- Les Hultgren • March 9, 1944 – August 27, 2001
These are some of my Mr. Hultgren (Coach) memories.
“The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.” – Albert Schweitzer
When Coach was videographer at my wedding, I listed his name as “Coach.” When this was questioned, I gave it much thought and decided that referring to Coach as Les would be like referring to my mother as “Kathy” or my father as “Randy.” There is a level of respect that exceeds no other. This is my father. This is my mother. This is my coach.
During various stages of my life, Coach was always there for me. When my parents got divorced, Coach pulled me aside several times and helped me get through the divorce. He helped me go to Heart of America Basketball camp twice a year so that I could go to one camp to improve by playing against older kids and another so I could play with kids my age and build confidence. When I had surgery my senior year during football, he let me keep stats so I could still feel I was part of the team. He helped me through recovery, and he enrolled me in a fall basketball league to help prepare me for my basketball season.
When he asked me if I was dedicated to playing college basketball and I said “yes,” he committed to finding me a college scholarship from a school I would be proud to play for. After attending many college basketball games together, he led me to Baker University for both academics and athletics. Attending Baker was one of the best decisions I ever made, and it gave me the opportunity to play for another great coach and mentor, Ric Weaver. Although he gave me such personal attention, I am just one of the many students Coach helped with college scholarships.
“The first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But….the good Samaritan…..reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Coach and I used to play one-on-one for hours. One day my contact shattered and cut my eye, and Coach took care of me. Another morning, I split my head while using strength shoes. My friends and strength shoe training partners, Lucas and Loren, looked at me in shock and knew exactly what to do; run and get Coach. Once again Coach took care of everything. He always knew what to do, and he always looked out for others.
These are just a few of the things that Coach did for me. I think I could write a book if I tried to cover everything. The amazing thing is that behind every player and student, there are thousands more stories. He dedicated his life to teaching, coaching and helping his family, friends, students and players.
Coach demanded 100%! He taught us right from wrong and demanded discipline. As a freshman you learned that after the 100th time of “One More Play” those words had a different meaning to Coach. He was just trying to get us to be our best and make sure we were ready to win.
Coach had his own way of doing things–whether it was “ready ready” to get your full attention or a “ready hit it” to applaud you for your accomplishments. It would be below zero in football and most of the players had more clothes on than an Eskimo, but Coach would be in his red shorts. I don’t even think he was cold; that’s how tough he was.
“You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.” – John Wooden, Hall of Fame Basketball Coach
Coach was great at building confidence. He was also great about keeping you in line so you weren’t overconfident. I remember one year when I was playing fairly well and my head was getting big, as it sometimes does, another player rejected my shot about halfway up the bleachers. That night at the awards banquet, Coach made sure that everyone heard about how bad I got rejected. That was his way of making sure we kept improving and striving to be our best, never settling for mediocrity.
“Your only job is to help your team get better.” – Tony Dungy, Football Coach and Author
Coach always said that there were two options– get better or get worse. If you didn’t practice and others were, then you were going to get worse. No matter how many points you scored, touchdowns you made, home runs you hit or tests you aced, Coach always pushed you to try harder and keep improving.
Other players use to kid me about being “coach’s boy.” If working hard and being coachable was being “coach’s boy,” than that was great to me because the only way I could give back to him was giving him 100% of my effort. That was the great thing about our 1988/1989 basketball team that had a record of 20-3. There were 12 players diving all over the floor and giving coach 100%; just like some of his football teams and baseball teams.
“If a guy pays you five dollars, you give him seven dollars worth of work.” –Bill Russell, Boston Celtics Legendary Player and Coach
Coach Hultgren expected you to give more than 100%. While giving over 100% may seem impossible, he knew that your idea of 100% was actually only about 70%. He knew you could give 110% of what you thought was 100%. As Coach’s son, Troy, explained, he always said “A job worth doing demanded 100%.”
I feared Coach more than I feared anyone in my life. In addition to the perceptions I had coming into high school, the main reason I feared him was because I was scared I would disappoint him. The last thing I wanted to do was upset him. I used his voice and his lessons in college to motivate myself to keep working harder. I attribute many of my accomplishments to his credit, as I’m sure other players and students do as well.
“Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.” –John Wooden, Hall of Fame Basketball Coach
Occasionally, I would get upset with Coach, especially in my high school days. However, it was the same kind of mad that you get at your parents when they discipline you. I was angry because I knew he was right. My freshman year in high school, he was very hard on me for shooting jot shots and being lackadaisical. Had he not been hard on me, I may have never developed the fundamentals and work ethic I needed to succeed later in high school, college and in my professional career.
Coach wasn’t overly worried about your talent. He wanted to reach your potential with the talent you were given.
“There are only two options regarding commitment. You’re either in or you’re out. There is no such thing as life in between.” – Pat Riley, Basketball Coach
I remember there were days when I thought Coach was treating me unfairly. My senior year, I missed our first film session because I slept in. He was so furious with me. As the senior leader, he expected more. He kept me after practice that evening, and I didn’t think he was ever going to let me quit running. To this day, I still remember how horrible that experience was and how much I thought he hated me. At the time, I was so upset at him. I think that evening had to include a record for making a kid run. However, I will never forget it, and I never was late or missed a meeting again (in high school or college).
Another time, I learned the meaning of “Run but don’t hurry” when I fouled a guy with one second to go in the half, under our own basket. I still remember to this day how furious he was at me for making such a bone-headed mistake.
At times, I used to wonder if Coach hated me. Deep down though, I knew he cared a lot about me because he was constantly helping me and devoted many hours of his time for me. I enjoyed travelling the state watching games and spending time with him. One statement helped me solidify what I already knew – “If I quit yelling at you, then you need to worry because I quit caring.” Let’s just say he never quit caring. lol! On a side note, he cared a lot more on days when he missed his workout.
