"Coaches are special," says Frank Lauterbur, athletic director and head football coach at Toledo. "Coaches aren't guys with cigars in their mouths, lying and pandering and hating, the way they're pictured in some circles. Robert Ruark was closer to it. He said coaches are kids who never grew up. He might not have meant that as a compliment, but it's true—a coach never gets older than 25.
"Coaches are guys who still get a tingle when The Star-Spangled Banner is played and butterflies before a kickoff. Coaches never have to be pushed out of bed to go to work in the morning. How do you rate a professor? Tough to do. A coach is rated every Saturday afternoon. Win, lose, tie. He can work as hard as he knows how preparing for a game, and then a kid has a headache or the sun gets in his eyes and it's a loss. Why does he do it? I don't know, except that there is always the excitement—working out game plans, waiting for the films—and the weariness and satisfaction of knowing how hard he and his team have tried to reach a common goal. If the result is defeat, then there's dejection and the coach must take the proper tack, one to ease the pain. But if there is a heaven on earth, it is the locker room after a victory.
"A coach has an enthusiasm for kids, a communion with them. He worries about them, feeds them, sees to their housing, their health. If a kid has a problem, he doesn't go to his professor, or even to his old man, he goes to his coach, because he knows the coach will look after him. When a coach calls an athlete 'son,' he means it.
"When we had the boycott of the black athletes here at Toledo, one of the boycotters ran into trouble. He didn't go to the Black Students Union or to the dean, he came to me. A reflex action. And of course I helped him. Later I asked him, 'What color is a friend?' 'Oh, coach, you don't understand,' he said.
"He was wrong. The thing about coaches is they do understand."
Many coaches truly believe that they understand better than anyone what is best—best for the athlete, best for sport, best for the school. But now, like those who administer so many of our social institutions, they must face the fact that what seems best and what is happening are often two different things. The issue is authority and the response to authority. How they handle it will be something to see, and there are a lot of concerned people who are watching.