Coaches typically seem to have at least two personalities.
There’s the side that’s reserved, close to the vest and even slightly guarded.
That’s the personality that births coachspeak clichés that, even though sometimes sound monotonous and are predictable, most coaches actually mean the things they say.
Like, “We’re taking things one game at a time,” or “We’re just focusing on our next opponent.”
My personal favorite (that doesn’t always apply to high school coaches that I’ve covered): “We don’t read the newspapers.”
But what I’ve found in nine years of covering sports in Georgia is that if you hang around long enough, the guard will drop. The coachspeak lexicon will get shoved into their back pocket and the real, unedited passion coaches have for the kids, teams and sports they coach will come shining through.
I saw several examples of this tried-and-true, battle tested phenomenon over the last seven days. Incidentally, both from Eastside coaches.
Of course, last Friday after the Eastside football Eagles fell to Woodward Academy in an intense battle that got majorly impacted by what appeared to be a couple of badly missed calls, was one of those moments.
After the end of the game, Eastside players and coaches alike were piping hot over the missed horse collar and fumble call that went against running back, Taylor Carter. When I approached Eastside head coach, Troy Hoff immediately after the action, the look he shot me foreshadowed the words that were about to escape from his lips.
“Not right now,” he said.
I’ve seen that look and heard those words from coaches following tough losses before, so I didn’t take it personally. I never do. That gaze was Hoff’s way of saying “I need to have a few real, raw moments with my team and myself before we talk.”
And sure enough, after about 10 minutes had passed, Hoff came back out with full media game face on, ready to chat.
But then I saw it again this past Thursday night from the typically mild-mannered Eastside softball coach, Heather Wood. I’ve been covering sports down here for a full year now, and I think I’ve had personal conversations with most – if not all – coaches.
I can honestly say that of all of the ones I’ve encountered, Wood was the one I least expected to have one of those non-scripted, highly animated moments. But on Thursday, in the middle of one of the more intense softball games I’ve had the privilege of covering, Wood let loose on an umpire in a major way.
It happened after the umpire apparently didn’t honor a timeout called by Dani Fairey from second base. Wood explained what happened that lit her fire.
“The thing is, I thought the umpire saw her put her hand up,” Wood said. “And you just up that’s something that the umpire will catch something like that quickly and just go ahead and call time.”
And I love the fact that Wood, otherwise a seemingly tranquil person, didn’t apologize for her, ahem, enthusiasm.
“These games are so intense and it brings out a lot of emotions,” Wood said. “And I felt like, I’ve gotta stick up for my girls and I wanted to do whatever I could…we didn’t want momentum to go (Spalding’s) way. And I think that kind of got our girls up a little bit.”
Indeed it did. After being dominated a bit in Wednesday’s Game 2 — a 7-2 loss to Spalding — Eastside played with an edge on defense and sophomore pitcher, Kailey Rusk looked like a Division I bound senior, the way she cut down 12 Spalding batters on strikeouts.
All it did was show me that these coaches care probably more than sportswriters, fans or even some parents will ever, ever know. And please, let no one every make you believe that women and girls sports are any less intense or void of competitive fire than any mens or boys sports.
In a game where there were many close calls, near misses and a bunch of talented but young and inexperienced Eastside softball players on the field, it may very well have been Wood’s timely fire that helped push her girls over the mental hump to know that they belonged.
They belonged in a tight ball game against an experienced and talented Spalding squad.
They belong in the company of the best high school softball teams that Georgia has to offer.
And, yes, they belong in Columbus. In the Elite Eight, playing for a state championship.
Every player and coach willing to speak on it said they were looking forward to having a fun, free and loose experience in Columbus. But that doesn’t mean the fire won’t be there, starting with Coach Wood.
“We want it to be a great experience for them,” Wood said. “But we’re also hoping to come out and compete. That’s exactly what we want.”
Gabriel Stovall is the proud sports editor of The Covington News. He can be reached for story ideas and tips at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find him on Twitter: @GabrielStovall1, and @CovNewsSports.