RIPON — Chuck Hoag arrived at the gym early enough to grab his favorite seat.
The former longtime Ripon Christian coach and athletic director doesn't need to sit at midcourt — the favorite perch of most basketball fans.
No, his favorite place is even with the top of the key, two or three rows off the floor. It puts him eye-to-eye with what he came to watch: the coaches.
Hoag, 77, has worn many hats since retiring from a 24-year run at the Ripon school in 1993. He now has a faith-based magic show he performs for kids. He still makes himself available to work on baseball and basketball fundamentals with young athletes.
But much of his attention now is away from the athletes.
Hoag has become the coaches' coach — watching and critiquing the way leaders of local high school programs run their teams in practice and during games. He watches how well the coaches use their practice time, how synchronized they are with their assistants and how they relate to kids and officials during the course of games.
After years of observing, Hoag has assembled a blueprint for high school coaching success.
"I've observed all the teams that have gone on, and all the teams that haven't," Hoag said last week before a girls playoff game at Ripon Christian. "First off, you have to be a good team to make the playoffs, but it's the extra edge that allows you to advance. I've talked to teams and I've talked to coaches, and it's a consensus — a common thread — that runs through the successful programs."
OK, these aren't exactly as world-altering as Martin Luther's 95 Theses, but Hoag's 12 tenants certainly are worthy of being nailed to every coach's office door, no matter the sport:
- Successful coaches reach back into the junior high and elementary schools to help foster a love for the game.
- They attend clinics, as a student and presenter, looking for new ideas they later offer to their teams.
- They attend playoff games when their team isn't playing.
- They teach the game instead of simply coaching it.
- They talk about their team in terms of we, not I.
- They don't set their lineups in stone, allowing reserve players the chance to develop.
- Their door is always open, and they're willing to counsel their players on academic, social and personal issues.
- They use their ex-players to assist the program.
- Their practices are organized and include fundamentally based drills.
- They have in-season weight training.
- They host social team get-togethers during the season.
- They're quicker to praise the good pass, aggressive rebound and hustle than the 20-point scorer.
"I was coaching against Bob Thomason when he was at Escalon and Turlock, and I got to understand what made him good," Hoag said. "Ron Peterson at Riverbank was the same way. Look at Gary Porter. I've been to his practices at Modesto Christian, and they're instructional and purposeful, and he gets along great with his players.
"These are coaches I followed for years and asked them what they did to be successful. Somewhere in their answers, they hit on all of these elements."
For all the good coaches Hoag has seen over the years, there are some who fall short in his eyes. He calls them "wannabes," and they, too, have common traits that doom them to failure.
"These are guys who spend games going up and down in the coaching box, always yelling at the officials instead of sitting down with their kids and counseling them on what they need to do," Hoag said. "A lot of it is that these guys just want the recognition, but these so-called coaches are arrogant, proud and don't want to listen to anybody because they already know it all."
Every coach whose team is playing this week already has attained a level of success this season — not only by reaching the playoffs but by winning at least one game.
As these coaches scout their next opponent and make adjustments as they venture toward Sac-Joaquin Section titles, Hoag will sit back and scope the game from his favorite angle.
Whether at Pacific, Galt, Tokay or Arco Arena, his focus will be the same.
Coaches, consider yourself watched.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.