A week before Whitworth players arrived, new head coach Rod Sandberg invited all of his assistants and their wives over for dinner.
He gave the wives a Pirate coffee mug and a note, which thanked them in advance for the impact on their lives from taking their husbands away for the next several months.
With the first major coaching turnover at Whitworth in 19 years, the coaches are giving all of their waking moments toward the thousands of hours needed to prepare for the 60 minutes on game day.
Two new coaches in particular, offensive coordinator Alan Stanfield and offensive line coach Matt Miethe, both Whitworth grads, gave up head coaching positions at high school programs in Spokane to become assistants for Sandberg.
“That was a hard decision,” said Stanfield, who left Shadle Park and star quarterback Brett Rypien. “We had a bunch of good kids coming back. But this job gave me the opportunity to be more focused.
“At Shadle, I was planning for school and had all the work of running a program with 125 kids,” he said. “It just seemed like this job presented a different rhythm of life.”
Miethe quit as head coach at Rogers High School so he could return to Whitworth as a part-time assistant. He will continue to teach physical education and weight training at Rogers and come to Whitworth for practices in the afternoon.
“I assumed that (college) would be more time and more work,” Miethe said. “What I’ve found is it’s tenfold.”
For example, Miethe said he spent 90 minutes on the phone with a coach from Wheaton College, where Sandberg coached for 19 years prior to last December, about how and why offensive linemen lock their legs for field goals.
“I never put that much time into such a little thing,” he said. “The first week we are getting ready for camp and I get asked, ‘Are we going to be in a two-point stance or a three-point stance?’
“I say pick one and go for it,” Miethe said. “But, I gotta know why, what works best, how does it fit with what we are doing and how does it fit our personnel. At the college level, you go to the extreme to understand every little detail.”
Switch to college
In high school, Stanfield and Miethe had access to players during the early summer. All the quarterbacks and skill players knew the plays, and ran them hundreds of times, before they showed up for fall camp.
Both had to coordinate assistant coaches and weight training and summer camps. They both had to prepare for school at the same time they planned for fall practices.
But at Whitworth, both essentially got July off because the players all scattered in late May and didn’t return until this week.
“July was awesome,” Miethe said. “I was relaxing, waiting for the season to begin.”
By early August, the coaches began meeting in sometimes sweltering offices. Most wore T-shirts, shorts, flip flops and extra facial hair as they planned every minute of the next few weeks.
Stanfield said his day typically started before 7 a.m. and he was able to go home at about 7 p.m. But when camp started, those days ended with a team meeting at 9 p.m.
The time from noon to 1 p.m. is supposed to be lunch, but it also includes recruiting time.
Stanfield had his wife drop off cold pizza one day after he forgot to pack his lunch. As he ate, he took a phone call from a lineman recruit from California who was wavering. The news was good.
“I’m glad you won’t be on the sideline of La Verne when we kick their butts,” Stanfield said between bites.
Stanfield previously coached at Timberline High School in Boise (2008-09) and learned to organize practices after visiting Boise State.
“I studied their organization and how they moved around so seamlessly,” Stanfield said. “That takes a lot of time and planning.”
One of the keys, especially during a three-hour practice, is to break it down to 10- or 15-minute intervals.
“If you are in an hour, or two-hour, teaching block, you’d never have kids do anything more than 15 minutes of one thing without them getting up and changing gears mentally,” he said. “It keeps their attention better.”
Passion more than reward
For every multimillion dollar contract for a high-profile Division I coach, there are thousands like Stanfield who labor hours for passion rather than payoff.
While he didn’t say how much Whitworth pays him, Stanfield said he took a $15,000 annual pay cut from his days as a history teacher and head coach at Shadle.
“You don’t want to ever figure out what we get paid hourly. That would be no fun,” Stanfield said. “But when you are a high school coach, you know you are not doing it for the money.”
Asked why he pursued the change, Stanfield said: “To become a fulltime coach. Once the school year starts, I’m spending my time on football and not teaching history six periods of day. I’m working more hours, but it’s all going the same direction.”