Just this morning, I learned that former Waunakee High School head football coach Gaylord Quinn, aka Coach Quinn, has died.  At this point, I don’t have the exact cause of death but word is, he’s been in poor health the past few years.

I was under Coach Quinn’s tutelage for my four years of high school but his teachings have been with me all the years since. I still hear his voice in my head to kick me in the butt if I start to lean towards the lazy in life.

He had been coaching high school football for so long, 37 years, that my father and four of my uncles had played under him. Hundreds and hundreds of players over the years were taught by him starting with his time as a coach at Azusa high in California through his many years at Waunakee High before he retired from coaching in 1993.

He counted 15 conference championships and three undefeated seasons during his tenure.  But, he measured success with each individual. He demanded your best effort and if you gave that, well, that’s the point for doing anything at all and really what success is.  Don’t get me wrong, he really liked to win but it wasn’t all about that to him.

Below is an excerpt from my book, No Bed or Roses, I dedicated to Coach Quinn.

Most importantly, Coach Quinn truly cared about his players as people more than players. We innately knew this, which is why so many of us abided by his strict doctrine.

Quinn taught his players to carry themselves with class and had us address all adults as “Sir” and “Ma’am.” I recall one game in high school where I had a bloody snot in my nose that I dispelled quickly over my right shoulder. The gob just missed hitting a referee. I responded, “I’m sorry, SIR.” I hoped the classy remark might redeem me from my grotesque gesture. It did.

In fact, our team’s decorum often impressed the referees enough to write letters to our school lauding the character of its football players. Quinn used to say he was more proud of that than our wins, and I sort of believed him.

Coach Quinn didn’t allow players to have long hair. He thought short hair made one look more respectable and argued pragmatically that the closer the helmet is to your head, the better it works. If a player didn’t have his hair cut by the time fall practice started, Quinn became his barber. He definitely was a better coach than a barber, but then Vidal Sassoon didn’t use a tape cutter to style hair.

Coach Quinn was old-fashioned, but his players respected and worked hard for him. He was a man’s man, a man of his word, and a man who believed that a handshake meant more than any legal document ever could. He was John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Knute Rockne all wrapped up in a mesh baseball cap and cardigan sweater with a football helmet insignia on it. He didn’t say much, so when he spoke you listened. He expected toughness, both mental and physical, from his players. He preached the importance of character. Coach Quinn emphasized discipline, pride, and hard work. His authority trumped all. I never questioned it, not even the time he berated me at practice in front of the whole team: “Kennedy! That’s not good enough! Run it again, boys.”

I was playing fullback, and my assignment on the play was to block the middle linebacker. I blocked him but didn’t move him very far, and the tailback, following my lead, tripped over my legs. Coach Quinn blew the whistle and made us run the play again. He demanded that I move the linebacker out of the way, so there’d be no chance of the tailback tripping over me. The linebacker was tough and didn’t want to let me do that to him. We ran the play again, and again I failed to move him far enough for Quinn. The linebacker grew tired so Quinn substituted another linebacker to replace him. I was pissed off.  Quinn then lined up four other linebackers to take me on one by one, and I had to block and move each of them.

By the time I got to the last guy, I was like a rabid pit bull. I was embarrassed and angry and frustrated and exhausted, but I summoned myself and drove the final guy almost off the practice field, continuing even after the whistle blew as my own form of protest. Biting down hard on my mouth guard, I turned and glared at Quinn through my face mask. Quinn just nodded with a slight smile, pointed his finger and said, “That’s how you should do it every time, now grab some water.” He set the standards high, and I couldn’t handle disappointing him.

But the most important lesson Coach Quinn taught me was off the field.  A conversation I had with him during my Freshman year in his cramped office tucked in the back of the industrial arts workshop.

Quinn called me in to discuss my poor report card. He squinted at me with a look of disbelief and a stare behind his glasses that seemed to magnify his disappointment. “You’re a smart kid. What’s this all about?” His meaty paw of left hand held up my report card.  I felt smaller than an ant.  I stammered a bit then searching my mind, I found an easy excuse.  I mentioned my parents were going through a divorce and things were tough and I couldn’t focus…which was mostly B.S. but figured I could play that card to buy me some sympathy.

