a pool so we could interview and choose between several.”
There is, however, reason for optimism for the county’s athletes.
Alt said he’s close to hiring an athletic director to replace Johnson, who is resigning. And Alt already has five applications for the boys basketball head coaching position.
Hayden recently started advertising for its head girls volleyball position and is hopeful to have a field of coaches from which to choose.
There’s no question, considering all that comes with the job, it takes the right kind of person.
“Coaching is just something that’s inside us,” Bruner said.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com