Time Out with Coach Little: I called him 'coach'

June 9, 2019 - Many athletes can reflect back to their athletic days and identify the coach who most inspired them. My coach was Frank Buckiewicz at Pacific University. He was the guest speaker at the Warrenton football banquet in 1969.

His talk was directed to the 2-7 Warrenton team. He was enthusiastic and passionate about football and life. Soon after he began speaking, I wanted to attend Pacific University and if possible play football for this man. As it turned out Coach Buckiewicz, hereafter only being referred to as Coach, became my seventh football coach in seven years.

He would also be my last football coach. 

Coach demonstrated the personality and character traits important for us to have.

As I lined up to catch passes on my first day of practice, Coach yelled, “Hey Warrenton Flash! I thought you were a quarterback!” My senior, year I threw more than 20 interceptions and was not so sure quarterback would be my college position.

Yet he was confident in my abilities and I became the No. 2 quarterback. I also started several games that fall.

He left no doubt as to his confidence in his decisions about players and their positions.

During my second season at Pacific, a transfer quarterback from Arizona State University convinced me my quarterback days were numbered. 

Coach called me into his office after three games and informed me I was moving to the other side of the ball to the safety position. Our next opponent, the Linfield Wildcats, was the league favorite each year — and Coach made changes to try for an upset win.

Eventually, a missed field goal as time expired preserved that upset victory; it was his belief in us that carried the day.

When we played College of Idaho my junior season, Coach called me into his office; there wasn’t enough room to take all special team players, so I was assigned the kicking duties. I was not sure why he asked me because I hadn’t kicked in more than two years, while at Warrenton.

In the end, I made 7-of-8 and, later that season, I was 5-for-5 against Southern Oregon University.

Coach had ways to challenge my competitive nature.

With my first six football coaches, we ran six different offenses.  Because of this, I thought I knew football. As it turned out, I knew very little. Coach taught me the game of football. I not only learned offense and defense, I learned the “why” in calling plays from offense and defense perspectives.

When I graduated from Pacific, Coach helped me secure a head football position at Spray High School. For those of you thinking it was “just” an eight-man football school, Coach would say: “Nothing is ‘just’ unless you let it be.”

Because of him, I understood I was not “just” an eight-man football coach; I was Spray’s eight-man football coach.

Coach allowed me to have my Spray players be inside the locker room to hear his pre-game talk before the Whitman game in 1975. He also traveled to Spray to speak at the Spray athletic awards night. He knew there were no recruits for Pacific University, yet he made every athlete in attendance feel like they were important.

I think the emotional intensity of Coach may have rubbed off on me. During the Southern Oregon University game, Coach was given three unsportsman-like penalties in a row when the officials called a deceptive play illegal.

I, on the other hand, was once removed from the Cottage Grove gym during a girls JV basketball game when I, too, disagreed with an officials’ call.

Coach passed away last year but his legacy of character building lives on through his wife, four children, me and my four children, and the hundreds of players and opponents he influenced.

Not a day goes by that I don’t thank him for the extra layers of competitiveness and determination to win he showed me.

My toughest opponent today is Multiple Sclerosis. When I was diagnosed in 1986, MS became my challenge.

I use the same determination Coach used as, week after week in 1970, he prepared us for victory that never came. He did not quit on us.

Two years later, we were ranked sixth in the nation. My strength to fight MS was formulated from my days at Pacific University, and the time I spent around the most intense and competitive person there.

Today, my team is my wife, family and friends. They support me without sympathy; they allow me to struggle in some everyday activities that were once easy — and yet know when it is time to help me. So far, this attitude assists me in retaining my own independence.

MS is my lifetime opponent. I may not win but I am giving MS one tough game.

If there is a coach in your past that greatly influenced you, write them a letter and let them know how you are doing — and what their example meant to you.

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