A coach is often ultimately judged by wins and losses, but a great coach will always be so much more. Beyond X’s and O’s, coaches have the ability to transform a young person’s life and to potentially transform the greater community as they develop, mentor, and teach their players to become successful players and, later, impactful adults.
Madison La Follette freshman football assistant coach Troy Dean has been coaching kids and working with young people in Madison for most of his adult life. He knows what kind of power he has to be a tremendous influence on a young person both on and off the field.
“I push my kids to have goals. And it can be more than one goal. It’s great to have multiple goals,” Dean tells Madison365. “Many of my freshmen football players have goals of making it to the NFL. Guess what? The chances of you making it to the NFL are slim. So what’s your back-up plan? There are so many different paths you can choose. What are you interested in? That’s what I try to talk to kids about.”
Like a lot of coaches in general – and for African-American coaches like Dean working with low-income and potentially vulnerable kids, in particular – good coaching goes way beyond the X’s and O’s of the game and straight into the hard-scrabble lessons and advice about everyday life.
“The one thing that I preach to kids is that they are ‘student-athletes’ … student comes first. Without your grades, you cannot even get on the football field,” Dean says. “And there are some parents where the kid cannot even have a ‘C.’ That’s not good enough for them: ‘My kid can’t play football.’ That speaks a lot for the parent because they expect a lot from their children.
“I always stress to these young people that they need to listen to the teachers,” Dean adds. “If you’re talking in class, there’s no way you can be listening. You cannot be doing both at the same time. I tell my freshman, ‘classroom comes first.’”
It’s safe to say that Dean has done a lot of coaching in his life. This is his second season coaching freshman football at Madison La Follette High School, but he’s been coaching youth football (4th-8th grade) at Warner Park since 2001-2002. “Some of the kids that I coached at Warner Park have actually graduated out of college now, so that’s dating me a little bit,” Dean smiles. “Coaching has been a great experience for me. Once you get to know the kids, that’s when the fun begins. These kids were starting fourth grade and as a coach you helped mold them. In some ways, you become a father figure in their lives. I take great pride in being a role model.”
As an assistant head coach on the freshman La Follette High School football team, Dean helps with the offense, usually coaching the wide receivers. But he’ll assist with the running backs and quarterbacks, too, or wherever else he might be needed. For these young players, it’s a big jump from youth football to high school football, as their competition gets bigger and faster and more talented.
“It’s a huge leap for some of these freshmen in high school because they are trying to find themselves. It’s different from youth football where a lot of kids come in knowing what position they are going to play every year,” Dean says. “If they played for the same team from 4th to 8th grade, many of them know each season who’s going to play running back, quarterback or linebacker. When you come into a high school, now, you have all of these kids from different programs who might be as good [as you] or even better, so now there is competing. But at the same time, you don’t want the kid to get discouraged.
“I tell my young people that all of us have made mistakes in our lives both on and off the field. It’s our job to learn from those mistakes,” he adds. “Don’t get discouraged. It’s up to the older generations to teach the younger generations to help them not make those mistakes in the first place.”
Dean has made some great relationships with the players’ parents. Some parents are much more aggressive than others about their kid’s development, about coaching and about playing time. “There’s a lot you have to balance out there. Some parents are a little more vocal than others,” Dean laughs. “Overbearing? I wouldn’t quite say that. There are parents who are really concerned about their sons. I feel like it’s important for the coaches and parents to keep an open dialog.”
That open dialog continues once the players leave the field. Coach Dean knows that there is a big temptation for his players to get involved in things they shouldn’t get involved in just about everywhere, especially on the weekends.
“I know that they all want to have fun and they don’t want to be left out. But sometimes being left out keeps you out of so much trouble,” Dean says. “There’s plenty of Friday nights I remember as a teen where I knew what was going to go down at a certain party. First of all, do I want to risk it with my parents? I have to answer to them, number one. Second of all, do I want to risk it with [former Madison East Principal] Mr. [Milt] McPike? Well, those are two big red flags. I’m staying home.
“And then I’d hear about it on Monday morning how these kids got busted at this party, and these kids missed out on this or that because of it,” he adds. “I let my players know that they have plenty of their time in their life to do these things. They aren’t missing out.”
Born and raised in Madison, Dean is an eastsider/northsider true and true. He has four kids including his son Hunter, 14, who is getting set to be a freshman at Verona High School, and eager to follow in his father’s athletic footsteps.
“My son, Hunter, got into track when he beat me a foot race down the street one day when he was going into seventh grade,” Dean remembers. “I told him that he had no choice but to run track now. You’ve beat me; you’ve shown your speed.’
“He’s picked it up pretty good … like a fish to water. He is a long jumper, I was a long jumper,” Dean adds. “I’ve just been coaching him up … giving him little points and tips. I think he likes having a coach dad.”
The relationship Dean has with his son is pretty special, especially when he can see a lot of kids in the community lacking that important father/son relationship. That’s where the community needs to step in, he says, and come strong.
“Kids in Madison need more positive role models but not just people to look up to but people who are really willing to take the time and invest in them,” Dean says. “There’s a lot of shouting on social media about racial disparities, but oftentimes, unfortunately, it’s from people who are not in the trenches doing the work. The bottom line, though, is to be constantly working for these kids in the community and being a positive influence in their lives.
“There’s a lot of negativity going on in the world right now and I often see many negative things reported in the news, especially in the black community, and I think that it’s time to focus on the many positive things that are going on in Madison,” Dean adds.
“When we start to turn things around in Madison, it will start in the households and start in the communities. There just needs to be more people pounding the pavement and interacting with these young men on a regular basis … showing that you care.”
On top of all of his coaching, Dean is also the founder and owner of Daze Entertainment Basketball, a team of talented streetball players that has shared their unique talents at assembly, charity, and fundraiser games around the state. Last year, they celebrated a decade of giving back to the Madison community through basketball. Daze takes pride in bringing communities closer together and helping them reach their goals through fundraising events, demonstrations, camps, and shows. They are a big hit in Madison-area schools.
“I got maybe two years left with basketball and I’ll be hanging it up. We just had our 10-year anniversary in May,” Dean says. “We went to four or five different schools just talking to the kids. It was a blast. The kids really look forward to seeing us. It’s hard work but it’s fun. It’s a huge payoff when it all comes together. It’s a cool feeling.”
DAZE was created with three major goals in mind – entertainment, creativity, and positive community relationships. Dean hopes that the impact he makes on kids with DAZE, much like with his coaching, lasts a long time and maybe that a few of the kids remember him later on in life.
“I have coaches in high school that I’m still in contact with this today,” says Dean, who played football and ran track at Madison East. “[Track] Coach Jodie [Amerell] and I just reconnected on Facebook recently and I never got a chance to thank her for all of the extra stuff she did – checking on my classroom work, giving me a hand if I needed help, waking me up at 7 a.m. on Saturday mornings when nobody else had to practice to push me harder because she saw something in me.”
Dean says Amerell was in tears when he called to thank her. “Not a lot of coaches do that type of stuff she did and that’s what I’m trying to do, too,” Dean says. “It’s very important as a coach to be a positive figure to push those kids to work a little harder in the classroom and on the field.”
Dean has already gotten some emotional thank-you calls from former players of his. He says they were very touching but they haven’t quite caused him to cry. Yet.
“It’s a cool thing when you’ve seen a kid that you’ve coached in the past and they thank you and they want more advice from you. That’s always great,” Dean says. “That means you’re doing something right.”