"Coaching Commentary"

By Dr. Ken
For many helmet aficionados, the landscape of high school and college football provides an exciting and vast collection of helmet designs and styles that surpasses the offerings of the professional ranks. Despite the fact that the way in which the game of football is played, coached, presented, and viewed is significantly different than it was in the 1950's and '60's, it remains a great spectacle. Still, at all levels, from high school through the professional game, it is easy to observe and easy to judge the game as "not being what it was."
If one follows high school football nationally, they know the names of those who run the elite recruiting services



and websites. One of the more prominent names is Max Emfinger who was a letterwinner at Baylor in 1965 and served as a Dallas Cowboy scout. He heads his National Bluechips Recruiting Service and is one of the big names in this specific arena. As a member of Coach Gordon Wood's Brownwood (Texas) High School 1960 4A State Championship team, there is no doubt that Emfinger and his teammates not only won the championship, but learned a great deal about living from Wood.

Emory Bellard is known as the Darrell Royal assistant coach who invented and introduced the Wishbone Offense to the University Of Texas, a move that would rejuvenate the program and lead it to the National Championship and years of glory. Bellard later became the head coach at Texas A&M and had a successful tenure there but before and after his collegiate coaching career, he was a high school coach, another in the long line of successful Texas high school coaches. Bellard's Breckenridge team won state titles in both 1958 and '59.


There are successful high school coaches everywhere and I have to believe that most still view coaching as teaching and football as a vehicle to instill values and present lessons that will be useful for a lifetime. I also know that in some parts of the country, high school coaches are paid an inordinate amount of money to do nothing else but win football games and they view their role similarly to college coaches. In a culture of celebrity where substance of character is secondary to being known, being accepted, being noticed, and being "somebody", football as the last bastion of character-building is becoming an eroding edifice.
In the 1950's and 1960's most football coaches as did most men in any profession, had a military background. The huge influx of men that the military required for World War II, the Occupation, the quick to follow Korean War, and the build-up of US manpower in Viet Nam that began in 1963 obviously meant that most adult males during this time period had served their country at home or abroad. Their military background allowed them to apply the values and techniques they had either learned or experienced so that they could lead a group of young men towards a commonly held goal. There was a strong reliance on physical conditioning, in part due to the demands of the game of football which required all participants to play both offense and defense and often on special teams, and in part due to the value in mentally toughening the group. Accompanying the psychological aspects of a demanding conditioning program was the direct effect of bringing the group together as they worked hard to achieve their common objectives. The goals of the individual were subjugated to the goals of the group and nothing was as important as "the team." Coaches like Emfinger's Gordon Wood, recognized by many as the best and most successful high school coach of all time, were true teachers of both football and values that were consistent with the society at large and the communities they lived in.
Today's conditioning programs, despite the input of legitimate scientific research, the most accurate of biomechanically designed exercise machines, and the supervision of degreed strength coaches, pale in comparison to those of the mid 1950's to mid-1960's. When high school players do no more than man the offensive right tackle position and sometimes not in passing situations, there is no need for heavy-duty physical conditioning and because of that, many lessons are lost. Now, one look at any pro football game quickly projects the need and expectation that almost every player has for individual achievement and recognition. There are extremes like Terrell Owens but watch special teams play to immediately know that the game reflects the lowest common denominator of the culture. It is a given that most special teams players are not starters, they are men hanging on at the fringes of the roster, men that must make the very most of any and every game day opportunity. They are fortunate to "get a look" on special teams because they have yet to show enough ability or consistency to play a "regular position" as a starter. Yet, in making a tackle, doing nothing more than their required job, something that must be done in order to continue their career as a professional football player, they will shake, bake, quake, and demonstrate in order to bring attention to their most minor individual act or achievement. Note too that they'll ignore the fact that their team may be losing by four touchdowns at the time! At the professional level, it might be justified by some as being  part of the entertainment product that the game has to be in order to attract fans although to those who respect the game itself, it isn't truly tolerable. At the collegiate and high school levels the behavior and lack of team oriented focus is unacceptable yet a fact of modern life.
It falls to the coaches to convey the true value of the game and to take the responsibility to teach not only the techniques specific to a position or the strategy of a particular offense, but of the possible life lessons inherent to the game. When multi-million dollar per year coaches also view themselves as rock stars or media celebrities, you can believe this is a lost cause and when true believers in the value of the game scratch their heads and wonder why the game has changed, it is the celebrity, the money, and the need for individual attention. The allure and value in the offerings that HELMET HUT brings to those who love football is often overlooked. The vast array of collegiate helmets not only traces the suspension-era history of each school, but serves as a reminder of how the game used to be played and what it stood for. A quick glance at one's helmet display can refresh each day and inject enthusiasm for any daily task as memories of teams-past flash through the mind, recalling the dedication and sacrifice that resulted in a shared victory or common goal. A HELMET HUT purple KANSAS STATE helmet from 1972-73 could remind one of Steve Grogan and his gallant play against stifling odds each week and the fact that the Wildcats persevered to finally establish themselves as a consistent collegiate power for years. The excellence one strives for in all activity can be viewed in the collection of 1970's OKLAHOMA UNIVERSITY helmets. In many ways, HELMET HUT provides a sense of history and a sense of cultural sensibility, reminders that important values can remain in the forefront.