That’s especially true in coaching, where there’s always someone looking over your shoulder. High school coaches not only have to meet and please the expectations of their athletic director, but also the school and administrators they represent, and many times — as unfortunate as it may be in some cases — the community, and parents of the athletes they’re leading on a daily basis.
Like many coaches can attest, it’s not easy pleasing everyone, especially when dealing with the potential of hurting kids’ feelings in regards to playing time. It’s amazing the agenda a few upset student-athletes and their parents can create and how far they’ll go in seeing that a coach doesn’t stay employed for long.
I hope that wasn’t the case with legendary Western Michigan Christian coach Jim Goorman, whose 33-year tenure as Warriors’ varsity boys basketball coach was recently ended by school administrators.
Because WMC officials are remaining tight-lipped about the ordeal, it remains a question on why Goorman was fired. I believe even Goorman himself is unsure at why he was let go, although when he called for the meeting with a handful of school administrators on June 4, he said he had a sinking feeling his time was up.
But again, why? Goorman asked them directly if the reason was his age (66), and wondered himself if it was a budget slashing move. Regardless, after coaching a total of 44 years at WMC, Goorman felt he had a right to go out on his own terms. To not have that wish granted, Goorman said he felt almost betrayed by a school that in his words, (he has) “given my entire adult life (to).”
Aside from his longevity in coaching, which is a minor miracle in itself, Goorman experienced tremendous success, with 510 wins and five state championships during his career. His collection of state titles often drew the admiration of opposing coaches, he said.
“I’ve had coaches come up and tell me they’d like to make it to the Breslin just once,” Goorman said. “I’ve always said, ‘you have to shoot high. You can’t settle for looking at just the district tournament.’”
When it came to success, Goorman lived by his Christian beliefs and a message he heard from one of his favorite motivational speakers.
“If you’re a boxer, most are afraid to step into the ring with a heavyweight champion, because they’d be knocked out in five seconds. But with positive thinking, who knows? You might be able to last 30 seconds, you may last two rounds or longer.”
Goorman used that type of motivation to get the most out of his players and from the slew I’ve talked to the past few days, they’d run through a brick wall for the man.
“Mr. Goorman is a great coach and mentor and I have learned so much from being on one of his teams at WMC,” said Fruitport native Tim Dunning, a starting guard on the Warriors’ Class D title team in 2008. “It wasn’t just about basketball, but how to give it 100 percent effort in everything you do in life.
“It was every kid’s dream to play for Coach Goorman and I’m lucky enough to say I had that opportunity.”
Maybe it’s off the mark, but the first thing I thought of when Goorman was telling me his dilemma was college football coach Joe Paterno. Both were legendary in their circles and tremendously successful who both gave their lives to their respective institutions, but in the end, they were pushed out before they were ready to go.
Of course, the terrible controversy surrounding Penn State forced Paterno’s fate and in no way do I want to compare his situation to the controversy Goorman experienced. Goorman’s incident on March 17, 2011, involved a student in gym class who wasn’t paying attention to his instruction. So Goorman, an old-school disciplinarian, lost his patience, and did a no-no: He shoved her in the back with his foot. It was hard enough that the girl complained and non-aggravated assault charges were filed, but later dropped.
We’ve heard tales from our grandparents of them getting whacked on the wrist with rulers by teachers for misbehaving when they were in country school, but teachers obviously don’t have that type of freedom today.
Is one incident enough to spark a call of change, enough to disregard a glowing legacy? I hope not, but again, Goorman wasn’t in position to say otherwise.
Whatever the reason, a coach so many admired is now wondering what’s next in his life. Did he deserve a better exit? Of course. For what he accomplished and the lives he positively shaped through sport, if there’s any way to turn a wrong back to right, the Warriors should soon be playing on a floor stamped with “Jim Goorman Court” inside their gymnasium.