Thursday, November 9, 2006
In the violent world of football, Buck Roggeman, the head varsity coach at Pacific Grove High, is an anomaly.
Countering the macho culture that permeates the sport, he regularly tells his players that he loves them, has brought in speakers from the Monterey Rape Crisis Center to talk about respecting women, and feels his most important role is to develop young men, not football stars.
“He’s so sincere that his kids believe him when he says, ‘I love you.’” says school Principal Stan Dodd. “I’ve seen a lot of coaches who can do the ‘X’s and O’s,’ but nobody does it with the class and integrity that he does.”
“I have never met a man with more ethics,” says Rob Friedrich, the school’s first year athletic director. “Football is just a tool. Buck is impacting lives. Buck believes that his position as an educator or a coach is to help kids to find successful tools for the future.”
Roggeman’s teams have never had a losing record. The Breakers are 7-2 this season and 52-14 since he became head coach in 2001, winning the Mission Trail Athletic League championship four times under his leadership. A win over archrival Carmel High Saturday for “The Shoe,” the coveted trophy that goes to the winning school, would make it five.
Roggeman, who also teaches English, journalism, media and strength training, realizes that for most of his squad, high school will mark the last chapter of their football careers, so the lessons he teaches are much broader.
“The most important thing a player can get from our program is to love his fellow teammates,” Roggeman says unabashedly. “I want them to learn to love each other. It’s important for men in our society to become great husbands, great fathers and great friends.”
Roggeman’s approach resonates with his players’ parents.
“He’s more teacher than coach because his athletes learn from him on the field and off,” says David Laredo, whose three sons have played for Roggeman.
Laredo’s middle son, Michael, who played in 2003 and 2004, says Roggeman “demands the best of us, and he pushes us to our limits.”
He adds that being told by his coach that he loved them was unique.
“It was unusual,” says Michael, “because I’ve never really had a coach who cared that much about individuals.”
Jon Grant, UC-Davis’ three-year starting quarterback, played for Roggeman in 2000, when he was an assistant, and in 2001. He points out that Roggeman is more than just a caring coach.
“He’s such a good coach in every aspect,” Grant says. “He knows the game better than anyone. It’s also the inspiration he provides, the direction and the focus. His pregame speeches were amazing. He can articulate something and make it so powerful that his team plays better than they thought possible.”
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I first met Roggeman some 15 years ago at a job fair at the University of Southern California, where he was about to receive a master’s degree in print journalism. I was then the associate editor of The Herald. From dozens of applicants statewide, we selected him for one of two summer intern reporting positions. He excelled, and we hired him at summer’s end, which was rare. Sometime later he told me that while he appreciated everything, he truly wanted to teach and coach. Journalism’s loss became teaching and football’s gain.
After receiving a teaching credential, Roggeman was an assistant coach at Gonzales High and Monterey High from 1994 through 1999, and then an assistant at PG in 2000 before becoming head coach the following year.
Football is in Roggeman’s blood. He played four years at Stanford, 1986-89, mostly at nose tackle, and received a degree in English literature. His father played for the Chicago Bears and was a longtime college assistant coach.
Working with impressionable young men, Roggeman says he strives “to tear down the three myths of masculinity,” a philosophy based upon Jeffrey Marx’s hailed 2004 non-fiction work, Season of Life: A football star, a boy, a journey to manhood.
These myths, Roggeman says, are that athletic prowess is glorified above all else, that young men are defined by sexual conquests, and that as adults the measure of a man is the amount of money he has in the bank.
“What’s real in persons’ lives are the relationships they establish with each other,” Roggeman counters.
Two weeks ago, as the team gathered in the training room before PG’s final regular-season home game, Roggeman praised each of his seniors, one by one, ending each set of remarks with “and I just want you to know that I thank you.”
He concluded with John Tyndall, the star running back and linebacker, with, “I think one of the greatest things you’ve done is stay so humble.”