Quinn knew my parents–he’d coached my mom in track and my dad in football while they were in high school–and their divorce. He set my report card on the table and with a look that somehow combined concern and anger said, “I know both your parents. I know they both love you very much.”  I nodded in agreement.

He went on. “Some people in life…will use anything they can as an excuse to not succeed. Some in your shoes would use the divorce as a ‘crutch.”  That’s not you, is it?”

“No, sir,” I responded, both of us knowing full well that’s exactly what I was trying to do.  That nipped it in the bud for me. I knew right then, I didn’t want that to be me. I would never use my parents divorce, or any other bad thing that has happened to me since, as an excuse to not be as successful as I could be.

“I’m going to do better,” I said. Quinn agreed, “I know you will. I’m here if you need anything.”

I did do better, got my grades up, got into the University of Wisconsin and got to play football there and use all of Quinn’s teachings to get me through that time of my life and all the times since.

I have borrowed Quinn’s words often as a coach myself and will certainly use them with my son, Cash as he grows up.

And now, Coach Quinn will no longer be with any of us.  Fortunately, for us who knew him, if we ever need anything, the lessons he embedded in us will always be there.

Rest in Peace, Coach.


Word to Your Mommomma

“Hiii Dadadada.”  “MMMMMMommommomma.”

Cash is practicing his lines in bed early in the AM, like an actor preparing to go onstage.  Makes sense, his main profession right now is entertainer. And audiences have received him well, very enthusiastically well.

Yesterday, he picked up a piece of cereal from the table and put it in his mouth…all by himself. This eye-hand-mouth coordination garnered a big smile and small round of applause from MMMMMMommommomma and a “There ya go, buddy!” from Dadadada.

Cash has received these types of excited, positive reactions from all those around him his entire eight-plus months on this earth. Even after a bowel movement, MMMMMMommommomma serenades him with a happy melody as she changes his diaper, “Stinky dubby no more, stinky dubby no more.” She always finishes the process with a few big kisses to his smiley face.

And it’s the law that his grandparents-Grandma, Nana, Sido, Grams, Bubba, Grammy and Grandpa Vern–spearhead the ranks of his adoring fans. Hollywood celebrities should only hope for such admiration.


Not to be left out of the love fest are his aunts and uncles and great aunts and uncles and friends and even, smiles and small waves from strangers in stores, airports and parks.

Recently, a woman in a Northern California Home Depot stopped Meghan and was enamored enough with Cash’s cuteness that she took a picture of him. Again, the stuff of celebrity admiration.

Up until now, all of us who are fawning over him can only watch his reactions and surmise what he’s thinking.  As I observe him, I’m filled with wonder about what he’s seeing out our backyard, through our living room window, from his car seat and his stroller point-of-view.

With his emerging vocabulary, we’ll be able to better understand and know his what’s going on in that little head of his.


If Cash is like every other human, not all of his thoughts and words will be as pure and wonderful and profound and complete as we project them to be.  But, that’s also what’s so exciting about this new talking phase–we’re finally going to be able to get a peak into the mind of this little guy we’re all so in madly in love with.

We’ll have the ability to help correct, improve, scold, encourage and shape his words and his thoughts…and he’ll do the same for us.

For his extended family and especially Meghan and I, Cash has already redefined our thoughts on love…and the seemingly impossible search to find the words to accurately express how deeply and thoroughly we love him.


Chryst Returns!

In case last week’s article dedicated to football wasn’t enough, this week’s is about football as well. Wisconsin football. Badgers football.

Hey, as one alma mater team, Waunakee Warriors, starts their season tonight, and the other, Wisconsin Badgers, next week, who can really blame me?

Specifically, I want to praise Chryst. (I can’t help the Christ/Chryst puns, so bear with me.)

Paul Chryst, Wisconsin's new football coach, speaks during an a NCAA college football news conference at the Nicholas-Johnson Pavilion in Madison, Wis., Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, M.P. King)

I’ve only met Badgers new head coach, Paul Chryst, once so I’m not the most qualified to speak on his behalf but we are tangentially connected in many ways, by many people.

This past spring, Chryst invited ALL former players to attend a practice. It’s important to note that he invited ALL former players, not just the ones on championship teams but players from the teams that struggled as well, teams he was a part of. Those guys played their hearts out for the Badgers and didn’t get recognized for their sacrifice and efforts. But, Chryst made us all feel whether we were an 18 year old current player or an 80 year old former player–yes, there was an 80 year old former player in attendance–that we were all connected as Badgers football players. We are part of something special and bigger than one team or one era.

