A lot of people know Dan Haley who never knew him.
I have been coaching kids in one sport or another for most of my adult life. Somewhere out there are hundreds of kids – many of whom aren’t kids any more – who have learned football, basketball, baseball or softball from me.
I like to think they’ve learned something about life as well. If they did it came from a deep well, drilled and tended in large part by Coach Haley.
I was very lucky as a young man. I was a jock, and had the good fortune to have been coached by some fine men. Coach Haley was the head football coach at Paducah Tilghman, my high school. He was as good a man as I ever knew.
Now history will tell you that Coach Haley won two Kentucky state championships during his time at Tilghman. It lists his 253-79-3 record and his inclusion in the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 2007.
And that was Coach Haley.
But there was so much more.
At Tilghman football players had a curfew of 9:25 p.m. It wasn’t 9:30. It wasn’t 9:26. It was 9:25. Somehow we knew that Coach Haley would know if you got inside at 9:26 instead of 9:25.
It taught me to be punctual. It taught me that if practice – or a meeting, or a date, or anything else – starts at 5 p.m. you arrive at 4:45. It is respectful of other people. Of the team. Of the coach. Of yourself.
Many of the stories so many kids have heard from me over the years are not mine – they’re Coach Haley’s. I’ll spare you the one about the nut-cutting.
The ‘Hark, I thought I heard a canon roar’ story is his. Hundreds of kids have heard it from me. It speaks of preparation, and of proper preparation. Here it is:
A boy got a small part in the school play. His single line was ‘Hark! thought I heard a canon roar’.
Everywhere the boy went he repeated the line. ‘Hark! I thought I heard a canon roar,” he would say to anyone who’d listen. ‘Hark! I thought I heard a canon roar.’ His friends, his teachers and his parents all got tired of hearing it.
But it was only one line. He skipped the dress rehearsal, because he knew his line.
Then came the night of the show. The boy was confident. He knew his line. He was ready.
His cue came and the boy strode confidently onto the stage. He gathered himself to deliver his line.
Suddenly, offstage there was a huge ‘BOOM!’
The boy said ‘What in the Hell was that?!’
That’s a Coach Haley story. Another one I made up, and I try to tell it to all young coaches before they begin their seasons.
‘Kids will call you ‘Coach’ and it will mean something. You will influence them. Twenty years from now some young stranger will walk up to you and he (or she) will call you ‘Coach’. You may or may not remember them, but they will remember you. They will tell you that what you taught them, what you said to them and showed them, changed their life. You do not know now which kid and you do not know when. You do not know what day, what statement, what lesson or moment they will remember. It is an honor to be called ‘Coach’. It is a privilege.’
Coach Dan Haley passed away this week. A great coach and a fine man gone at 73. His legacy lives on. In a 50-some year career Coach Haley touched thousands of lives. He made them better. A man can ask for no more.
So Coach, when you come before the Great Scorer stand proud. I and thousands like me are continuing your good work.
‘For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, he marks not that you won or lost but how you played the game.’