Coaching as a Sideline : Proliferation of Walk-Ons at High Schools Requires Close Supervision by Administrators but Offers Non-Teachers a Chance to Contribute
Donald Klinkhammer, lawyer, certified public accountant, and president and chief executive officer of California Professional Savings and Loan Assn. in Beverly Hills, is at work now. And he loves his work.
But wait. Klinkhammer is not hammering out a corporate merger agreement. He is not studying complex tax law revisions. He is not on the phone to New York making million-dollar Dow Jones decisions.
He is down on one knee on the damp football field at Crespi High, the moisture seeping through his pant leg as he puts his right index finger on the point of a football.
And suddenly, a young man is bearing down on him, and with a powerful kick, pounds the football from under Klinkhammer’s finger, launching the ball downfield and sending clods of grass and dirt all over the arms and chest of Mr. Beverly Hills Big-Shot Lawyer.
“I enjoy this a great deal,” he says.
Perhaps there have been a few too many pressure-filled days and nights in the board room for Don Klinkhammer, CPA. Or maybe just one afternoon too many of trying to untangle a nightmarish web of Beverly Hills legal mumbo jumbo.
Or perhaps the man just loves football.
“That’s it,” he said. “I just love it. I enjoy every minute that I’m on the football field.”
Klinkhammer is an unpaid, walk-on coach at Crespi. During the football season he gets to his Beverly Hills office early in the morning so that he can leave early in the afternoon for the drive to the Valley. There, he sheds his fine, leather dress shoes for a pair of football cleats and trots out onto the field as an assistant coach under Bill Redell.
He is one of an increasing number of walk-on high school coaches. They work long hours and weekends, sometimes for no money and sometimes for very little money. They leave their regular jobs early, sometimes sneaking out the back door for a chance to return to the football field, to return to glory days gone by. For some of them, they are glory days gone by a long, long time ago.
Klinkhammer, 61, teamed with quarterback Don Klosterman--who later would become the general manager of the Los Angeles Rams--to form the No. 1 college passing combination in the country for Loyola University in 1951. The mention of it makes his eyes roll back.
“Bill Redell will tell the kids at Crespi about me from time to time,” he said. “He’ll tell them about how good I was in 1951. And every time he says it, I flinch.”
There are other reminders for Klinkhammer, who was the head football coach at Notre Dame High during the 1950s.
“Last Friday one of the kids I coached at Notre Dame came onto the field to say hi to me,” he said. “He wasn’t a kid anymore. His son had already graduated from Crespi. That hurt.”
But the days and nights he now spends with the Crespi team eases the pain. Since 1985, he has spent more than 20 hours a week working with Redell and the players each fall. He said he does it because he enjoys working with young men.
And he is not the only one.
Walk-on coaches have become more common in the past 10 years. The 25-year-old coaches who flocked into the rapidly expanding network of Valley schools in the 1950s and 1960s are now middle-aged men who, in many cases, have had enough of coaching. But they are not ready to retire and give up their teaching positions. Many schools are thus left with few teaching vacancies but plenty of coaching vacancies.
Solution: Bring on the walk-ons.
Some administrators, however, are very cautious about putting people who are not educators in such positions.
Martin Denyer, the athletic director at Canoga Park High, a City Section school, expresses his displeasure with walk-on coaches in very strong terms.
“I’ve never had to deal with it and I would never want to deal with it,” Denyer said. “It’s basically bad, and the only reason any school does it is that they’re forced into it. If you have no teaching openings but you need a coach, what are you going to do?
“I just don’t like the idea. No one likes it. Luckily, we have very few in the City schools. We don’t have any right now at this school.”
Regulations designed to stiffen the requirements for walk-on coaches at the high school level were approved during the summer by the state Board of Education and are expected to go into effect before the end of the year. The regulations will require that all temporary coaches complete certified training courses in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid.
But Denyer said the main concern with walk-on coaches falls in an area few people want to talk about.
“The biggest worry is knowing who these guys are,” he said. “You might not know the guy and that leaves you very nervous when you put him in with the kids. . . . There’s a real concern these days with the character of the people who are with them all day.”
An incident last year at Moorpark High illustrated that concern.
