Eagle-Vail: Why it stinks to be an athletic director
EAGLE-VAIL ” By now the word is out at Battle Mountain. Rich Houghton is out as the school’s athletic director, or in more bureaucratic-speak “reassigned within the district.”
As we put a wrap of the athletic year, there are many in Huskies-land who are doubtless pleased. Houghton wasn’t going to win a “most-beloved” award of any form any time soon.
I come not to bury Rich nor to praise him, with apologies to the great Bard. I’ve heard a lot of the reasons why some are happy with this development. I’ve not exactly been his biggest fan, but this brings up an important point.
An A.D.’s job is not to be everybody’s best friend. In reality, if you are doing your job as best you can, you probably don’t have many friends as an A.D. That’s because it’s pretty much an impossible job at public school.
The Battle Mountain’s athletic director’s job ” much like Cliff Zehring’s down at Eagle Valley (subbing softball for hockey) ” goes something like this. You’ve got roughly 16 different varsity teams playing during three different seasons. Each team and its coach understandably thinks his or her team is the most important at the school.
You need to arrange schedules, venues, travel and coaches for these 16 or so teams. Now multiply that by three. That’s because you’ve also have to have junior varsity and freshman/C-teams.
Then you have to make sure your athletes are all academically eligible which is a ton of paper work, not to mention the drug-testing program required for students participating in any extracurricular activity, athletic or not. And when you think you’ve got a schedule set and things are going smoothly, weather moves in and blows that all to heck.
On top of that, you get to meet with parents who have a beef as to why their precious athletic prodigy is not playing as much as they think is proper, not to mention a booster club, annoying media people like me and silly CHSAA sportsmanship rules.
And if things go poorly on the field, that’s generally your fault too.
Not a bad run
To review, Houghton was not a bad A.D., and let’s remember for all the reasons explained above, there is really no such thing as “good” A.D. because no human can all that and have people like him.
Bad A.D.? Thy name is Scott Wiedeman (1997-2000). The first rule of the position is that you really can’t have a person in this position who also coaches. Yes, Houghton coached Nordic, but he wasn’t a football coach like Wiedeman who thought that every other sport was pretty much an inconvenience.
In fairness to the duly departed, Houghton presided over the most successful period in Battle Mountain history, though props are also deserved for his predecessor, Fred Koetteritz. Seriously, folks, if you blame Houghton entirely for boys basketball coach Philip Tronsrue walking and other episodes, you have to give him credit when things go well.
And they really have since he took over. Battle Mountain has won four state titles, all not in skiing, which makes this all the more remarkable in Eagle-Vail. Huskies teams have also picked up a myriad of league titles, including some dynastic runs in soccer, volleyball and cross country and even some crowns in sports previously long dormant ” boys basketball (2006) and boys track and field (2008).
Then there’s coaching stability. We’ve had some bumps in the road recently with Tronsrue and boys lacrosse coach Bob Daino. This does happen. Cooloer heads on all sides should have prevailed with regard to Coach T. And the parents really needed large-sized tranquilizers in this case.
But look particularly at the hot seats. Gary Defina has been the hockey coach for four years and counting which makes him Connie Mack-like in his tenure after the program had three coaches in four years.
Yes, volleyball coach Brian Doyon just left, but he was there for six years, which was astounding stability at that post. Girls basketball (Andrew and Andria Schmid), wrestling (Jesse Long) and baseball (Jason Spannagel) are no longer the revolving doors they used to be. Football remains football with David Joyce entering his second year this fall, but that’s another column.
I don’t buy the “Houghton is causing a coaching drain” theory. The school lost two very good coaches in the last year in Rob Parish and Doyon.
To review, Parish and his now-fiancee, Kelli Witter, had an opportunity to teach in Italy for two years. That wasn’t Houghton. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Of course, the soon-to-be-Parishes left.
