FROM THE DESK OF THE OLD COACH

Building and maintaining an athletic program

When I first came to Polson in the summer of 1976 I never knew that I had found a home where I would spend the rest of my life. I was a math teacher at the high school and an assistant boys basketball coach and head track coach. Having never had the reigns of a boys track and field program, I was most apprehensive in that area. I knew that Polson had a pretty good history of fielding competitive teams in track and field with their most recent championship coming in 1974. That first year was a learning experience. Only two of the returning boys had been to the state track meet the year before and less than 20 turned out for track that spring. At the divisional that year, I was able to watch a veteran coach from Hamilton named Lloyd Clark. He had one of the top programs in Western Montana and his teams were consistently at the top of the Western A division. I absorbed as much from him as I could during the meets that first year.

After attending STATE that year I knew that I would have to do something different with our program to build it back to being a consistent contender. The task ahead for me as a head coach seemed awesome and I felt a little apprehensive as to whether it could be accomplished. We needed to get more kids out and the coaching staff had to be knowledgeable and effective and motivated. My goal in the beginning and throughout all the years was to create a program where kids were successful as individuals and team oriented as a group. Although track and field is a sport made up of a number of individual events, I soon found out that team success was huge when it came to motivating kids to do give their best effort. Track and field events are technique events and each event requires a lot of practice and hard work. Leadership is extremely important. I needed leadership in the athletes and the coaches to build success. Polson was good to me in both areas. Over the years we gathered an outstanding group of coaches and the Polson area provided us with quality athletes to work with.

Question was, what could I do that might go above and beyond what had been done in the past to build and maintain a successful program. I wanted the athletes at PHS to be motivated and want to be part of our program. I needed the athletes in our school to come out and want to be part of a program in the spring of the year. Many were ready to take a break at that time. I very much needed the cooperation of coaches in other programs and the encouragement they could provide to compete in the spring. This is harder than it sounds as many coaches are centered in “their” programs.

How do I begin? First I decided to attend coaching clinics on a regular basis and encouraged my assistants to do likewise. I decided to have an overall plan for the many parts of the season with individual planning for every practice. I started with a publication that I placed in the commons on a weekly basis called “Pirate Tracks”. It was totally about the kids in our program. Individuals were highlighted on a weekly basis and team and individual results appeared in every issue throughout the season. I also started keeping track of every athlete in every event for every class A athlete in the state of Montana. I ranked them and kids in our program and provided a weekly update. These updates were handed out at a meeting that I started having every Monday before the weeks practices started. Kids were able to see where they stood statewide in their events. All athletes were rewarded for “personal best performances” at these meetings. The goal was to be ranked in the top six in the state in each event. I also kept fantasy team scores based on the marks that were recorded. Athletes always knew exactly where they stood on a statewide basis. Needless to say, I never ran out of things to do on Sundays throughout the season.

I worked hard at obtaining complete uniforms and equipment for the program. Anyone that has coached a field event knows the importance of the “right” discus or the “correct” pole for the pole vault. And we wanted our athletes to look good and to represent the community of Polson in the best possible way. I said many times that when arriving at a meet I wanted other schools to see us coming and know that they would be in for a battle that day. PRIDE in themselves and the program they were part of was a huge part of our success over the years.

Coaches going home early from practice was not an option. Flexibility was important when dealing with our individual athletes. I encourage multiple events but it was not a requirement. Get them out for something, get them interested, and maybe multiple events would happened for them. Many times you could find our coaches working past 7:00 at night (practice started at 3:45) with individual athletes. I can’t begin to thank all of the coaches for the effort that they put forth. As the head coach, I was always the last one out and locked the gate and closed down the locker room.

At some point about 2/3 of the way through the season the entire team went to one of the local “ice cream” shops where I treated them to whatever they wanted (within reason of course). Was kind of expensive when the turnout in the boys program alone stretched into the 60’s and 70’s but the fellowship and memories were priceless.

It was amazing how fast things started heading in the right direction. We had some very good seasons and some great seasons over the next 30 plus years. Our coaching staff underwent some changes over those years but I was always able to fill positions with qualified people. Some of the people came from the ranks of athletes that had gone through the program at PHS. Once again I reflect on how “lucky” I was to be coaching at PHS and to be a member of the Polson community.

In 2008 my friend and Girls Head Coach Bruce Thomas headed off to Alaska. We shared assistant coaches during his days as a head coach and each of us assisted the other in our programs. In order to organize practices a little better the programs were united that year and I was the head of both programs. All that I was doing for the boys I now did for the girl program also. Sunday for me involved even more time on the job essentially doubling my workload. What a pleasure though, working with such a great group of talented girls. Many great memories.

I would encourage coaches trying to build or rebuild a program to go the extra mile if that is really what they intend to do. The hill is sometimes steep but not impossible to climb. Be creative. Never quit searching for ways to get kids involved with you and your program. Always put the kids first. Their success is your success. Reaching the top is one of the most satisfying experiences you will ever experience.

THE OLD COACH

High school football notebook: Polson finds passing prowess with sophomore QB, the nation’s No. 9 passer

MISSOULA — The secret that Polson football coach Kaden Glinsmann tried to hide all summer is well out there now: The Pirates have their quarterback of the future.