“The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital.” – Joe Paterno, Hall of Fame College Football Coach
Mr. Preparation. Coach had stats for how many times you fell down in a game (ok, maybe not that). If there was a statistic to keep, he kept it. He spent hours upon hours reviewing game film for the upcoming game or watching film after the game to confirm stats. He was always prepared and ready to go. He did all the small things it takes to be successful.
Coach was a motivator. After a “Yo listen up!” all ears were on Coach to get ready for the big game. He knew how to get us prepared, and he was always motivating us.
“A man is a hero, not because he is braver than anyone else, but because he is brave for ten minutes longer.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Coach was a hero to many of us. Much like myself, he had one speed and that was full tilt. The main difference between him and me, though, was his unbelievable perseverance and consistency.
Coach was tough, and he expected you to be tough. I remember one day in practice we were running box-out drills for what seemed like forever. I complained to him about the pain in my lower back. Of course that backfired, and he made us go longer. As he would always say, “It’s a long ways from your heart.” The next night I had the game of my life and tied the school record with 48 points. Coach told the paper, “We worked real hard last week on blocking-out drills, and he came up Thursday and told me that his back was hurting and that he couldn’t jump, so we’re going to work the devil out of those drills this week, too.”
“I don’t have the physical talent those guys have. My hard work has made me very good.” – Reggie Miller, Indiana Pacers Star
Obviously my inability to jump had nothing to do with those workout drills. Speaking of my vertical-challenged leaping ability, Coach was into taking charges, “purple hearts”, so that always worked well for me. He wanted me to use what I had to offer and not worry about what I couldn’t do (Although on a side note, he did let me out of sprints when I pinned Bonds shot against the back board on his wide open layup).
“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” – John Wooden, Hall of Fame Basketball Coach
Coach didn’t believe in giving up. He would tell us to ”Never give up!”, he wasn’t a fan of “can’t” and he would constantly remind us about “Woulda coulda shoulda.” He expected you to “do it right” and follow the rules, and he had the self-discipline to follow them himself. He also expected you to be honest, tell the truth and get the “big picture”.
“It’s not about getting the credit; it’s about helping the organization and everyone in it be the best they can be.” – Tony Dungy, Football Coach and Author
Coach was genuine with his help. He wasn’t’ doing it for the recognition and many times no one knew he was helping you. He also wasn’t into material things and had his priorities in line.
“Discipline yourself and others won’t need to.” – John Wooden, Hall of Fame Basketball Coach
Coach demanded 100% from his students, players and family, and he demanded 100% from himself. I often wonder how he did it. How was he such a hard worker, with an unbelievable work ethic and unparalleled self-discipline? I’ve never met anyone more dedicated than Coach. Whether it was coaching, teaching, running, biking, lifting, working, grading, filming or taking care of his students, players and family, he worked to be the best. There was no way to keep up with him. I didn’t and wouldn’t even try. Coach also made all that work look so easy.
“If it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?” –Vince Lombardi, Legendary Football Coach
Coach was a competitor. He hated to lose, and I always cherished the moments when I could pull off a win in a game of one-on-one. Man, that made him mad. I think I got a couple of bruises in the process. Of course if I was able to beat him, then the next game was all hook shots and usually ended with a Hultgren win. lol! As coach’s son, Troy explained that Coach always said “you learn a lot about yourself and life with competition”
For as much as he did for me as a Coach, he did for others who didn’t play sports for him. Mr. Hultgren was a great teacher, and he had the same expectations for his students that he did for his players. He saw the potential in both his players and students. He was always trying to get his students to do something better. He helped students through hard times, celebrated good ones and changed the way students looked at the world. He changed lives and students’ futures.
I find it ironic that he died shortly before September 11, 2001. Mr. Hultgren would have played tapes of the TV broadcasts over and over, very much like he did on other topics and events. I remember watching his television many times as he went over recent events.
Many of us strived to make him proud. We valued his opinion, and his approval was important to us. We wanted his love and respect.
In addition to all the determination and demand, Coach could make me laugh more than anyone. This is a side of Coach some people may have not seen, but he could be so hilarious and was a lot of fun to be around. He also loved playing games, clowning around and he was sometimes a prankster. And occasionally, he would pull out some of his classic funny quotes like “I agree with your facts but all your opinions are wrong,”“listen to what I mean; not what I say” or “I never got that attracted to golf. My wife told me I love football and basketball more than I do her. I told her, “That may be right, but I love you better than golf.””
I miss our one-on-one conversations more than anything in the world. He made me feel important, and I enjoyed our conversations very much. He was a great listener in addition to always having words of wisdom. We could talk for hours upon hours about sports, family, faith and life in general.
Speaking of family, Coach loved his family. Gloria was part of the team and made sure we had lots of good grub, including those wonderful cakes. Coach loved his kids, Troy and Tami, as well as their spouses and grandkids. Although he was just as demanding on them as he was on us (if not more so), you could tell how much he dearly loved them and enjoyed spending time with them. As his daughter, Tami, put it, “he combined the right amount of discipline with the right amount of love.”
I want to thank my great friend, Lucas Boss, for keeping Coach alive in our hearts and Coach’s family for their love and support. I also want to thank all his players and students who are thankful for the wonderful gift he has given you. We miss you, Coach.
When you go swimming, you should have a life vest to carry you and protect you if something bad happens. Coach has been, and always will be, my life vest. I love him, and I thank God for giving me such a great coach and friend.
Chad Wilkins http://twitter.com/#!/ChadAWilkins