The Wisdom of Coaches

Top local coaches—from Ozzie Guillen and Tom Thibodeau to Oliver Purnell and Kelly Amonte Hiller—reveal sacred truths about perseverance, motivation, the importance of hard work, the value of failure, and more

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Frank Lenti of Mt. Carmel High SchoolFRANK LENTI

POSITION Head football coach and athletic director, Mount Carmel High School
STATS 303–54 record in 27 seasons; nine state championships; five state runner-up finishes

A lot of [coaching] is about forcing guys to measure up.

I tell kids, “You are going to realize that your parents had the right answers all along. It just took you longer to figure out.”

With a pep talk, sometimes you have a theme in your head, and you just run with it. Sometimes they need a little “Rah, rah.” Sometimes they just need “Hey, it’s out there for you if you want it bad enough. Let’s go get it.” It’s not always fire and brimstone. It’s not always Knute Rockne, because they get tired of that, and it only lasts until the first hit.

Guys come back, and they don’t just shake your hand. They hug you. Some of them have no problem saying, “Hey, love you, Coach.” It’s not love like you love your mom or dad. But it’s something special.

When you have a lot of success, there’s also a lot of jealousy out there, and sometimes you just have to deal with it. You have to know in your heart that you are doing the right things for the kids.

I’ve always believed that if we’re helping make them better young men, then the other things are going to take care of themselves.

Parents have to be willing to allow their children to fail. Everybody can’t be a starter. Everybody can’t be a star. Sometimes kids have to learn that on their own, and Mom and Dad shouldn’t always be there for them. They need to get some bumps and bruises along the way. It will strengthen them, give them character.

I sometimes have to tell parents, “You are not emotionally qualified to evaluate your child as an athlete.” Because we all want to see our sons and daughters be as good as or better than the other kids, myself included.

It all emanates from this: Number one, be a good person; number two, be a good student; number three, be a good athlete; in that order. That doesn’t mean kids don’t slip. They do. That’s why we call them kids.


Photograph: José Osorio/Chicago Tribune



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