JRB and I recently found ourselves in a discussion over the willingness of Alabama Coach Nick Saban to go for two points during the Vanderbilt game a couple weeks ago. He felt like St. Nick was “piling on” the points, and I felt that he wasn’t. One of the points I brought up was my memory of Alabama’s thrashing of the Virginia Tech Hokies when they came to Blacksburg in 1973. That final was 77-6 even after The Bear had gone through the entire 3rd string, the waterboys and a couple of tuba players.
As I pointed to JRB, 77-6 is something to complain about, not a measly 2-point conversion in a relatively low-scoring game in which your QB has had trouble finding his mark inside the Red Zone and simply needs the practice. I argued that the ability to throw under extreme pressure in short yardage situations might be critical in future weeks, and lo and behold, it turned out to be just that. But like any good lawyer worth his salt, JRB argued his point passionately and to the nth degree, even in the face of inexorable logic.
That discussion triggered a few memories of my own, of days when I had to make the decision: Do I call off the dogs or not?
Over my years of coaching soccer, I’ve been fortunate to have been able to coach many good players and winning teams, some of which were real juggernauts. On many occasions, after getting up several goals and gaining a comfortable lead (more a problem in rec play than at the club level where teams are usually more evenly matched), I was faced with the decision of how to hold down the score so as not to totally embarrass the opposing team.
In soccer this can be accomplished in a variety of ways, such as requiring your team to make a certain number of consecutive passes prior to taking a shot, moving players into different positions or focusing on shooting only with a certain part of the body, such as the head or the player’s weaker (usually left) foot. This allows your team to practice a specific skill, holds down the scoring in a mismatch and allows the other team to save face and have more fun while feeling that they were more “in the game.” In most cases, it is the most rational and sporting thing to do.
In most cases. There’s always the exception.
A few years ago, I was coaching a match in which the opposing players were mouthy brats who complained to the ref at every turn while at the same time taking every opportunity to take a cheap shot at one of my players. Their sharply-dressed and well-coiffed parents were loud and preachy too, and they were coached by a British chap who just wouldn’t leave well enough alone (these things often flow from the top) and who kept crossing the midline and walking into my coaching area to complain about my players and what awful soccer I had taught them. It didn’t help matters that they hailed from one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Huntsville. They also weren’t very good.
At halftime, we were up 6-0 even though they had intimidated the young teenage center ref into calling everything their way. As the lads gathered around my feet for halftime instructions, my leading scorer, who had already notched four goals at that point, looked up at me and asked, “Are you going to call off the dogs, Coach?”
I thought about that for about one second. Then, calmly, and with great emphasis on each word, I issued the following charge:
“Fire at will, boys. Fire. At. Will.”