This is a story that has come to mind recently.
From Bo's Lasting Lesson's:
“The following season, 1956, I left Doyt and Bowling Green-with his blessings-to become an assistant for Ara Parseghian at Northwestern University. I had made it to the Big Ten! I knew that's where I wanted to be, and I was working for a great coach. Of course, everyone remembers Ara when he led Notre Dame to a couple national titles, but a lot of people don't realize he led the Wildcats to some of their best seasons before that.
Ara was not big ego guy, he was great with players, he was a wonderful motivator, and he understood the game so well he COULD COME UP WITH THINGS NO ONE ELSE HAD THOUGHT OF. He was probably the most imaginative coach I'd ever seen, always adapting his plays to his players instead of the other way around like most coaches do. Heck, we used to call his practice field "The Laboratory," because that's where he'd try every trick in the book on Mondays, testing this and experimenting with that, just to see what might work that Saturday.
Before Ara arrived, Northwestern hadn't had a winning season in five years, but in his first year Northwestern went 4-4-1, and everyone was encouraged. But in Ara's second season, 1957, everything went to hell. We lost nine games - every single game we played! For a coach, that’s just about the most difficult situation you have to face.
We could keep our opponents down to one or two touchdowns, but we couldn't score for our lives. And I was working with the offense!
Losing creates all kinds of other problems too-poor morale, nagging injuries, and lackluster effort. The players were spending more time in the PR office than in the weight room. It was just a mess. I never experienced anything like that in all my years of coaching -and thank God for that.
I learned an awful lot from Ara in my first year at Northwestern. I learned a heckuva lot more from him that second season, when we lost 'em all. And what I learned was how a real leader leads when things aren't going his way.
Ara treated that staff as though we were winning every game. He never gave the slightest indication that we were the problem. He not once blamed any assistant or any player for any loss we suffered that year. NOT ONCE.
"Stick with it guys, and we’ll get through this," he'd tell us. "We're going to be okay." We all kept busting our butts for Ara, working past midnight, doing everything we could to get that guy a victory.
And that's why that losing season didn't break Ara's back: BECAUSE HE'S A CONFIDENT GUY, AND HE KNEW HE COULD COACH. HIS STAFF REMAINED DEDICATED TO HIM AND HIS PROGRAM THE ENTIRE SEASON.
You'd think my two years at Northwestern would have been a horrible experience, but it wasn't. It was a experience, because Ara had put together a stellar staff - they're all still good friends of mine, especially Alex Agase - but mostly, it was because was there.
The result? Pt this down: Ara Parseghian lost every game that year, but the next year his team went 5-4 - Northwestern's first winning season in eight years.
When Ara took the Notre Dame job fiver years later, in 1963, he left Evanston as one of the only three coaches in the last of Northwestern football to post a winning record. And of course, from there he won two national titles and Coach of the Year at Notre Dame. Don't tell me he didn't deserve it.
But that 0-9 year? He didn't get any awards for that, but let me tell you: THAT was the most impressive year of his coaching career."
Hopefully I didn't break any laws by quoting that much of the book, but that story really stood out to me after I read BO's LASTING Lessons. When you hear about RR talking about staying the course, it is because he is confident that the course will lead to success. Even the greatest coaches have down years, especially when they are working with very young kids. But more importantly, what are you going to do when things are going against you? Are you going to start questioning a coach that is a proven winner and has produced fundamentally sound teams? Are you going to give up when things don't look like they are going your way? Well maybe you will because you're not putting the time into becoming a champion, but I will tell you one thing. Those freshman, sophomores, and juniors will NOT throw in the towel for anybody. They are busting their ass right now to turn things around at the end of this season and next season. It’s easy for somebody to sit in their office chair, sip their coffee and bitch about coaching. When you are waking up at 6 am busting your ass to win a championship, there is no time for bitching. When your losing 10 pounds in a week of two-a-day practice, there is no time for bitching. There is only time for buying in and executing what you've been taught. Maybe it’s the Knob Creek that I've been drinking since the first MSU TD, but I still believe this staff will do great things at UM. I believe this because MICHIGAN WILL NEVER GIVE UP, BECAUSE WOLVERINES ALWAYS FIGHT!!