Prep Hardball, Hoop Coaches Tops


Maybe it’s because they’re game-planning for what will be a physical encounter but high school football coaches are tough to get a handle on.
Hoping to speak with one a half-hour before kickoff can be harder than hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. If they do spend any time with you, it’ll be brief, and some won’t even give you that.
More than a decade ago, I was assigned to write a preview of La Canada High’s upcoming football season.
No problem. Once there, I met with Head Coach Rich Wheeler, and he invited me into his office. After asking him a few questions, I proceeded to ask an assistant coach a question. He just stared at me for about 30 seconds. I figured he didn’t hear me, so I repeated the question. Again, there was silence.
I asked Wheeler, “Did he hear me?” “Yeah, he heard you but he’s not allowed to speak. That’s my job. I’m the only one who can answer questions.”
He hires him but he can’t speak on the record. To me, that seemed odd but then again so was Woody Hayes, who was released from his duties at Ohio State after slugging a Clemson player during a bowl game.
At the same school, Tom Hofman is the longtime boys’ head basketball coach. Hofman allowed me to speak with anyone, before or after a game. Dealing with Hofman was a breeze, which couldn’t be said of Wheeler.
What set the two apart was this: Hofman would talk after losses, while Wheeler did but was always brief, and often tried to bully writers.
Hofman, though not happy, would afford a writer whatever time was necessary. Wheeler would give you two minutes, if that.
Jim Ransford was the long-standing Flintridge Prep baseball skipper, and he made every reporter’s job easy.
A bright and witty man, Ransford was a delight. If you needed pre-game analysis or a quote, he was ready. The same applied after the contest.
Kenny Fisher coaches the Flintridge Prep girls’ hoop team, and like Ransford, Fisher is charming and insightful. Fisher never pulls any punches and is always candid, win, lose or draw.
If chatting and being informed is your goal, two of the best are Spiro Psaltis, a pitcher on USC’s 1978 national championship team, and Jim Delzell, who recently retired.
It’s hardly a coincidence that the pair were baseball coaches – Psaltis at Glendale and Delzell – at cross-town rival Hoover.
Covering a game when these two were going at it was fun. I knew that my notebook would be filled with enough data to write a game story and sidebar, but it was always their warmth and kindness that made it so.
Football is fine but head coaches usually yell and scream too much. It’s their weekly war but they should realize that it’s only a game. More should view their sport the way baseball and basketball coaches do.

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