After the practice, Chryst instructed the players to take a knee. Chryst then asked EVERY former player there, over 100 of us, to introduce himself.  One would not make such a request unless one was genuinely interested.

At first, it seemed tedious but became surprisingly emotional to hear from men of all walks of life, of different ages and race and body types, all talk about their time as a UW football player and how much it meant to their life to be a part of the program. And Chryst wanted them and his current team to know that they weren’t forgotten. Once a Badger, always a Badger–Chryst is trying to make those words mean something.


Chryst took a knee and listened and chuckled at the jokes. Some were former players he’d watched as a kid, some played for his dad, some played with him and some for him and some he’d never met before until this day.

The consistently-painted picture of him is this: Coach Chryst is a great guy, a great offensive mind, and a great fit to lead the Wisconsin Badgers football team.  

My former coach and current athletic director, Barry Alvarez, knows this and has made his best choice for a head coach.  Born in Madison while his father, George coached for the Badgers, Paul went on to play for the Badgers and coach for the Badgers as an assistant, and now, the head coach. If the blood of Chryst doesn’t run Cardinal red, no one’s does

While former coaches griped then split–Bielema (low assistant coaches’ salaries) and Andersen (the school’s high academic standards)–Chryst doesn’t even seem to know how to gripe. Gratitude and humility emanate from him.

He has that Midwestern humble approach to life. He will not wow you with sizzling quotes like his counterparts in the Big Ten–Jim Harbaugh. Urban Meyer, James Franklin–but players who hear past the chutzpah, know, in Chryst, they follow a dependable, capable leader who they can count on and is not going anywhere else.

In our current era of sports and social media, outlandish cockiness and attention-seeking “swag” is praised. It takes up the majority of college football coverage.

Egotistical, sociopathic braggarts dominate the news cycle and lazy, desperate sports media stations and websites eat it up. These media outlets plaster their images and names and quotes all over the internet and airwaves.  It’s entertainment and brings eyeballs. I get it.  But I don’t like it.  This sensationalistic focus pollutes what college football should be about, student athlete’s encountering and overcoming challenges on the field and off it.

As Badgers fans we have to understand that our teams just don’t get favorable press…because we’re frankly, just not flashy. We’re a little boring to the rest of college football nation.  But, that’s okay, smart Badgers fans know, this is how we operate. We should prefer that we’re underestimated so. Don’t worry if we don’t get the credit or coverage we deserve over other teams.

One of many examples, Wisconsin beat (the favored) Auburn in the Outback bowl game played just seven months ago yet USA Today’s preseason poll has Auburn ranked #3 and Wisconsin ranked #24. But, no matter, Chryst and crew will not gripe, they’ll just go to work…and care not where they stand online but between the lines, the only place where it matters.

We Badgers fans just need to remember that. We’re going to watch college football done right, so support the team with all your might.

camp randall copy

Badgers fans are lucky to have the respite of Coach Chryst’s grounded reign of our football team.

But, don’t be fooled by his kindness, Chryst is a fierce competitor who has had terrific success. When he ran the offense for the Badgers as the offensive coordinator from 2005-2011, UW’s record was 70-32 including five 10-win seasons. He developed current pro quarterbacks, Russell Wilson and Scott Tolzien who throw around praise for him like “he’ll win a national title or two” “he is a person of action and sincerity and great teacher of the game.

But all my praise and advocation from former UW stars and players won’t add up to one win. Chryst’s teams will have to win a lot to keep his job in the ultra competitive landscape of college football.

Actions speak louder than words. The good news for Badgers fans is that Coach Chryst already epitomizes this.

In Chryst, anything is possible.

Go Badgers!

Wisconsin Badgers mascot Bucky Badger during an NCAA college football game against the Austin Peay Governors on September 25, 2010 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin. The Badgers beat the Governors 70-3. (Photo by David Stluka)

A new season

“Oh S#$%.”

My wife Meghan said this in response to my informing her that Green Bay was playing their first preseason game last night.

Our excitement at the advent of football season is inversely proportioned. Picture a see-saw…I’m the one feeling high and she’s feeling as if she’s been dropped to the ground.

