?Ort enthusiastically downplays winning. "It doesn't take long in this competitive game to think another's failure is our success," he says. Now don't get him wrong. He likes to win and thinks it a worthy goal, he just doesn't get crazy over it. Steve Ortmayer, Ort's nephew and the director of football operations for the San Diego Chargers, says. "Ort knows we're all going to win and lose, so we have to deal effectively with each. If either is too important, then it's out of perspective." Losing hurts La Verne players as much as it hurts USC players, but winning is never allowed to become all-important to the Leopards.
Thurman Belcher, who played for Ort during the '50s and is now in real estate, says, "Just being on Ort's team is a winning situation." Noel Gilbert, a lineman in the mid-'50s and a speech instructor today, was "so excited to play for Ort that I didn't realize we lost as much as we did."
Ort says that winning should never occur at the expense of having fun. That's why, for example, football practice at La Verne can suddenly be interrupted by a race in which the players carry watermelons. The race ends when a melon is dropped, then everyone sits around on the field, laughing, eating watermelon and spitting seeds. "The reason I do this." explains Ort, "is that if something isn't fun, I have to make it fun or I have to abandon it. Some people say we don't take winning seriously enough, so a lot of high school coaches don't want their players to come here. But I noticed that fathers want their sons to come."
The Leopards' best player last season, senior noseguard Mike McKernan, says of Ort, "He doesn't think of football first. He always thinks of his players first. And most of all he doesn't take the fun away."
?Ort places no emphasis on attendance at practice. Typically, from six to 15 players are absent from La Verne football drills. "I think there is something wrong with a player if he practices every day," says the Leopard coach. "Some days your car won't run or your girlfriend requires more attention than football. Maybe it's just a nice day to go to the beach. Heck, I've missed practices, like when I wanted to visit my daughter. They practice better without me, anyway."
One day last season, junior tight end John Kusleika walked up to Ort on the practice field and said proudly, "I haven't missed a practice all year." Replied Ort, "Then you should be a lot further along." Later, he told players during a passing drill that if they threw eight incompletions in a row, they simply wouldn't practice passing anymore. When someone asked if that did not demonstrate a need for more practice, Ort shook his head and said, "The problem is, all you are practicing are incompletions."
Leopard practices are informal affairs in which the players offer suggestions on how things could be done. Ort encourages this give-and-take: "If the players would rather run something out of the I formation than out of splitbacks, that's O.K. with me. I teach that it's all right to use your brains. All I insist on is that they come up with something I can understand so I can stay in the program."
?Ort doesn't swear. When he is furious, he says, "Oh, crum." The first two Leopard punts in a game last season were blocked. "Oh, crum," said Ort. He doesn't believe in rough language. "Maybe." he says with a laugh, "it's because I played basketball for the Baptists, coach for the Church of the Brethren [with which La Verne is affiliated], am Methodist by membership [his father was a Methodist minister] and am a Quaker at heart." Is this not a man for all seasons?
?Ort doesn't recruit. When one high school athlete stopped by the campus unannounced to say that he was considering coming to La Verne, Ort listened a while, then said. "I must tell you in all honesty that you are a lot better than we are." Ort won't recruit because he wants people to come to La Verne for an education and to play football as an educational adjunct. Says Ort, "I prefer not to have met a player until he shows up at La Verne, otherwise I get a biased point of view."
As quaint as that notion is, it does keep the emphasis on matters more important than football—which, to Ort's way of thinking, are many. Once, a university professor complained to the coach, "One of your football players is failing history." Said Ort, "Don't look at him as a football player failing history but as a history student failing history. Then you might get somewhere with him."