FRANK GOGOLA Missoulian

Sophomore Jarrett Wilson has used his cannon of a left arm to rank ninth in the country in passing yards per game while guiding Polson to a 3-1 record and three consecutive wins with an offense that returned just two starters from last year’s 4-5 team.

Wilson’s strong start goes back to his freshman year, when he experienced the varsity level while thrust into starting at cornerback because of an injury to Trevor Schultz. That’s helped him adapt to the speed of the game and come up clutch on two final drives with a strip fumble and recovery against Whitefish and an interception Browning to seal a set of wins.

When the coronavirus led to the cancellation of track, Wilson turned his attention to getting in early prep to play quarterback. He brought teammates out for throwing sessions, showing the maturity and leadership of a coach’s son; his father, Scott Wilson, formerly coached the Pirates.

In the summer, Wilson showed his abilities to deliver the ball to players when Polson made trips to Glacier for skeleton passing work. He started to bring back visions of a winning team and an offense led by his brother Tanner Wilson, who was a backup quarterback at Montana in the Big Sky Conference, where Glinsmann thinks Wilson may get a look at quarterback or safety.

“We had a pretty good suspicion with our summer program that he’d be really good for us,” Glinsmann said of his 5-foot-10, 175-pound signal caller ahead of the Pirates’ matchup at 3-1 Libby at 7 p.m. Friday. “We just didn’t how special he’d be. He has a long way to go, but we’re excited about where he’s at and what he can be.”

Wilson is averaging 393 yards of offense per game, including 352.3 through the air, an impressive amount even though some states aren’t playing football and could’ve had players push him down the leaderboard. He’s completed 62.6% of his passes (112/179) for 1,409 yards with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. They’ve passed the ball 73.1% of the time, but when they’ve run, Wilson has 37 of those 66 carries and has rushed for a team-best 155 yards and two touchdowns.

He’s coming off a game in which he had 559 yards of offense, the second most in Class A history, throwing for 439 and running for 120 to become the fifth Class A player to go over 300 passing and 100 rushing in the same game, according to Class A statistician Brian A. Reed.

That came after Wilson threw for a school-record 444 yards in the opener, making him the fourth Class A player with multiple 400-yard passing games in an entire career, and he’s played just four games.

“We try to do a very good job of protecting where he’s looking with his eyes and misdirection to where you can’t just key on where he’s looking with his eyes,” said Glinsmann, a former Carroll College defensive backs coach now in his second season at Polson. “There’s time where it looks like he’s looking one and goes another way. That’s by design. We’re looking to keep him in the pocket and give him quick throws but other times we want him to get out of the pocket.”

Wilson has done that while operating behind a makeshift offensive line that has two returning starters in addition to a freshman at tackle, a junior at guard and a wide receiver-turned-guard.

Polson’s approach to its uptempo offense has been throwing to space with the belief defenses don’t have enough players to completely blanket the field and some spot should be open. Right now, they’re telling Wilson about what to do, but Glinsmann believes it won’t be long before he brings his own ideas to the coaches.

Wilson’s top target has been junior wide receiver Colton Graham, a basketball player who didn’t come out for football until one game into last season and is more than halfway to 1,000 yards this season in just three games. He has 27 receptions for 511 yards and four scores, going for 246 yards against Ronan and 251 against Columbia Falls.

Graham sat out against Browning because of injury and was bracketed by two defenders against Whitefish, limiting him to three catches for 14 yards. So Wilson shifted away from his go-to guy against Whitefish, throwing for 163 yards and two scores to Jony Perez, one of five receivers with 148 or more receiving yards this year.

“We have young guys on the offensive line, and the one thing I knew I could teach them right away is pass protection and allowing Jarrett to be successful around it,” Glinsmann said. “We don’t have dudes who live in the weight room, but what we do have is great basketball players, baseball players and athletes who want the ball in space and don’t shrink in the moment. That’s been a product of Jarrett’s statistics is he knows those kids and believes in those kids.”

Polson hasn’t lost since blowing a 14-point lead in the season opener at Columbia Falls, one of five conferences teams at 3-1, along with Polson, Libby, Dillon and Frenchtown. Whitefish is 2-2, while Hamilton is 4-0 to lead the league, which will send four teams to the playoffs instead of six because of a reduced bracket due to the pandemic.

The Pirates’ road test at Libby could go a long way in determining whether they make the playoffs. It’ll be two different styles of football as Polson will look to pass and score quickly while Libby will try to shorten the game and run the clock with their ground game.

“We view this as a playoff game,” Glinsmann said. “This is a huge one for us. It’s a big test. I think more than anything, this upcoming game is why we all love football so much. There’s different ways to play football, and you’re going to see a clash of styles.”

Polson High School “PIRATE TRACKS”

Bob Gunderson - Pirate Tracks blog authorWelcome to “Pirate Tracks”, where you will be able to “TRACK” recent results of PHS athletic activities.  Our “Tracking the Pirates” links in the left column show up-to-date results of pirate athletic activities.  “Pirate Treasures” links has information about recent divisional and state competitions, All Conference and All State selections,  as well as previews (when possible) of teams currently competing in their season.  There are also photo galleries of the Pirates and Lady Pirates, again separated by seasons Fall 2020 – Winter 2021 – Spring 2021 – Posters.  I am continually gathering pictures for the galleries. If you have a picture that can be added to the gallery or comments in general about our PHS Athletic Blog, please email them to rgunderson44@gmail.com