Meghan understood when she married me, or at least thought she did, how important football is in my life.  But it’s more pervasive than she ever imagined…and probably more than I had as well.

Marriage does that, doesn’t it? Sheds light on corners of your life you swept your habits into without a second thought.

Your mate disengages your inner cruise control…and makes you pay attention like never before to what’s going on.

Growing up in Wisconsin, football seeps into your blood and being via osmosis.


You are hard-pressed to drive through a neighborhood that doesn’t have a Packers or Badgers mailbox, flag, pennant, lawn chair, lawn mower or even, the whole dang house–see below on Main street in my hometown.


Football began it’s embedment in my life once I started to participate as a youth player where the sport provided me, a pretty shy kid, to gain a whole big group of buddies.  I discovered my size, hand-eye coordination, speed, strategy and intensity helped me succeed in the sport.  And, though it sounds borderline psycho to admit, I’d enjoyed hitting and occasionally, getting hit. A great way to unleash frustrations in a conductive, societal-accepting way.


While I encountered puberty and the teens, football was that sturdy foundation I could rely on to boost my confidence, joy and feelings of accomplishment.

All the way through college the sport was as much a part of my education as what I learned in the classroom. Coach Alvarez used to say, “You can’t take a class to learn what you’ll learn playing football at the University of Wisconsin.”  True that.


I went on to coach high school football at my alma mater and grade school in later years.

cropped photo

I’m now in full fan mode and still bond with family, buddies and former teammates, meeting up at games, tailgating, phone conversations and emails.


Heck, I even bond with strangers here and abroad. There are Packers and Badgers bars all over the world…football fans bonding without borders.

So, after several “discussions” with my wife on the topic, we’ve negotiated an agreement. I will limit my consumption this fall to Packers and Badgers games only–4 hours on Saturday and four on Sunday. And one or two Friday night high school games.

From her POV, it doesn’t seem like a big concession. But, she doesn’t fully realize, what else I’m giving up. Thursday night pro and college games. Monday night football. College football Saturdays start their pre-game coverage at 6A and go to 11P with highlights running all night long on the sports networks. Sundays have games running from noon to 10PM, not including the London games twice a year that start at 8A.

While I’m giving up a lot of football, I’m gaining more time with my emerging family.

Football will always be a part of my life. It’s given me grand experiences and purpose in times in my life when I needed it.

Now, I have a bigger purpose. I’ll ease up and bring the see saw to more balance in my marriage. And willingly focus on spending time with my son…and look forward to the days…when we can go outside and throw a football around and attend Badgers and Packers games together.

Dad and son bonding that could even make Momma start to love football…or at least, tolerate it a bit more.  I can hear her now…”Oh $#$%


Free…is for the birds

On Tuesday, some friends texted, asking if I’d like to hit the Mallards baseball game that evening.  In my life now, I could never be so flexible as to attend anything on a few hours notice. I’m a married, family man. I gots obligations.  But, this week has been like no other, since Meghan and Cash are spending the week in California while I stay back and work and have the house and the two cats all to myself. I thought I would like the freedom, the taste of pseudo-singlehood just like the old days.  I can pretty much eat what I want (cover your eyes Meghan) , not make the bed, (still covering them?), leave clothes on the floor, (Told ya to cover them)  not prepare baths, nor change diapers. I was free to set my own schedule.

On the hectic days, when it seems like I go from work to home projects to choppy sleep to waking up and repeating, this time to myself seemed so aspirational. A little break from the seeming constant obligations.

What I didn’t imagine in those times was the silence would bore me. That I’d walk by Cash’s empty room, see his little clothes on the dresser and be hit with a heavy gut and a tickle in my throat.

Sort through the laundry and see Meghan’s workout gear and her flip-flops by the door and realize a big part of my life is missing.  And so I am on hold and the muzac plays on the line. I look forward to texts and picture updates of them enjoying their time in the California sun with fun family. So, I’m stuck in pause before my life can play on again as usual. A usual that I won’t take for granted anymore or ever wish a break from.

The two cats, who I’m normally indifferent at best to, I’m actually petting once in awhile. They meow through the empty halls at night. They sit on the porch during the day, avoiding direct sunlight and watching the birds nibble at the hanging feeder.

I used to emulate those free birds. Now, I just watch them and some Mallards.  The birds can have their freedom. I have something better…my family.