Denner: Egos aside, two coaches find balance at Culver
Scott Fritz and Rene Houle make unusual transition a smooth one
Egos can hinder success at any level of sports.
Just last week, excerpts from longtime NBA coach George Karl's soon-to-be-released autobiography, "Furious George," were released to the public, much to the chagrin of several former players he coached.
Karl, who has 1,175 wins to his name in a 27-year career that included stints with the Seattle SuperSonics, Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets, lambasted players in his book for things ranging from a lack of defensive effort to being negatively affected by not having fathers present while growing up.
Whether or not Karl's assessments are correct is unimportant. His words exemplified a flailing attempt to get back in the spotlight a year removed from coaching and several more without a meaningful coaching accomplishment.
While we — the media, fans and players — don't often see these types of coaching egos, nor are they as publicized, in high school or below, the fact remains that inflated egos exist across all sports hierarchies.
Perhaps the ego stroke that comes with being a head coach is inherent, but the best coaches are willing to set them aside. To see a positive example of this, look no further than the current dynamic in place on the Culver girls basketball team between Rene Houle and Scott Fritz.
As many already know, Fritz, who was Culver's head coach from 2009 until the end of the 2016 season, contacted Houle after last season to gauge his interest in coaching the Bulldogs. Houle, who had been out of coaching for a few years, accepted Fritz's proposition.
Though the two men are listed as co-head coaches, Houle runs practices, makes the in-game adjustments, speaks to the media and for all intents and purposes, is the face of the team.
Meanwhile Fritz has stepped into a more behind-the-scenes role, handling most of the administrative duties that come with being a high school coach. He still coaches the JV team, attends varsity practices, sits on the bench at games and offers input to players where he sees fit. But everyone agrees the Bulldogs are Houle's team.
Fritz's decision to bring in Houle was a no-brainer. Houle's experience, which includes a 2008 state championship with Salem Academy and reviving a La Pine program back to playoff contention, is matched by few others at the 2A level. But not everyone in Fritz's position would've so willingly ceded head coaching duties to someone else. That shouldn't go unnoticed.
Meanwhile, Houle, while grateful to be in a position where he can solely focus on practice and the games, had to adjust to a partnership with Fritz. When I talked with Houle about the role in late November, after he'd only been on the job for a week or so, he acknowledged that it had a slightly different feel than his past head coaching jobs.
"It's unusual," Houle said. "People say, 'How can you do that?'"
Some coaches would feel overcrowded in that position. Houle embraced it from the beginning.
"You use people where they're good at, gifted and talented," Houle said. "You plug them in — that's with players and coaches. I've always been one to get as many people involved as possible in the program."
Since I don't have the perspective of seeing last year's team in person, I'll refrain from comparing last year and this year so far.
But, from what I've seen this year, the Bulldogs will be a tough out if they make it to the 2A state tournament in Pendleton. They play aggressive. Their press has blown several games so wide open that they've had to let off the gas considerably.
Sure, this year's success didn't come out of nowhere. Fritz laid the foundation for the "controlled chaos" that Culver plays with. And despite the Bulldogs' youth, they had promising pieces to build around in sophomores Mia Gamboa and Irma Retano. But Houle has taken the Bulldogs to another level, and their record shows that.
The dynamic developing in Culver is working to near perfection. Talent can overcome egos and a lack of chemistry in rare situations, though life is much easier when everyone sacrifices their own interests for the good of the team.
Credit both Fritz and Houle for making this transition a smooth one. They understand that it's not about them. It's about this team of players, who are the biggest beneficiaries of the coaching shakeup.
Follow him on Twitter @WillCDenner.