Coach's Corner

Coaching is a grind. There is no way around the long hours and there is no way of avoiding the stress. It comes with the territory and it's generally accepted that it's not a matter of "if" you're going to get fired, but "when". The interpersonal relationship with the players is what keeps you going. That and the working relationships you have with your fellow coaches and friends. Enduring the struggle winning or losing together is a wonderful bonding experience.

To have played the game of football is a wonderful social experience. The electricity in a locker room and the spiritual bonding is literally indescribable. As a coach, it was a responsibility to respect it.

I will always be honored to have been called coach. It is important to me that I have left a part of myself with literally hundreds or even thousands of kids through out my career. I know I worked well with kids and I know I was honest with them. I would never take anything back from how I approached the game or all those experiences. I was blessed to have had the opportunity to coach at my local university, at the highest level of the game of collegiate football, less than 2 miles from where I grew up.

The only part that I would ever take back is the part about getting fired.

Honestly, I never even considered getting fired until it happened. That was simply much too negative energy to even entertain. I was a product of the state of Washington and the city of Seattle football programs. I learned the game here from fine coaches and educators. I tried to pass the game on to others and have always referred to myself as a sports-educator.

Getting fired sent my whole family into a tailspin because they were so used to my yearly, monthly, daily, hourly, and minute by the minute routines all within the title of Coach Baird.

This is my hometown. This is where I grew up. I used to sneak into Husky games when I was a kid because I didn't have the 50 cents to pay my way in. I went to the Rose Bowl with the Huskies in 1959 and 1960.

So when it went down, I began to ask out loud, "Barbara, how can you fire me? You don't know a thing about the sport of football. You don't even know what we do, or have done, or are going to do. You've never even sat in on a staff meeting, hardly ever went to practices, and never attended one of my linebacker meetings, for sure.

"How can you fire me when you don't know anything about what I do?"

Yet, there I was on the street with 10 other guys, and their wives, and their children. That's 24 children total.

I will never know what went on behind closed doors, but I do know that Jim Lambright and Barbara Hedges did not work well together. There was always strained relationships because she never really backed us and we didn't really trust her. Working without trust does not fit in the competitive arena. Everyone has to feel they feel like they are all working together for a common goal. That had been missing ever since Coach James had stepped down in protest over the lack of support from the same administration.

We were still winning and got fired. How can that be?

That's exactly why Washington got Tyrone Willingham. He got fired after taking his team to a bowl game. It's a strange profession when you fire a coach who graduates his kids, does things right, has great dignity and character and is flat out a great sports-educator.

I think Washington got very lucky.

I can promise you that his whole staff at Notre Dame went through the same sick, in-your-gut emotions that we did when we got fired. They had to tell their kids they were moving again and they'd have to make new friends. Sell the house, buy a new one if you're lucky enough to land on your feet and get another coaching job. Move and disrupt your whole family.

You've been pink slipped, my man. Get your resume updated, pick up the phone and make connections with your connections. Forget about your 15 years of service, we'll mail you your pin and send you your monthly severance. Pack up your desk, turn in your key, and don't let the door hit you in the rear on your way out.

In the wake come the decisions of, "What am I going to do, where am I going to go, and who is going with me?"

For me, I decided to stay. I stayed because of family and friends. Realizing there were few coaching positions at the college or professional levels in the Seattle area, I decided to get out of coaching. I was good at what I did (recruiting), worked hard at my job (coaching linebackers), was good with kids, and did things in the right way. We had won a notional championship and had been to 12 bowl games. Nobody liked playing us.

And I got fired.

Somebody wanted to get rid of us. It comes with the territory and when it does happen, you just have to deal with it.

For me, at least, that was the hardest part of the profession. Let's hope Willingham and his staff doesn't have to go through that. But at the very least it will mean he's found success at Washington.

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