Sunday, August 24, 2008

Earthquakes In Coaching


CoachNelsonLectures
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
At 48-years-young, there's not much news out there that really surprises me anymore. At least that's how it seems.

Nevertheless, when I travelled to Highwood, Montana to photograph their six-man football team during their preseason practice and conditioning drills, I was totally blindsided when Highwood's new head coach Bart Hawkins informed me that Mike Nelson—Highwood's notorious head coach for the past 17 years—had left education as well as coaching.

My first reaction to the news was that of embarrassment because I hadn't heard, and—worst yet—I had mistakingly said "Good morning Coach Nelson" to assistant coach Dan McGee upon my arrival thinking he was Mike Nelson. But when Coach Hawkins informed me that Nelson's resignation had only become known to the public about three weeks ago, I felt a little better. Yet, I was still a bit upset with myself that I hadn't heard about this big story in the world of six-man football before making the 300-mile drive.

And big news it is. Consider Nelson's resume: During his tenure, while teaching mathematics, his teams notched ten Montana state titles—10 state titles, 17 years! No other six-man football coach in the country can make the same claim. His overall record was 133-22 including eight undefeated seasons. I suppose I was lucky to witness one of those rare losses back in 1999.

How could he leave with so much going for him? Even the most successful football coaches feel the everyday pressures that build up if not addressed. According to the Great Falls Tribune, Nelson's departure was a combination of wanting to spend more time with his family, escalating gas prices that made his 60-mile daily commute from Great Falls prohibitive and a new job offer that came along at the right time.

It's all good in the end. A new coach (Hawkins) gets to step up to the plate and show the world what he can do as well. And so a new chapter begins at Highwood High School.

Oh, and what's the new job for Mike Nelson you might be wondering? He's going to become a pharmaceutical salesman for an international healthcare company... Talk about a total change of direction.

Well, he's only 40-years-old and who knows, the coaching itch might need scratching again someday so, I'm not writing him off completely. Regardless I wish him the best of luck—however he may define it.

Postscript: As of the 2011 football season, Mike Nelson is now the skipper of Great Falls Central Catholic—a member of Montana Class C Eight-Man's Northern Conference.

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