The Old School : They’re a Vanishing Breed--High School Football Coaches in Their Sport for the Long Haul


Don’t tell Herb Hill coaching is a young man’s game.

Sure, maybe playing is. But when people are looking for a coach, they want that old feeling. But finding it is getting harder all the time.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Sept. 15, 1995 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday September 15, 1995 Home Edition Sports Part C Page 10 Sports Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Prep football--A caption under the main photograph on the Just Preps page of Thursday’s sports section incorrectly identified Westchester High football Coach Larry Wein as Gary Campbell of Norco High.

Hill knows because his retirement was interrupted by a high school program seeking somebody older for something new: Winning.

At 58 years old, 37 years of coaching--31 as a head coach--had seemed enough for Hill in 1989. Why not? With a record of 191-111-11, there wasn’t much to prove. He retired and went from sage to sagebrush, packing up to play golf and garden.


The phone would ring, and Hill would be glad to offer advice. Could he recommend coaches? What about so-and-so? Would you consider coaching again?

“Listen, I just got out.”

But when San Jacinto High pleaded its case--with only one victory in 30 games (“and hey, we’re in walking distance of your home”)--Hill decided retirement was over.

But his situation is a rare one. Older high school coaches are a thing of the past in more ways than one.

“These days, five to six years is a long time to be a coach,” said Gary Campbell, who has coached Norco for 26 years. “The burnout is a lot faster because of the demands. It’s a year-round sport now. You never get a break.”

Indeed, the face of high school football coaching has changed, and not all the wrinkles are due to age.


“It’s hard to get the kids to concentrate on one thing,” said Campbell, 52. “There’s so much out there for them. It seems like they all have cars, and now no one thinks twice about driving to the snow or driving to the beach. Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, not everyone had a car. It’s a lifestyle change. Kids have to do a lot more things on their own because parents are working--they say, ‘Here’s a few bucks, go get jeans or haircut or whatever.’ It’s a part of society.”

Hill sees it too.

“For kids to play in the program, they have to give up a lot of things, like getting a job and buying a car,” he said. “When I started coaching, everybody had crew cuts and said, ‘Yes, sir.’ Kids are much more sophisticated about football now because of the mass exposure of football. Now you don’t just tell them, you have to tell them why. You have to sell the program.”

Meanwhile, the boosters have to sell, sell, sell, as well. And they have to be sold, sold, sold.

“It used to be that the boosters would get together and watch a little game film on Tuesday nights during the season,” Campbell said. “Now it’s year-round.”

“Booster clubs always raised money, but you didn’t depend on them as much,” said Larry Wein, who has coached at Westchester for 14 years and at Dorsey for seven years before that. “Before, they could help with the frills, like T-shirts or sweaters. Now you need them to help with the necessities.”

Year-round is the chorus of this song.

People get out of coaching for a variety of reasons. When you are coaching football, you are a teacher with a stipend for running an extracurricular activity. Some stipends are generous and some are sub-par, but the major part of the income comes with the classroom.


Late, hurried dinners replace evening dining. A seven-hour day in class is followed by two to three hours of practice and at least another hour or two of administration or preparation for the next week’s game. At home, there are papers to be graded and lessons to be planned.

“I used to coach baseball and football, but I felt I had to make a choice,” said Wein, 52. “If you want to be competitive you have to do things year-round. You used to be off from the end of football season until the summer. Now you have spring practice, passing leagues, summer tournaments. You don’t see as many who have coached for a long length of time because it’s too much time [invested] for the financial rewards. Also, it takes away from family.”

Wein sees a new trend in coaching--the off-campus coach.

An off-campus coach is someone who goes to the school only to coach football--a hired gun of sorts. Often--but not necessarily--he is a teacher at another school. Sometimes he isn’t a teacher, instead working another job in which the hours make it even more difficult to coach.

“You don’t have the same continuity. Usually they [off-campus coaches] are not there four or five years,” Wein said. “When you are on the same campus, the kids can eat lunch in your classroom, you can give advice, they can come to you with their problems--you develop something there. The commuting, plus all the other stuff--it gets to be too much of a hassle for the coach to stay for very long.”

The rise in off-campus coaches is directly related to finances. When a coach retires, he often doesn’t retire from teaching. That means the school needs to replace the coach from within or get an off-campus coach.

That sometimes means attracting coaches who are less dedicated, or coaches who are only doing it as a favor for a year or two until someone who really wants to coach can fill the gap.


“When I started coaching, physical education departments were much larger,” Wein said. “Those were the days where physical education was mandatory for all students, so the physical education department had to be bigger. You would volunteer to help as an assistant coach for a high school team because it was a good way to get a job teaching. It’s not a way to get a teaching job anymore.”

Some would say the reverse is true--that teaching is a way to get a coaching job. But that idea was dismissed by Hill and Wein.

“You’re hired as a teacher and fired as a coach,” Hill said. “I think coaching as a career and teaching as a career are synonymous. I don’t know if that is some people’s attitude, but you still get paid 90% of your salary to be a teacher. I believe good coaches are good teachers, but you don’t get 4,000 people to come to your classroom.”

Said Wein: “No one makes a living coaching, they make a living teaching.”