Mike Glaser is in danger of becoming predictable. This being Trinity Week, St. Xavier High School’s outgoing football coach is again subjecting his freshman English classes to “The Most Dangerous Game.”
Richard Connell’s 1924 short story fills some of the more dog-eared pages in Glaser’s academic playbook. It’s an implausible piece by an insignificant author about a cruel Cossack who hunts other men as sport. But this being Trinity Week — and particularly since tonight’s game could be Glaser’s last Trinity game as St. X’s head coach — the pulp fiction serves a purpose.
“Hunting big game wasn’t good enough for him,” Glaser said of Connell’s cold-blooded character, General Zaroff. “Fortunately, the guy he was hunting came out on top. I pretty much teach it this week all the time. We’ve got to make sure we come out on top on Friday night.”
Initially, Glaser was not hired to design plays at St. X but to diagram sentences. A former math major effectively blocked by calculus, Glaser taught English before he became the Tigers’ head football coach. In the classroom, as on the field, he’s all about the fundamentals: grammar and vocabulary; running game and defense. He’s an old-school guy whose command of the basics has produced seven state championships as well as sharper students on Poplar Level Road.
If he is in danger of becoming an anachronism, Glaser might take that term as a compliment as well as a candidate for his next vocabulary quiz.
“I love running the football,” he said. “I love smashmouth football. I like for kids to be tough. You can tell when I’ve taken over (the play-calling) because we’re in two backs and we’re running the football.
“In this day and age, that’s probably a reason to get out. Kids want the flash. They want to throw the ball all around.”
With 332 victories to his credit, and at least five games left in his career, Glaser has not yet settled on his next step, but neither is he dragging his feet on his way out the door. Though he has held his position for 31 seasons and has performed at a level that demands 16-hour days, he has never thought of football as the extent of his existence.
Frankly, Glaser has never had the luxury to single-task. For a time, he was St. X’s director of admissions and taught four classes of freshman English while coaching.
“I think I approach it different than most winning coaches,” he said. “Most coaches are in it to win championships and promote their resume. From the very beginning, I’ve been in it to help kids and make a difference. …
“I’m concerned that most coaches now are paraprofessionals. This is my vocation. I’m a teacher and a coach and that’s what I always wanted to do. I never had the desire to be a coach and do something else until 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I love the classroom. I love telling them about English grammar. I make it like a puzzle. I enjoy teaching and seeing the light bulbs go on.”
St. X President Perry Sangalli, who attended the school in the early days of Glaser’s tenure, says the coach has been “very successful with very reluctant learners who need that spark to engage them in the process.”
Suzanne Glaser, the coach’s wife, summarized his sparking method as “fun.”
Once, Glaser built his team to an emotional crescendo by showing scenes from the movie “The Last Of The Mohicans,” including the particularly gruesome part where Magua rips the heart from the still-breathing Col. Munro’s body.
“One of the coaches’ dads was a butcher,” Suzanne Glaser recalled. “He got Mike a cow heart. We’re at Manual Stadium, they’re playing the Star-Spangled Banner, and we heard the team making all this racket. Mike had pulled the cow’s heart out of his jacket.”
Another time, Glaser dressed up as Mel Gibson’s version of William Wallace for a bit from “Braveheart.” And once, in need of a dramatic illustration for a game against Atherton, he grabbed an already broken watch and shattered it against a wall.
“Mike felt bad,” Suzanne Glaser said, “because (the players) all pitched in and bought him a new watch.”
Rick Tobe, a St. X offensive lineman from the class of 1989, remembers Glaser giving an extra-credit quiz on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, “just to break up the monotony and keep you interested.”
“Academics were just as important for him as winning a state championship,” Tobe said. “And he was as sharp a teacher as he was a coach. … I’d lay in front of a truck for that man.”
Teaching is among the most noble and rewarding of professions, but those rewards are rarely as tangible as a new watch. Mike Glaser works in a windowless office adjoining the locker room. When the locker room is empty, its odor lingers. When it’s crowded, the ringtone on Glaser’s cellphone could easily be confused for a fire alarm.
“That’s because I’m deaf,” he said.
Also, perhaps, because he’s preoccupied. Glaser has been known to drive the wrong way down a one-way street during Trinity Week. Though his wife detects a different tone — “It’s just not as excruciatingly intense as it was,” she said — and though he looks forward to devoting more time to their daughter, Katharine, his transition from coach to spectator could be bumpy.
“I’m going to enjoy having an opinion when it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “I would like to be able to watch from the sideline or the end zone or maybe the press box. But I don’t want to sit in the stands, because I’d probably choke somebody.”