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Wednesday, November 8

Chuck Hildebrand Speaks Out Against Ken Dalton

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A well publicized local sports media personality turned me on to this article today. I now see why I’ve never understood why no matter how good McQueen High School does, or does not do, we get horrible press coverage.

I think some people who get stomped on and called at the mark are jealous of those that put them in their place. I’ve been put in my place, heck, on a daily basis as a business owner it sometimes happens. When it does (and because it’s rare), rather than immediately come to blows, I try to just compose and then sit back in retrospect and see if that “asshole” was right, or do I need to give him a Southern piece of my mind. Sometimes, I sit quiet and realize I just got taught a lesson I needed to be taught. So goes it with Ken Dalton. It’s no secret he’s not everybody’s favorite person, but I generally choose to sit quiet when I have an evil thought his way.

My heroes have always been cowboys, and assholes (good ones). I’m proudly married to one of the biggest ones, and he’s successful and has done really well by me and my kids. So has Ken Dalton. Coach Dalton has done as much to make my son a real man in four years as any of his parents have been able to do. Dalton’s record speaks for itself, and old school is something I’m not willing to give up in the men of this nation. Being a REAL MAN sometimes calls for a hard line, I’m proud to know Mr. Dalton, and I’m happy my son has had four years of his influence. My son (who’s had words before with him) will be the FIRST ONE to stand in defense of this great man. As a mother, I can TELL when something’s ARY with the kid. I’ve questioned him before when I could TELL coach and he had a word or two. We have an open household, in which we sometimes “pretend” we are not parents and kids aren’t kids and we just talk as friends or adults. My OWN SON has told me before…”Mom, it’s just none of your business.”…”What happens in the locker room or on the field stays in the locker room and on the field.”… And then a day or so later, all is well again and back to normal.

Football is an entity of its own, and those who walk in that circle walk it together. My kids have ALWAYS been able to speak to their parents candidly about anything good or bad that sparks them. And, they do. I’m proud of my son, and I take him at his word…along with whatever relations I’ve had with this coach over many years. I’m not a bit ashamed to admit that when my son was in elementary school, and already playing Pop Warner and SYFL football I realized he would be a player…a starter. I bought my home, on purpose, many years ago specifically in the district that would allow him to play high school football and get the education that goes with that at what I feel to be one of the most elite high schools in Reno…McQueen High School. I’m printing below the quoted article from NevadaPrep.com that was written by Chuck Hildebrand. I have no idea who he is, but I felt his article was a bit harsh, and who puts “French Flare” in a phrase like “l’affaire de Dalton” in a FOOTBALL ARTICLE. Football is not a “sauce to be poured over fine food”, it’s blood and guts and principles of manhood. Football is like military service…only the tough and solid and those willing to fight for a cause do it. Good writing from the standpoint of pure journalism, but I feel a hint of anger here.




Why there’s something to be learned – and gained – from – l’affaire de Dalton

Now that the sordid, slanderous continuum of cacophony that was the 2006 Nevada election finally is over, we can move on to somewhat less sordid column topics.

And as seemingly is the case more often than not these days, an off-the-field matter – l’affaire de Dalton – seems to be the main topic of discussion this football postseason. As most everyone who cares about high school sports knows by now, the Washoe County School District suspended McQueen football coach Ken Dalton for the duration of the playoffs after he had a physical confrontation with two of his players during school last Monday (Oct. 30).

I’m not prepared to offer an opinion on whether the punishment was justified, because I wasn’t there, and the people who were there aren’t talking – nor should they be, given the possibility of future litigation. All we know is that Dalton would have been fired, and probably criminally charged, if he had actually struck either of the players with an attempt to injure, and that he would have been cleared completely if there hadn’t been some sort of physical contact. So we’ll just leave the “what” element at that.

But I think it should be pointed out that given the fact the players, and two of their teammates, were cited by police for a violation of the NIAA’s drug/alcohol/tobacco policy during the UNR football game two days earlier, the matter should have been in the hands of the school administration and not in Dalton’s.

The NIAA mandates a six-week suspension for a first offense – commutable to two weeks if the players comply with an alcohol-education program. Coaches do have the power to kick a player off a team permanently for violations of team and school policy, but most simply let the administration and the NIAA handle the problem and tell the players that they’ve punished themselves by getting into trouble in the first place.

On the other hand, that’s not the Ken Dalton way. Never has been, at least as long as I’ve known him.

Dalton has won 259 games and five state championships (and two CIF Northern Section titles) during his 33-year career largely because of his preoccupation with detail and his predilection for controlling every aspect of his program. Nothing involving McQueen football is out of his hands, if he can help it, so the fact he didn’t react calmly to the situation last week didn’t surprise me.The other thing you have to know about Ken Dalton is that, maybe more than any high school coach I’ve ever known, he has very few shades of gray in his personal makeup and in his dealings with people.

His world is one of black and white (or, to put it another way, McQueen blue and silver). If he thinks you’re loyal to him, he’ll return that loyalty and he’ll keep doing it long after you’re done playing for him. If you’re not – and especially if you do, say or write anything that he considers damaging or damning to McQueen football – he’ll slam the door on you as if you were an FBI agent confronting a doorman at a Prohibition speakeasy.

He’s done it to me, after I wrote about a couple of incidents involving his players that he claims to this day didn’t happen, even though I know for certain that they did. We haven’t exchanged more than a few cursory words in more than three years, and we cover McQueen football hardly at all now because he apparently has decided he doesn’t want or need to work with us. So given the way he reacted to me, I can imagine how angry he must have been with those four players after learning of the events at the UNR game.

Yet despite my differences with him, I couldn’t help but feel saddened as the events of last week became public knowledge, and despite what some McQueen people might think, I didn’t want him to lose his job or be disgraced.

