Five months removed from winning a WIAA Division 5 state championship, Amherst football coach Mark Lusic is already immersed in getting his program ready for the 2013 season.
During his lunch hour, Lusic sat down with his nine seniors for next season — their trays filled with fried chicken, a salad and some rolls — to discuss their need to take over a leadership role.
He was also searching for volunteers to help with a May 4 fundraiser for the football program.
In his mid-day study hall period, Lusic headed over to the weight room where he supervised a voluntary workout involving some football players and female athletes at the school.
Meanwhile, Lusic and his coaching staff have traveled to coaching clinics, including one with coaches at Ripon High School to pick their brains about defending the option on April 19. They’re heading to another clinic in Eau Claire later this month.
And it’s only April. The first day of practice for high school football coaches is still four months away.
“Football is always on my mind, seven days a week. You’ve really got to love it,” said Lusic, who just wrapped up his third year at Amherst. “I can see how coaches burn out. You want to be good every year, so it really needs to be a year-round deal.
“When I first started here, I thought I would love to do this for at least 10 more years,” Lusic added. “Now I’m taking it one year at a time.”
In today’s high school coaching world, football isn’t limited to the opening day of practice in August until the final game of the season in October or November.
The same is true for basketball, softball, soccer and just about every other sport at the high school level.
Coaches attend college and high school camps and clinics throughout the year in an attempt to keep learning about their chosen sport.
Not every coach is cut out for that type of time commitment and dedication.
More and more, coaches are staying in those positions for shorter periods of time. Word of coaches stepping down less than five years into their tenure at a school is becoming more common.
So is the era of the longtime coach — one who spends 30 or 40 years in the same position at a school — over?
“I think things have changed a little bit, it does take a big time commitment,” said Wisconsin Rapids wrestling coach Lewie Benitz, who coached for 41 years and led the Raiders to 17 state championships as either the head coach or co-coach.
“I think commitment is a big word for athletes and coaches today, and if you don’t have a family or spouse who understands that, I could see how that would become very difficult,” Benitz added.
Benitz understood what it takes to have that kind of success — he also coached 26 individual state champions — over an extended period of time.
In his case it meant working closely with the youth wrestling club.
For volleyball coaches, it means participating with club teams throughout the spring and summer. Basketball coaches spend most of their summer on the AAU circuit or helping with traveling teams at the youth level.
“I think successful coaches have been doing the year-round thing for a long time,” said former D.C. Everest football coach Wayne Steffenhagen, who spent 47 years as an assistant and head coach, including 33 with the Evergreens.
“I still think it’s very important to balance things in life, and family is very important,” he added. “I realized that toward the end of my career and since I’ve been done. If I had one regret, I wish I would have spent more time with my family.”
Steffenhagen said he never would have been able to stay in the coaching game so long without the support of his wife Sondra and three children.
Most coaches agree that high school coaching has become just about a seven day a week, 365-day a year job.
And that is a formula for the dreaded “burnout.”
Combine all the hours spent coaching and watching video, with the need to spend time with spouses and children, and the wear and tear emotionally and physically takes a toll.
“There is burn out in every job. Coaching is an emotional job with a lot of ups and downs. One of the biggest worries in coaching personally is burning out,” said SPASH baseball coach Kraig Terpstra, who is in his ninth season in the dugout after spending 12 years as the girls basketball coach with the Panthers.
“I just have to remember I do it for the love of the game,” Terpstra added. “I feel lucky being around young people in sports.”
The importance of family also plays a big role in how long coaches want to continue putting in countless hours for what is truly a secondary job.
Lusic said during the season a typical day would begin at 7 a.m. at school and end some time around 7 p.m. once practice finished and they held coaches meetings.
And that was repeated six days a week.
He said he was back in the weight room with his players just four days after winning the state championship game. He didn’t want to fall behind the rest of the Division 5 programs in the state.
“I should have let it soak in even longer,” Lusic said. “I don’t want this to be a one-year thing. We want to be consistent and at the top of the conference every year.”
Many coaches also pointed to an increased level of expectations as another reason why coaches don’t seem to hang around.
What is sometimes forgotten is coaches are teachers at a vast majority of the high schools, first and foremost.
They coach because they love teaching and working with kids and seeing athletes, good or bad, develop.
“If you’re not in it for the young men and ladies you’re working with, then you’re totally missing the boat. If it’s just about wins and losses, we’ve missed the boat,” Steffenhagen said. “It’s about care, love and concern we have for the student-athlete. This is a wonderful profession and so rewarding.”