Tim Beck still recalls his first player meeting as Scottsdale Saguaro’s head coach.
It was the spring of 1993. Saguaro’s football program had gone a combined 5-43 the previous five seasons. Players and their parents were dispirited. A sense of resignation hung over the program, as if losing was somehow inevitable.
A few players showed up late for the meeting. Beck kicked them out.
“They were like, ‘Ooh, this guy is serious,’ ” Beck said.
Twenty-three years later, the memory brings a smile to Beck’s face. He’s got a big-time job now, co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Ohio State, but around here, he’s known as the guy who started Saguaro down the path that’s resulted in four straight state championships and nine in 11 years.
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“I don’t know if I created the monster,” Beck said, “but it was a lot of fun for sure.”
That wasn’t the case when Beck took over. Saguaro was 1-9 the previous year. Apache Junction head coach Vance Miller, then a junior center with the Sabercats, said losing had become “a way of life.”
“We really didn’t know any different,” he said.
They soon would. Prior to accepting the Saguaro job, his first as a head coach, Beck had been a graduate assistant on Bill Snyder’s staff at Kansas State. Snyder believed in the Midwestern ethos of having a tough and physical football team, and Beck brought that mindset to Saguaro.
“We just worked really hard, put some paint on some walls, rolled up our sleeves and just tried to create a hard-nose football team,” Beck said. “We just trained the guys really hard.”
His message in that first meeting was simple.
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“I told them, ‘There’s no magical formula for winning. There’s no pill you can take,’ ” Beck said. “But you do everything right all the time. I quoted Vince Lombardi about how winning is a habit and so is losing. You get used to losing and do the same things and you accept it and it’s OK. But it’s not OK. You can’t walk into meetings late. You can’t do that. You can’t accept those things.”
Saguaro had some players, most notably running back/defensive back Mike Brown, who would go on to play at the University of Nebraska and in the NFL for nine seasons. What Saguaro didn’t have was coaches who got the most out of those players.
Until Beck arrived.
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“He came in with a whole different philosophy than we were used to at Saguaro at the time,” Miller said. “Everything he did was right.”
Beck immediately instituted summer workouts, something Saguaro hadn’t done in the past. Every conditioning drill was relevant to what the Sabercats needed to do in a game. Practices were physical, but with a purpose.
“It was kind of an eye-opening experience really, learning about football,” Miller said. “Although we had some great coaches prior to that point, they were very old-school. We’d line up and not really know what we were doing. Tim opened our eyes to technique, how to watch game film, how to analyze and think about strategy instead of just going out and knocking heads. That first year we learned more football in one year than we had learned in our entire life.”
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By 1995, the lessons had taken hold; Saguaro finished 13-1 and won the 4A state championship, beating Glendale Ironwood 42-7. Beck moved on, becoming offensive coordinator at Missouri State and, after high school head coaching stops in Texas, coaching at Kansas and Nebraska before being hired by Urban Meyer in January 2015.
He can win a national championship at Ohio State but there will always be a special place in his heart for that Saguaro state championship team.
“It’s one of my top memories,” he said. “Because what you do, you see the faces of those kids. I still keep in touch with a lot of them. It sticks with them. That bond will never be broken with those guys. That’s true to this day.”
Reach Bordow at email@example.com and 602-448-8716. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/sBordow.