Series shows how great coaches can change young lives

November 16, 2003|By Susan Reimer

PARENTS MAY BE loath to admit it, but the most powerful relationship in a child's life - for good or ill - may be with his sports coach.

It is hard for us to accept that there is another adult who may mean more to our daughter or share deeper confidences with our son than we.

But the high school and college athlete may find in their coach the kind of baggage-free intimacy they can't manage with us.

There are plenty of jerks with whistles and clipboards, but there are also men and women who elevate their jobs on the sidelines to a near religious calling.

College Sports Television, a new entry among the exploding number of niche TV channels, gives us an up-close and personal look at some of these men and women in their "Coach" series.

"Part of our mission with this network is to demonstrate the differences between college and professional sports, and one of those differences is the unique bond between athletes and their coaches," says Brian Bedol, co-founder of CSTV, which went on the air in April.

"This is a relationship that transcends sports, and one that is often lost when professional athletes become successful."

Among the coaches who will be profiled each month in this series is the late women's lacrosse coach from Loyola College, Diane Geppi-Aikens.

Geppi-Aikens lost her battle with brain cancer at the conclusion of last season, a season of inspiring courage that captured the attention of the nation, not just the world of sports.

It was the first original production for CSTV and its success when aired in July inspired CSTV's "Coach" series. The half-hour documentary will be rebroadcast during the lacrosse season.

"When you see the relationship she had with her players, you realize that she captured everything that coaching should mean," says Bedol.

"She makes you a better person just by getting to know her."

The series kicked off this fall with a feature on hockey coach Herb Brooks, who died in an auto accident this summer.

He guided a mish-mash of college players to an improbable gold medal in the 1980 Olympic games, and he did it by forcing them to bond over their dislike for him.

"He was the loneliest coach in the world," says Bedol.

A new profile will be broadcast multiple times each month, and this month it is John Gagliardi, coach for half a century of the St. John's (Minn.) University football team.

He has over 400 victories and three national titles, and he did it with no scholarships, no playbook, no tackling in practices, no calisthenics and no drills, no cuts and no practice in rain, extreme heat or cold or when the mosquitos and gnats are bad.

"This is a series for people who have sentimental feelings about their college coaches," says Bedol, from his offices in New York.

"But there is also great storytelling here, and great personalities."

"Coach" is just a small part of the CSTV package. The bread and butter for the network, carried as part of DirecTV's sports package, are broadcasts of lesser college sports, like hockey, volleyball, track - and lacrosse - plus a full slate of women's college sports.

Ahead in the "Coach" series are features on Joe Namath and his coach at Alabama, Paul "Bear" Bryant, North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith, Boston University hockey coach Jack Parker, and Geno Auriemma, whose Connecticut women's basketball team captured national attention with its 70-game winning streak.

"He has won 501 games and lost 99," says Bedol. But when you see this program, you see that his success is built on this relationship with his players.

"That's the way it is with all the great coaches."

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