Sideline Heroes

Up to 25 assistant coaches come on campus every day. But who are they? And what are they teaching our student-athletes?

For how much work many of the assistant coaches around campus do, many athletes still see them as strangers.

The Lions basketball team has a total of six assistant coaches.

More than all the other winter varsity sports combined.

But what about the average American high school basketball team? If it has any any, maybe one assistant.

Villanova? Duke? Kansas? They boast a total of three.

The Dallas Mavericks? Four.

A stadium that could seat the school’s student body 20 times over. And two fewer coaches.

$200 million in annual revenue. And two fewer coaches.

Over a dozen players making $1 million or more. Yet still, two fewer coaches.

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With six assistants currently helping the program on a regular basis, the basketball team has one of the largest coaching staffs in the school. Despite the fact there are currently less than two players for each coach, only one assistant is actually paid by the school. The rest give their weekday afternoons to Guiler and the team for free.

“I actually went into the season thinking about having a smaller staff,” Guiler said, “but there are just so many amazing coaches. Every one of those guys is awesome, and they all bring something great to the table. Last year’s staff was even bigger. Some of the volunteers are the best coaches I’ve ever been around.”

The assistants include Tunde Abu, alumni Cameron Cole ’12 and Hank Williams ’11, Guiler’s father Scott and time-honored teacher-and-coach Tom Adams. Guiler, who for most of his life has played on teams with one or two coaches in total, sees the staff size as a luxury, a way to provide multiple voices for the team to hear at practices and at games.

“If push came to shove, I could coach the team myself,” Guiler said. “It’s only 12 guys, and we don’t need a zillion assistant coaches. I just love having assistants because I think it helps the players have a better bridge to the coaching staff. If we have five assistants and a player can make a connection with two of them, then all of a sudden, there are two guys whose voices he trusts.”

Guiler’s case, however, is unique. Nearly every other team lacks the same amount of coaching resources as his team. Ryan Hershner, an assistant coach for the cross country and track and field teams as well as with the basketball program, is a example of what some may think of as the school’s “typical” assistant coach.

Every weekday, Hershner works at the Cooper Clinic from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., then makes the trek to 10600 Preston Rd. in the evenings to coach. He, however, feels his job is very similar to what Guiler hopes his assistants will provide.

“I would say I’m the buffer,” Hershner said. “I’m the buffer between the student-athletes and the coach. I think I’m another voice but also just a different voice, with some coaches more than others. I think I fit in the middle to where I can relay information or say what Turek wants or what Guiler wants to give it to the kids a little better.”

Some assistant coaches, additionally, come from around the school community. That’s by design, says athletic director Mark Sullivan.

“The school deliberately goes out to find qualified faculty who are multi-talented,” Sullivan said. “So, whether it’s someone who can come in and help coach or someone who can come in and go camping with the Wilderness Program, that person is always the preferred candidate over someone who may just be myopic in what they do.”

No matter who a coach is, however, the main goal is to find someone who can lead Marksmen toward the virtue and morality the school hopes to instill in its students.

“It’s always character first,” Sullivan said. “Whether they’re a qualified candidate in terms of how they know their sport or whether they’re just someone who is coming in and is maybe one step ahead of the players at that particular level, it’s all about character. What we’re really trying to do is help boys grow into good young men.”

New assistant tennis coach Kathi Eckel strives to do just that during her time coaching on the court.

“The biggest thing I try to do is help [players] recognize that the sport and game of tennis is long term even after you leave the court because of the discipline and character building, the team bonding,” Eckel said. “Those things are the most important things that I’d like to impart as a coach.”

When it comes to finding new assistants, Sullivan believes it’s key that the head coach plays a part in the process because, in the end, they need to be comfortable with the teaching the team gets each day.

“Chemistry is huge,” Sullivan said. “Chemistry between players, chemistry between players and coaches and certainly chemistry between the coaching staff is very important if you want to have positive experiences in athletics.”

Varsity soccer head coach Cory Martin, who currently coaches the team alone, sees both pros and cons of not having an assistant.

“There are days when I do miss having an assistant,” Martin said, “especially when I feel I’m not at my best. At the same time there are some days when I’m glad because I don’t have to worry about being diplomatic. I know what I want to do, and let’s get to it.”

WITHOUT AN ASSISTANT, YOU JUST HAVE TO MANAGE YOUR PRACTICES A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENTLY — Varsity soccer head coach Cory Martin

In Guiler’s eyes, finding coaches that mesh well with each other and with the system a head coach operates is key to having a healthy atmosphere in and around the team.

“I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve never felt like the assistant coaches I’ve had were in a competition with me,” Guiler said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to never have an assistant coach that makes me dread to come to practice every day. I know those assistants exist out there, and I keep thinking one day I’ll be unlucky enough to have one, but so far I’ve been lucky.”

But for Guiler, the culture the players, coaches and school can create when working together is unmatched and unparalleled anywhere.

“I tell people all the time this is the best high school coaching job in the country,” Guiler said. “It is an unbelievable place because the guys compete, the administration gives me freedom and all of that just makes me look forward to each day I get to come coach here.”