Giving thanks to a great football coach

I felt a little bittersweet when I learned about the retirement of Tom St. Jacques as Lassen High School’s head football coach in the Nov. 5 edition of the Lassen County Times.

Since I had worked as a sports editor at student newspapers in college and then at other weekly newspapers, too, Rob Brockmeyer, the Times’ sports editor 20 years ago, asked me to help him by taking photos at a rainy Friday night football game at Arnold Field in 1999.

I met St. Jacques at that game as I prowled up and down the Grizzlies’ side of the field hoping to get a great shot of the big play on my film camera. Yes, oh yes, we still used film back in those days. We didn’t have much of a conversation that evening beyond him asking me who are you and why are you here?

I succeeded Brockmeyer as sports editor when he left the paper in 2002 (he died in Reno, Nevada Jan. 29, 2008), and I spoke with St Jacques at least once a week during football season during my tenure.

I was on the sidelines at every home game for several years, and I listened to every away game on the radio. St. Jacques and I would talk about the game every Saturday after he’d had a chance to review the film and compile the stats accurately.

I found him to be exceedingly knowledgeable about football — imagine that, a football coach who knows the game. He could always explain to me exactly what happened that led to a win or a loss and why that play or series of plays was important.

I always especially respected St. Jacques because while he would talk about what big plays led to a win or a loss, he never blamed a loss on his players. He’d give the players the credit for winning, but then he’d always take the blame for losing, no matter what. Frequently he’d say the team lost because he failed to prepare the players properly. I always thought that showed real class.

Over the years as I covered sports, I’d often watch the Grizzlies play the first game of the season and have my doubts about their chances for success. But as the season progressed, the Grizzlies just kept getting better and better. St. Jacques shuffled the line up and focused his coaching on the team’s deficits. And by the end of the season, most of the time the Grizzlies could give anybody a run for their money.

And that, after all, is a coach’s job — figuring out how to get it done with the players he has.

One of my hardest memories was a playoff loss on a windy night in Sutter. If one faced the wind, the sand on the track hit you square in the face like needles fired out of a shotgun. Neither team moved the ball well facing the wind.

One of my favorite memories was a play-off game in Redding against Enterprise. I was standing next to a radio guy on the sidelines when Enterprise scored a touchdown. The radio guy yelled and yelled about how that score left the Grizzlies so “stunned,” they would never recover. The Grizzlies responded by taking the ball into the end zone on their first play from scrimmage.

I looked at the radio guy with a big smile on my face and said, “They don’t look too stunned to me.”

The Grizzlies won that game and a section championship if my memory serves me well.

So long, Tom, and thank you for a job well done. You and your players made a whole community proud for many years.

Good luck, best wishes and God bless.