Dalton has a masters degree in business administration, and had he chosen to go into the corporate world, he’d probably be a CEO and a multi-millionaire by now, because he does know how to run a business and make things work. Anybody in that position who instead takes an altruistic career route and spends 40 years in the teaching/coaching profession deserves respect, if not admiration.

If he had been fired because of this incident, he would have become the Woody Hayes of Nevada, remembered for one instance of bad judgment instead of all those games won and lives influenced. As with Hayes, I don’t think Dalton deserves to have a stigma like that attached to his legacy.

We didn’t get many responses to our stories about the Dalton situation, probably because I think most people involved with that program have the same antipathy for us that Dalton does, and don’t much care whether we cover them or not. But there was a post on www.lancerfan.com, a McQueen booster website, that I think reflects how most of the people who have played and worked for Dalton feel about him.

“All I can say is I played for Dalton a few years ago and while I didn't like listening to him when he was pissed at me or another player … he's never once struck, slapped, spit, kicked, shoved or done anything intimidating to anyone on my team other than to point out in no uncertain terms what an incredibly stupid football move and mental mistake you just made,” the post read in part.

“Yeah - you walk away feeling a few inches shorter, and your ears are ringing for a few minutes afterward, but you never forgot his point either! Regardless what you might think of Dalton - the players respect him because he earns it year after year.”

Chad Peters, the former Lowry basketball coach who was a football assistant under Dalton at McQueen, described him this way a couple of years ago: “Ken is more like a politician, and I mean that in a good way. He just has this knack for saying and doing the right thing. The first impression Ken makes is always good … if you shake his hand, not only does he know who you are, he knows who your wife is, your kids’ names, everything. He listens very well, and he’s so enthusiastic when he talks that you can’t help being enthusiastic yourself.”

In both those respects, Dalton, 60, is something of a period piece … and take that as you choose.

In 1967, when he first started coaching, and through the 1970s and 1980s and even into the 1990s, many, if not most, coaches were like that. You could get away with a lot more back then in terms of your treatment of your players, like screaming face-to-facemask at them, verbally dressing them down in front of their teammates, or even pushing them or slapping them on the helmet. Usually, the players took whatever the coaches dished out, and a lot of the time, it became a motivating force for them, as it apparently was for the former player I just quoted.

Also, because coaching turnover, parental and administrative interference, and the degree to which athletes focus on their individual recruiting statuses were far less pronounced then than they are now, coaches tended to be figures in the community. They didn’t insulate themselves to the degree that many coaches – especially those in urban areas – do now. Dalton is old-school from that standpoint, and when he wants to turn on the charm, as Peters said, he can inspire complete loyalty among his players and the program’s followers.

It’s still true that ultra-successful coaches like Dalton will get extra leeway, especially if they have a supportive administration, as Dalton does at McQueen. Players, parents, students and alumni all want to be part of a program that contends for a state championship almost every year. To do that, they’ll consider the source (and the risk of losing playing time) if a coach like Dalton gets upset with them. Unlike a lot of coaches, Dalton doesn’t have to play anyone, and if a player isn’t doing the job or doesn’t have the attitude Dalton wants, there’s always a multitude of replacements at the ready.

At the same time, regardless of how successful a coach is today and how much loyalty he inspires, the absolute bottom line in sports at any level is that the only way you can make physical contact with a player – beyond a handshake or a high-five or something of that nature – is by hugging him supportively or in congratulation, or by patting him on the head or back, either in praise or in exhortation. Even verbal abuse can get you in trouble because coaches are perceived as teachers first. As such, they are expected to interact with players in much the same way that classroom teachers do, with allowances made for the fact that athletics by their nature tend to be more emotional than your typical geometry class.

And I think that’s a good thing. I know I always responded to coaches, teachers and bosses much more productively if they treated me with respect and didn’t make their point by trying to embarrass or ridicule me, and I think most people feel the same way.

Most of the best coaches I’ve known over the years were also very good classroom teachers, some in subjects having nothing to do with sports. Reed basketball coach and math teacher Paul Gray is one example who comes immediately to mind.

The late Bud Presley, whom Bob Knight once said had the most astute basketball mind he’d ever come across, was a close friend. Bud, who was an assistant at UNLV for a while in the early 1980s and basically taught Jerry Tarkanian how to teach defense, had a masters degree in English, and he was tougher on me than my editors if I ever made a syntactical or grammatical mistake in a story. Another coach in this category was former Loyola Marymount basketball coach Paul Westhead, who also taught history classes at LMU at the time he took that Los Angeles university, which had little athletic heritage at the time and has done nothing since, within one win of the Final Four in 1990. (UNLV, which went on to win the national championship, beat the Lions in the West Regional final that year. That also was the year that LMU star Hank Gathers collapsed and died on the floor during a West Coast Conference tournament game.)

I also have been in the classroom on a day-to-day basis, as an advisor to the student newspaper at the school where I coached baseball in the mid-1990s. I know that experience gave me teaching tools that made me a better baseball coach – and maybe, after that, a better reporter and writer.

The whole idea – in coaching, teaching or any other position of authority – is to get the most out of the people under you, and giving them not only knowledge and interest in the subject at hand, but also coping skills that can help them in their post-athletic endeavors. Intimidation and anger usually don’t accomplish that.

I think Ken Dalton, in his frustration over an incident of the sort you don’t often see in his program and maybe in a momentary surrender to hubris, forgot those things last week.

But I’m glad, for the sake of the Greater Nevada sports community, he didn’t lose his job and that he’ll presumably be back coaching next year.

And as I’ve found out more times than I’d care to count, there’s something to be learned and gained from every mistake. I’m sure Dalton is wise enough to know that, and hopefully that will be to everyone’s benefit.