Sean Miller gets paid roughly $2.3 million to run what many people in this region believe is the most important thing outside of sunlight, water and, maybe, Sonoran hot dogs.
I got a snazzy blue T-shirt that said "Coach" over the right breast to help my 9-year-old and seven of his neighbors and classmates play soccer last fall. I also got some hugs and lots of smiles.
Call me crazy, but I think my compensation was just as bountiful. I also think my impact on the community might be even greater than the UA basketball coach's because of the role I played in those boys' weeknights and Saturday mornings.
It's the same role that my Little League coach, Herman, played for me when I was 11 and 12 years old and, thus, why I've paid that forward.
I was a horrible baseball player, as evidenced by my regular use as a pinch runner or reserve right fielder for the Yankees in the Scotch Plains-Fanwood (N.J.) Majors division. But while I have only vague memories of my "accomplishments" during this time—like being on base for the epic three-run homer that Lance Bolden blasted to give us a comeback win en route to the league title, or me getting called out before I could celebrate my first career hit because I'd thrown the bat backward in excitement and whacked the catcher—I very much recall the influence that Herman and the other coaches, Dave and Mr. Richardson, had on me.
They're the reason that I coached that soccer team, and why I did the same for a basketball team of 7- and 8-year-olds last winter. And it's why, when my boy plays Little League again this spring, I will have nothing but the utmost respect for the coaches involved (as I have when my daughter has played for various teams over the years and I will when my youngest kid gets into sports in the near future).
I wish everyone could buy into that mentality, especially at the youth, high school and other amateur levels.
With a few exceptions, nearly all of these coaches are either doing it free or getting minimal compensation. High school coaches usually get a stipend from their district, but extrapolated over the course of a season, that pay results in an hourly wage of less than a dollar.
Even the paid coaches don't deserve the treatment I've seen many parents give them over the years. Arguments over practice methods, playing time and other stupid things have caused many a dedicated mentor to walk away from coaching.
I still marvel at how some of these guys and gals stuck it out for so long, guys like Billy Lopez, who seemingly every year had to have numerous "meetings" with parents and administrators at Sahuaro High School over concerns he wasn't using their daughters to their utmost value.
Now, imagine what it's like for youth coaches—all of whom are volunteers—who have to deal with such grief. Why would any of them want to put up with getting criticized because 8-year-old Billy really should be playing forward and is being "wasted" on defense.
I've been lucky in my youth-coaching forays. The parents of the kids on my basketball and soccer teams did what I think are the best things possible when at practice or games: cheer or shut up.
Even as I would occasionally (er, it was more than occasional) raise my voice to get the attention of a space cadet or a "daisy picker" (as one parent referred to her kid when he wasn't focusing on the game or drill) or as I'd bark out rhetorical queries like "Why are you going the wrong way," I never got any friction from parents.
I'd like to think that's partly due to the parents knowing that any criticism I was giving their kids was done in the interest of education and improvement. But they also bought into the mantra I've used since the first time my daughter played soccer, at age 5:
When you're on the field, the coach is your parent. I'm just there to watch.
Maybe I'm just naïve, or maybe I'm just one of the few parents who aren't trying to live vicariously through the athletic exploits of their children.
Whatever the case, I really feel that coaches who work with kids out of the goodness of their hearts—who bring a change of clothes to work so they can switch out of their business attire before heading to practice, who find a way to carve out time to run around on a field despite having very little athletic ability of their own (present company included)—should be appreciated. Not undermined or second-guessed.
My parents never got on Herman and the other Yankees coaches because I routinely didn't enter the game until the final inning, or because the only fly balls I got to shag were during warm-ups. It's a life lesson I've carried forward, just as I have the ones provided by those coaches who donated their time to help us play.