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Idaho Falls Post Register (Idaho)
August 29, 2013 Thursday
A SECTION; Pg. A1
Being coach of kid can be no-win situation
By MICHAEL LYCKLAMA,
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third installment in a four-part series examining the changing dynamics of coaching high school sports.
Coaching a high school sports program remains a difficult and thankless job. One that brings its own set of inherent problems - scheduling, fundraising, promotion and dealing with the personalities of players and parents alike.
Coaching your child adds a mountain of more potential problems. Madison High School football coach Mitch Buck can attest to that.
When Buck took over the Bonneville High School program in 2008, he started his son, Parker, at quarterback. Parents disagreed with his decision, mounted a campaign to fire him and succeeded after the 2010 season.
Buck coached two older sons at Madison and said he never had a problem. But at Bonneville, he found himself wobbling on the tightrope that high school coaches must walk when their children are in the program.
The second a coach's son enters the starting lineup, accusations spring up that he's only there because of his father's favoritism. Many coaches, trying to fight the community's perception, hold their children to a higher standard than their teammates.
They're either unfair to other people's children or their own.
Even with three years of distance, Buck stands behind the decision to start Parker. Buck spent every day at practice. He owned more than 100 career victories, including three state titles. And he'd never posted a losing season before coming to Bonneville.
But that didn't stop waves of anger from parents who thought they knew better. That anger led to his firing and eventually sent him back to Madison, where he went 12-0 and won his fourth state title last fall.
He says it simply: If it weren't for his son, he'd still be at Bonneville.
""I honestly feel if I didn't have Parker, it wouldn't have been an issue at all,"" Buck said. ""I would have been able to get through all of that. It all came down to me playing him. I really believe that.""
Former Bonneville baseball coach Troy Clayton struggled on the same high-wire act. Clayton rebuilt the Bees' baseball program from perennial doormat to perennial state title contender. Bonneville went from 11 combined wins in the three previous years before Clayton's arrival to the state championship game in his third, and final, season.
Clayton's oldest son, Porter, was a bona fide star. A 6-foot-3 left-handed pitcher, Porter threw three no-hitters during his junior year. That summer, he pitched in a national showcase game at Wrigley Field in Chicago. And in December, he graduated early from Bonneville to enroll and pitch at the University of Oregon.
But some parents believed Clayton unduly favored his son. At one point during Porter's junior season, Clayton, trying to head off criticism, asked the Post Register not to write about his son after Porter threw a no-hitter.
That criticism reached its peak in the summer of 2009.
Clayton served as an assistant coach on Bonneville's Single-A American Legion Baseball team. Down to its last at-bats in a blowout loss that would end its season at the regional tournament, Joldy Watts, the head coach of the Legion team, had an idea. He told the players that if senior Chad Simmons got on base, he would send in a pinch runner for Simmons.
The Bees brought only 11 players because of the cost of traveling to the regional tournament. One of them was Clayton's younger son, Lincoln, who was between eighth and ninth grade. It didn't cost anyone any more money to bring him because Clayton and Porter already were going to the tournament.
Lincoln sat on the bench the entire state tournament and the entire regional tournament. But with Bonneville using its only other sub earlier, Watts dispatched Lincoln to run so Simmons could exit the field to a standing ovation.
That's not how parents in the stands saw it.
They saw it as Clayton robbing a senior of his final moments to insert his son, who wasn't even in high school yet.
""Here we are in the dugout thinking we're all going to go out to dinner (after the game) and end this magical run,"" Clayton said. ""And then we have these families with such anger.""
Clayton opted to finish out the 2010 high school season, Porter's junior year, with Bonneville. But with his son Lincoln entering the program and another son on the way, Clayton decided to resign and avoid the issue.
""I just realized the conflict of being a coach and a father wasn't going to go away, no matter how I handled the situation,"" he said.
Salmon football coach Ken Miner remains more than aware of that conflict. He originally stepped down before son Zack's eighth-grade year. He wanted Zack to have his own spotlight, not share it with his father on the sideline.
But Miner jumped back in three years ago. His replacement, Sean McKinney, left for an assistant coaching job at the University of Montana-Western, and the team still needed a coach weeks before the start of practice.
Zack Miner enters his junior year this fall battling for a starting wide receiver spot. It's an issue Miner has tried to prepare himself for. It's still not one he's looking forward to.
""I'm dreading it, to be honest,"" he said, laughing, before catching himself. ""I shouldn't say that.""
Miner remains adamant that if his son gets on the field, he'll have to do it the same way every other player in the Salmon football program does - by earning it. But he admits he leans on his assistants more to avoid the conflict-of-interest perceptions that plagued Buck and Clayton.
""Living in a small town, you always get parents thinking you're favoring your own kids,"" Miner said. ""Being a business owner, too, those are my concerns. Whether it happens or not, those are my concerns.""
August 29, 2013