I was sitting in the passenger seat of my buddy’s car, jamming to Guns and Roses, when the car door was suddenly yanked open. In less than 1 second I had a grown man staring me in the face, with a menacing look, handing me the buckle to my seatbelt and demanding, “Put your seatbelt on son!”. I was buckled in less than half a second.
That was 26 years ago. I still see that face every time I sit in a car and realize that I haven’t buckled up yet. I wince and smile at the same time when I recall this point in time. That moment had an incredible influence on me, but that’s not surprising considering the source. The guy with my belt buckle in his hand was Coach Dariel Daniel.
If you know Coach Daniel, you know he entered a room like a meteorite, rising from the impact of his arrival with his chest out and head on a swivel. He was going to make something happen in every moment and the ripple effect was going to have a wide circumferance. Sometimes that was positive and sometimes you were just going to get a whole lot of truth wrapped with unabashed accountability because Coach called things like he saw them.
Coach was highly successful in sport. As the wresting coach at Troup High School, his teams dominated the state tournament for 9 years in the 80′s and 90s’. The program was so prominent that, to this day, I can mention Troup wrestling in all parts of the state and people know the legacy of that program. He was able to get those kind of results because he demanded the very best from each and every one of his wrestlers. Coach was tough on his team, made them push themselves to limits that only those who wrestled for him can explain. Only those who pushed themselves to the places that Coach demanded will ever know how rewarding it was.
Most will probably will agree to this point. Of every letter jacket that cruised the halls of Troup County Comprehensive High School, you knew the ones that had pins on them were hard earned and that the expectations were high. Not only on the wrestlers, but anyone associated with the program. Ask the Cat Mats, the former wrestlers under his tutelage, anyone who watched a tournament.
Coach was also controversial. He took on the Troup County Board of Education for what he felt was excessive and out of control spending. Was he right? I don’t know, but he probably wasn’t that far from the truth if he latched on to it. Had he been gifted with a politicians tongue instead of a huge heart, he would likely run the Board of Education by now.
Unfortunately, life has cycles. Cycles where the styles of individuals don’t match the current day thoughts on how to get the best of people. Coach’s tough love, high accountability approach was often in conflict with today’s “gently encourage, be less accountable, and get a trophy for participation climate”. That being said, I’d put my kids on a mat with Coach tomorrow. I would tell them to see the intensity in his eyes, feel the passion in his words, and try to find a way to connect with people the way that he does.
Coach was able to transcend the mat and the classroom. I never wrestled for him, only had one class he instructed, yet I knew more about him and where he stood than almost any other teacher I have had in my lifetime. He knew the pulse of the school.
I’d be willing to bet that he knew the name of almost every student and knew something about them that was a more than what you would expect him to know. When Coach asked about your Momma and Daddy, he knew who he was talking about.
He took challenges head on. Drugs a problem in high school? Coach took that on! He burned a pill that smelled like pot in the school so everyone knew what is smelled like and talked about drugs and what they were going to do to your body. In his words, “If you start to smell this, you are in the wrong place.”.
Teenage drunk driving a problem? Coach created one of the largest Student’s Against Driving Drunk (SADD) clubs in the country. He mobilized a base of teenagers! Are you serious?….Teenagers! How does one exactly mobilize teenagers? He did.
I received news that Coach passed away the night of November 19th. He died from a head-on collision while driving home from a wrestling match. His time on this earth and in this life is over. What he leaves behind is something that is so compelling and motivating that it is hard to describe my thoughts and feelings.
My dose of reality is that life is about the one thing the Coach had in abundance, the ability to make an impact. Life is about how hard you can hit the ground, how big of dust plume you can make, and how far you can make the seismic waves travel. It’s about how much of an impact you can have on this world in the short time that you get to spend on it because that legacy lives on a lot longer than the body ever will.
Thanks Coach. I finally get it. And I’ll always have my seatbelt on.