Kurt Warner’s life is in a pretty good place. He’s a Pro Football Hall of Famer. His eldest son is entering his first season as a football player at Nebraska. And, not to be overlooked, Warner is now an established high school football coach, entering his fifth season as the offensive coordinator at Desert Mountain High in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The Warner family settled in Arizona following the end of Warner’s Hall of Fame career with the Rams, Giants and Cardinals, and unlike so many NFL stars, Warner transitioned seamlessly into his next act, helping coach his son, wide receiver Kade Warner, at Desert Mountain.
That Warner would be a successful high school coach is unsurprising; Warner’s career was characterized by his ability to build on lessons from coaches who took a vested interest in his success, combine that with exceptionally loads of hard work and emerge as an expert in his craft. He’s now attempting to instill that blueprint in his own charges, particularly the quarterbacks who he works closely with, often starting as early as 5:30 a.m.
His time as a coach has reinforced just how essential the profession is not just for the athletic success of high school student athletes, but the success of student athletes writ large. That’s what inspired Warner to agree to serve as the figurehead of the Most Valuable Coach Award being presented by U.S. Cellular. The competition kicks off right now with nominations for the award submitted through the website TheMostValuableCoach.com. Nominations continue through Sept. 11. The eventual winner — selected by a panel that includes Warner — will receive a a $50,000 donation to the charitable organization of their choosing or their high school athletic department, courtesy of U.S. Cellular, and be recognized on the field at the Under Armour All-America Game in Orlando in January.
“The great thing is one thing I’ve always tried to be involved in is the community and giving back to those who truly impact the community,” Warner told USA TODAY Sports. “In my Hall of Fame speech, I referenced two high school coaches who impacted my life. I’ve been a high school coach for four years as my son went through and I continue through this year. It gave me a chance to be with my son a little more during the day, but the biggest thing is that I think young adults are in the position to be shaped as they’re going through high school. I know the tremendous impact a coach can have on a young person’s life.
“When I was approached by U.S. Cellular it was a perfect fit on so many standpoints. More people need to be recognized for what they do in the community and we can celebrate people who are doing this in a positive way.”
Warner said his time at Desert Mountain has been particularly important to him because of the prism through which it fostered a relationship between himself and his son, allowing his son to see him teaching his friends and teammates as a coach, which reinforced their relationship beyond the traditional bonds of father and son. “It drew us closer as a father and a son, but it also drew me closer to a lot of his friends and their parents,” he said.
For Warner, his years as a coach also reinforced just how rewarding it was to impart both sporting and life lessons to young pupils who could carry those teachings with them as they move forward in the world.
Now he hopes that the U.S. Cellular program will help shine a light on the coaches who most deserve it, much like his own high school basketball coach who he referenced in his Hall of Fame induction speech.
“That’s the great thing about this program, it’s for any coach, and my most influential coach was probably a basketball coach in high school, Dick Breitbach,” Warner said. “He coached at the school for a number of years, and his impact on me was related to him being able to be around me, understanding who I was and the potential I had, and he could push me to shape my mindset.
“One day he was yelling at me in practice. There was no question I was the best player on the court. I was skating through practice and a scrimmage because I knew I was the best player, and he stopped the entire practice, pulled me out, and told me he didn’t care what was going on, all he wanted was for me to compete and be the best every time I went out there. That was a message that stuck with me for a long time. Not only did he make me great, he stopped the entire practice to let me know that it was important to him that I reach my potential because I had the possibility of doing something with it. He cared about us so much he would yell at us and be hard at us, but he wanted us to be the best at whatever we did.
“Too often you see coaches yelling at the worst player or getting on the person holding them back. He pointed me out as the best player on the court. He felt that way about all the players. Later in my high school career I was offered an opportunity to go to Europe as part of a team in Iowa to go play, and he helped me put together fundraisers so I could afford to go. It was less about what he taught me about sport and more about what he taught me about being a person. …
“There’s nothing greater for an athlete than to know that someone believes in you. You have to attack the problems and collect those things and let them know how great they’re doing and let them know the high points and that you’ll help them get there. I had a bunch of coaches throughout my career who did that.”