Putting his team through a dry run of the complicated "Wingbone" offense,
"If there's anything left in the tank at the end of the game," he says, "then we will have lost."
Even with a full tank of effort, the odds of victory aren't good. The
Sports coaches, particularly in football, hold a unique place in society. They become surrogate fathers, teachers, and role models.
There are countless schools, towns, and cities where the football coach is an institution. But for every
Ayers himself is modest, despite the fact that the local dry cleaner boasts a poster of his stoic visage gazing out over the town's main street. "Look, I'm just a football coach," he says. "It's important to keep the game in perspective--graduation first, championships second."
Roster of scholars. For the
The college sits on 170 acres in the middle of downtown
Of course, coaching has little to do with the greenness of the grass. For Ayers, his drive comes from the blood. He played football when he was young, and he also went out for baseball, gymnastics, and wrestling. In his spare time, he earned a black belt in karate, struggles with a fishing addiction, and developed a knack for landscape painting.
Students and colleagues are effusive about the man, a devout Christian. "If
Ayers was the first in his family to go to college and at one time paid the rent by slinging bags of garbage onto a truck. It taught him the value of hard work and what he calls the "generational impact" that earning a college degree can have, not on just a person but on an entire family. He knows, too, that few if any of his players will go on to make a living in the game. "You learn a lot about yourself when you compete on the field, and that will make you a better doctor or teacher or engineer," Ayers says. "Great doctors and great football players have one thing in common besides their God-given talent--they work hard."
But Ayers, now 60, wasn't always as philosophical, about either life or the game he loves. His colleagues talk about a much different man who first took the reins of the
Over the years, Ayers has mellowed in his approach to coaching, colleagues say. "Maybe mellowed isn't the best word--he's just put things into more perspective," says Athletic Director
Team of coaches. Of course, coaching is also a team sport. And
Being a winning football coach takes a surprising amount of work. In the past 10 years, computer and video technology have turned play-calling, planning, and postgame reviews into a technical exercise. High above the practice fields, atop 20-foot-tall platforms, assistants man video cameras to record plays and formations on the practice field. The coaching staff spends hours poring over the footage on a big-screen television in Ayers's office, then produces DVDs for individual players to study.
Ayers' offensive scheme, the Wingbone, is devilishly complicated. A formation that's been used by
The season opener in
One thing that makes college basketball so enjoyable, yet at the same time so challenging, is that each year the team is different. There are new players, and you may ask the student-athletes who return from the previous season to play new roles. Team chemistry changes, and the attitudes and relationships that ebb and flow from wins and losses always take on a new life. The constant is a need for outstanding leadership
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