As he walked into Jim Stalvey’s on a Friday afternoon, you could see a look of ease on Kirk Hoffman’s face. His team, Alcovy – still seeking its first win of the season – is on a bye week and Hoffman doesn’t have to play a game that Friday night.
He walks through the door, we shake hands, greet each other and get a table for two. He orders country fried steak and I get the chopped steak. We sit and talk as we wait for our food.
The way Hoffman runs his team now comes down from coaching he got decades ago. In high school, Hoffman was a wrestler, but he also played football, baseball and ran track. Hoffman, who coaches wrestling and football now, was awarded a full scholarship to Clemson, where he went all four years before graduating in 1985 and almost immediately starting his coaching career just months later.
“I enjoy coaching wrestling. That’s always gonna be a passion deep in my heart. It’s been in my life I guess about 46 years and football has been too. When I was growing up we didn’t have Little League, we had YMCA. Every kid played football and then they either played basketball or wrestling and then they went to baseball. You kind of went as your whole neighborhood went,” Hoffman said.
For Hoffman what it all comes down to for his philosophy is this: it’s not about the coach, it’s about the kid.
“Athletics is an extension of the school. The school is to prepare these young men to be great citizens and to be great workers and great husbands,” Hoffman said. “I don’t know what avenue they’re going to take when they leave high school. It may be the military, it may be the work force, it might be college. Athletics is a part of whatever avenue they wanna take after high school. So let’s prepare them for that avenue. If they’re a good enough athlete to go on and play college ball and pro ball, then let’s prepare them for that. But there’s also a place to prepare a kid for the work force through athletics. Being held accountable, being on time, those kind of things. My philosophy is to help raise a fine young man.”
Hoffman’s father passed away when he was 10, leaving him to be raised by a single mother. Hoffman, however, found a father figure in his high school sweetheart and now wife’s father as well as his high school football coach, Mike Chocco.They are his two greatest influences today.
Chocco, according to Hoffman, was a man of integrity. Hoffman says Chocco influenced him in life beyond coaching.
“I find myself doing things that he taught me 35 years ago. He’s the one that sat me down when I first got into coaching and he told me, ‘Coach you’re going to struggle because you’ve been a competitor. So you’re going to go into the coaching arena and think ‘How can you help me win young man? How can you help me win?’ That’s not what coaching is. As a coach it’s not what the kids can help you obtain, it’s what can you help the kids obtain?”
Hoffman says he did struggle, but experience has been his greatest teacher and that experience has provided him with the wisdom he has now.
He tells me the story of his coaching career, which began in 1985 at Fayette County. Still coaching years later, Hoffman is the bridge between four different decades of football. Now in his 30th year, Hoffman sits back and speaks to this reporter about how the game has changed.
“I think you talk to anybody that’s been coaching and you look back, the game’s changed. It’s gotten faster, kids are bigger, but then also everything outside the game’s changed. The Internet, recruiting and getting kids into college. A lot of other things have come about, just in the last 10 to 15 years that have made the job as a coach – not just a head coach but any coach – has made it a lot more difficult, a lot more time consuming,” Hoffman said.
“Back in ‘85 when you started coaching, you coached everything. Back then you didn’t coach just one sport. At Fayette County a guy named Conrad Nicks, who a lot of people know down in south Georgia, needed an assistant coach on defense and he said, “Hey, come coach with us.” That got me in there and a guy named Sam Pickett got me in and kind of promoted me up in the staff and it kind of took off from there.
Before at least one new Apple Iphone was released every year, before Twitter became the go-to application consuming all of your down time and before streaming was a thing – kids played sports when in their spare time.
“Back in ‘85 kids played because they loved the game, they wanted to be out there,” Hoffman said. “Nowadays we struggle because kids have so many other avenues out there. Back then sports was the only thing to do after school. You either played sports or you went to work. Nowadays, there are so many other avenues out there, there so many things pulling the kids today that wasn’t pulling at them in 1985. I think that’s the biggest difference when you look at that.”
Another new wrinkle in football that wasn’t a problem back when Hoffman started coaching in the mid 80’s was kids playing more than one sport. Back then it was common for student-athletes to be two or three-sport athletes.
“Back in 1985, you didn’t ask kids to specialize. You understood your football player was also gonna be a baseball player or he might be a basketball player,” Hoffman said. “Now we’ve got so many different coaches and organizations pulling at the same kid that you’ve got to change your philosophy a little bit if you’re in it to help the kid. I think what’s amazing is, when these colleges come in to recruit a kid, they wanna see a kid play more than one sport. Some of the kids don’t understand that, they think they have to specialize.”
“If you look at the kids who have come through my program just here at Alcovy – Devon Edwards was all-state basketball and all-state football. My theory is, if I tell a kid he can’t do another sport, that’s selfish on my part. I want him to do that for me not for him. This is still about the kids, it ain’t about what I can accomplish. When a kid’’s 25 years old if he’s playing at the next level that’s great. But if he’s not, I wanna know that I maybe had a hand in raising a fine young man, a great husband, a great worker/co-worker.”