An unpaid, walk-on assistant coach with the football team admitted that he handed out pills to several players before a game, telling them that the pills would “help their performance and make them play better,” according to Moorpark police.
A laboratory examination determined that the pills were harmless salt tablets, but the implication made by the assistant coach was that they might be narcotics.
The assistant coach was immediately dismissed and the coach of the team, Bob Noel, resigned 2 months later. The athletic director also resigned.
Rich Uphoff, who is beginning his first year as Moorpark’s athletic director, said the incident forced the school to re-examine its policy of hiring walk-on coaches.
“There are pros and cons to it,” he said. “After last year’s incident, the school decided that things had to be done to ensure the quality of the people working here. Things were obviously neglected. Our school district and our school board have gone to great lengths to make sure nothing like that happens again.”
Part of the new policy includes a more thorough background check on candidates, research that includes checking police records.
“What we look for, in essence, is good quality people,” Uphoff said. “Good, moral people with strong values. If we find that person and we feel secure about that, then everything else falls into place and we know we’ve got a good coach. I believe now we can weed out the bad candidates in a hurry.”
And the good ones are in big demand at most schools.
At Crespi, there are 34 coaches in 12 sports. Only 13 of those coaches hold teaching positions at the school. The other 21 are walk-ons. Klinkhammer is one.
Redell, the head football coach, is another, although Redell has a unique situation. As an insurance agent, he pounds away on the phone lines for the first 6 months of each year, piling up sales. He was Prudential’s No. 1 salesman in the Western Region for the first 6 months of 1988.
Redell held a teaching position at Crespi several years ago, but since moving to the insurance business, he has found much more time for coaching football.
“Teaching five classes a day didn’t leave me nearly enough time to run the football program,” he said. “This situation is much easier. To do the football job right takes a lot of time. I don’t shortcut the football program at Crespi.”
A typical day during the football season brings Redell to the school at 7 a.m. He leaves at 10 a.m. and tries to catch up on insurance paper work. Then he’s back at Crespi at 1 p.m. and stays until 7 p.m. Nine hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week. He earns about $2,000 each season.
Paul Muff, the athletic director at Crespi--a private school--acknowledges that walk-on coaches play a crucial role at the school. But he also said there are drawbacks to having off-campus coaches.
“One of the problems is that off-campus people might not understand the total picture of an athlete as a student,” Muff said. “Their only interest might be in the boy only as an athlete and they tend to forget that he is a student first.”
Others, however, think they have found a gold mine in walk-on coaches.
“The real positive part is that walk-on coaches are highly dedicated,” Canyon High boys’ athletic director Dave Harris said. “They truly want to be here to help the kids. It’s their own time, and many of them are unpaid. They tend to be good people.”
Ed Marek, a real estate salesman, is an assistant basketball coach at Crespi. He works for Muff, who is also the school’s basketball coach. Marek played for Muff in the middle ‘70s.
“The only reason I do it is because I love the game of basketball and I love working with kids,” Marek said. “When you get on the court with the kids, you remember what it’s all about. You have a bad day at the office and you get on the court with these guys and you realize that your job pressures aren’t quite as bad they might seem.
“Kids bring you back down to earth in a hurry. You become a kid again.”
And nearly all walk-on assistant coaches say they have no interest in becoming a head coach.
“Never, ever,” Klinkhammer said. “Absolutely not. That’s for guys with more time to devote to it. Just lending a hand, that’s enough for me.”
Klinkhammer added that running back Russell White, one of the most heavily recruited high school players in the nation, has had more than a little to do with his enjoyment of the game.
“I had Russell in 1985 when I coached the freshman team here,” Klinkhammer said. “I’ve been with Russell at every practice and every game.”
Klinkhammer tells this story to illustrate the impression that White has made on him, as well as the local football community:
“I called information last week to get a phone number at Crespi,” he said, “and the information operator says to me, ‘Where is Russell going to college?’
“A minute later, a notary public walked into my office for some business and I said we had to hurry, that I had to get to football practice. He asked me where. I said Crespi. And he said, ‘Where’s Russell going to college?’ In two minutes, two complete strangers asked me about it.
“It was so exciting knowing I am a part of that.”