Doyon was looking to move up in volleyball coaching and he did ” to an assistant’s job at Division I. Remember that Doyon was looking after the 2006 season as well. He got a shot and took it.
In fact, I think Houghton’s brought in some good coaches to fill recent vacancies. Tom Padilla knows basketball at Battle Mountain. He’s played here in the 70s. He’s coached here. He’s aware of the challenges the sport faces in a mountain town.
Whoever succeeded Parish in cross country was just going to be out of luck (Lyle Knudsen). Those were big running shoes to fill. Keep an eye on Ken Long, though. The guy’s a running freak. On the track side of things, Laurie Kleisinger and Jeff Krumlauf suffered major graduation losses, as cycles will do at schools this size, but have the program going in the right direction.
Volleyball? If Lara Bossow has doesn’t have instant credibility, let her put a few down in the first practice in the fall and she’ll have it.
The real hard part
Now we get to the difficult aspect of an A.D.’s job, as if the preceding were really glamorous. We’re talking parents. I can sympathize here. I am a very powerful person. Judging by my voice mail, I make teams win and lose. (By the way, if I really did this, do you really think football would have gone 0-10 last year?)
The thing with being an A.D. is that you’ve got to take the meeting no matter how ridiculous the parent is being. It’s a public school and that’s the deal. And this leads to the perception that Houghton didn’t back up his coaches, especially when it came to Dr. Phil.
Of course, in a perfect world, you’d want your A.D. to stand up to the basketball trio who helped show Tronsrue the door and say, “You’re nuts. Get the heck out of my office.” If Houghton does that, he exposes the school district to a law suit.
My bet is that if Tronsrue didn’t resign, Houghton would have looked into the concerns of the three parents representing the disgruntled, found their claims to be silly, told these folks they were off their rocker in a polite way, and Coach T (if he wanted to be) would still be in charge of the basketball program.
Instead, Tronsrue walked, not allowing Houghton to do his thankless job. Again, cooler heads on all sides would have been nice, but what’s an A.D. to do?
Then, there is probably the worst part of an A.D.’s job ” being the kill-joy at home games, telling people to shush. To refresh your memory, Battle Mountain got on sportsmanship probation in November 2006 because:
– Some football assistants spouted some profanities which made it onto the radio in 2005. That happened down in Glenwood Springs at an ancient press box, where coaches and radio guys are right next to each other. Profanity shouldn’t be on the air, but it happens with a set-up like that.
– Battle Mountain basketball crowds were too rowdy in 2006. I think the bigger story here is that the fans actually had reason to get into a Huskies basketball game.
– Alums were drinking at the state volleyball tournament in 2006. This is serious, but CHSAA and the City of Denver are responsible for security at the Coliseum. Further, the Battle Mountain administration had no jurisdiction over the alums.
Nevertheless, postseason berths for all Huskies sports teams could have been yanked and Houghton and company had to crack down. I’ll speak for Rich saying this is not why he got into education. He didn’t want to be the guy stopping, “The warm up the bus chant.”
Check out the minutes online for CHSAA’s Board of Control’s guidelines of sportsman-like cheering. Anything which might be considered mocking to another school or provoke a response from those fans is taboo. There are extensive examples of unacceptable cheering which includes, “We’ve got spirit. Yes, we do. We’ve got spirit. How ’bout you?”
For those of you in David Cope’s history class who learned that the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand started World War I, you’re wrong. A Serb actually yelled that cheer.
Are CHSAA’s rules ridiculous? Yes. Is it frustrating to go on the road and hear another school’s fans chant, “Bull—-” in response to ref’s call while you’re being told to keep it down? Absolutely.
Was Houghton and the administration acting properly in being fun police? Unfortunately, yes. Whether Battle Mountain was on probation at the time or off, as it has been the last few years, it’s only common sense.
For this and many other reasons, an athletic director’s job is absolutely thankless. Don’t forget that when you’re not happy with the man or woman who takes Houghton’s place.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or email@example.com.