Thole: Gridiron observations show some things never change

The 1921 Stillwater football helmet is a far cry from those worn today.
The 1921 Stillwater football helmet is a far cry from those worn today.

After 45 years of playing and coaching football, I have come to some conclusions about the sport that Americans have come to love since Rutgers and Princeton squared off in the first game on Nov. 6, 1869.

It resembled a brawl with 25 men on each side, but it caught on quickly with those high-intellect Ivy League colleges. Back in those infant years, the sport was called “football fightum” when it was resurrected at Harvard in 1872.

For several years, I’ve had records of Stillwater High School football dating back to a 3-4 season in 1914, but had some artifacts that gave rise to an earlier birth in this community. Enter coach Beau LaBore with the aide of Washington County historian Brent Peterson, researcher Rich Arpi and Ponies statistician Frank Matschina and they managed to trace Big Red’s first grid season back to 1895 with a 4-2 start.

The game of football has changed in many ways over the past century, but many of the keys to success in the sport remain the same.
The game of football has changed in many ways over the past century, but many of the keys to success in the sport remain the same.

With that in mind, I offer some observations about people associated with the game that haven’t changed. Most of the classification of people directly involved in football comes in threes.


Three types of coaches

1. Those who are paranoid.

2. Those who are fired.

3. Those who are about to be fired. (I wonder why they’re paranoid?)


Three types of fans

1. Those who know what’s going on.

2. Those who don’t know what’s going on.

3. Those who don’t even suspect that anything is going on.


Three types of players

1. Smart: This guy understands the concepts that he is being taught and has a high standard of character. He knows that a team must have discipline to be successful. He puts the welfare of the team first and follows all the rules — he’s easy to coach.

2. Smarter than he thinks he is: This kid has ability, but lacks self-confidence. He needs many positive strokes on his way to becoming a productive player.

3. Not as smart as he thinks he is: This player will cause his coaches the most anguish. He is usually among the more talented players on the squad and is often on the edge of being a problem. He will need to have his demeanor tweaked by his coaches.


On day at practice, you will look around and see only smart players and a squad that is on the same page. Over several years of coaching, these observations pertained to every winning team. In pursuing the overall goal of winning, the coach is continuously confronted with situations that require skill in handling problem players, mending fences, building team morale and staying ahead of the best. It’ well worth the price!

Football is the only pure sport, as it does not require a year-round regimen of playing games or participation in off-season leagues. Injuries are way down as a percentage of participants, as are catastrophic injuries. Even when the old-timers played with poor helmets, no water, no mouth guards, heavy cotton jerseys and no common sense, it was a relatively safe activity when you consider the tempo and gusto that characterizes the sport.

Concussions are of great concern today, as they should be, but when you consider the many hours of exposure they are not common.

Players, coaches and fans are what make this sport special, but to be perfectly honest, it’s what makes all sports special.


Three ways to win

1. Teach fundamentals.

2. Be able to run.

3. Be able to defend the run.

3A. Be able to punt.


Three types of staffs

1. Those that imitate.

2. Those that innovate.

3. Those that procrastinate.


How to win

1. Eliminate mistakes.

2. Superior mental toughness.

3. Superior physical preparedness.


The game of high school football is 48 minutes long; however, there are only 12 to 13 minutes, approximately, of actual action in those 48 minutes. The rest of the time is spent getting into the huddle, in the huddle, coming out of the huddle, and preparing to put the ball in play. This means only six or seven minutes on offense and six or seven minutes on defense — approximately six seconds per play.

It is not too much to ask of a young man to put out all that he has for six seconds for a total of six to seven minutes with a rest in between. If you can convey this to your squad, you will have found the winning formula.


Well that’s my observations after playing and coaching the game for the better part of my life — and I loved every minute of it. Before I stop here, I would like to point out that more games are lost than are won. In other words, give a team the opportunity and they will usually beat themselves with fumbles, interceptions, poor or blocked kicks, penalties, etc.

The team that has the most yards rushing will win 90 percent of the time.

In the huddle

OK, it was a great Super Bowl game on Feb. 3 when the Ravens beat the 49ers 34-31. But Feb. 3? Give me a break, football shouldn’t be played after Jan. 1 and Baltimore got away with one in the closing seconds…. Former Ponies defensive lineman and track sprinter Paul Blackley ’81 is employed by Cargill, where he travels the globe. He resides in Plymouth with his lovely wife and four children. Three of which are in college. Ouch!…. Kudos to the Ponies skiers who competed at the alpine and Nordic state meets last week at Giants Ridge in Biwabik. It was all downhill for the state runner-up boys, led by seniors Jake Allison, Will Raedeke and Steig Peterson, and the girls finished sixth in the team standings while making their first trip in three years. Vessa Pearsall and Megan Weaver helped the Stillwater girls finished fourth at state behind Wayzata, Duluth East and SEC rival Roseville. Sean Bjork tracked down all-state honors to lead a trio of Stillwater boys competing at state… Forget about treading on me…. finis

Today’s rumination #606

Don’t automatically accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.

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George Thole retired as head football coach at Stillwater after the 1999 season. He ranks among Minnesota’s top coaches in history with a 285-69-2 record (.805 winning percentage), including four state titles and two state runner-up finishes among 22 championship seasons. He co-authored (with Jerry Foley) “Coaching the Veer Offense,” second edition. His column appears Thursdays in the Gazette. To contact the hall of fame coach e-mail: [email protected]