Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Mustang Stealth Defense, renewed

I revisited the Mustang Stealth Defense this weekend after saying goodbye to my friend Steve Clark after his battle with lymphoma. I'll miss his loyalty, work ethic, and sense of humor. That was a good man. Through some tears, it was good to revisit the Stealth. Sad as we are, we also know how much Steve loved a good laugh. And that night in Eddyville gave us many over the years. Here's the story, again, for those who have forgotten and for the first time for those unfortunate to only learn of it now.

Saw this beauty a couple of weeks ago and laughed out loud.

In the interest of self-disclosure, I'm part guilty and part proud, in a tongue-in-cheek, can't believe that happened kind of way. On a cold winter night in about 1997, I was coaching basketball at Davis County High School. We were in a tough road game in Eddyville, IA and not playing particularly well. As I recall, there was a timeout and we made a substitution to try and bring some life to our defense.

The players broke the huddle and Eddyville-Blakesburg brought the ball across half court. I thought we looked a little better defensively. That's when my assistant coach and friend Steve Clark said to me with wide eyes, "Coach, we've got six guys on the floor." "Hell, no wonder we look pretty good," I thought.

The opposing coach realized it at about the same time, stood up and started protesting. Wildly. Like he was on fire. After 45 seconds or so, we got the ball and a timeout. And the Mustangs trotted over to the bench, looking a little more perplexed than usual.

While the Eddyville coach freely asserted his First Amendment rights to the officials in an increasingly vociferous way, we sat our guys down in the huddle and sorted out who was supposed to be on the floor. And my mind was racing. If the officials, who never noticed we had six players on the floor, asked me, what was I going to say? "Jeez, fellas, I'm not sure what the hell was going on" or "Yeah, we did. Our bad." Or maybe, "If you don't know, I'm not going to tell you."

They never asked. Instead, they gave the opposing coach a technical foul. We returned to the floor--with five players--and made the two free throws. Then we scored on the OB. And later won.  By four. And so was born the Mustang Stealth Defense. It's there, but you just can't see it.

We laughed through the embarrassment as a team and coaching staff afterwards. And implemented the towel rule for substitutions, meaning that the new guys to the floor had to throw a towel to the guy they were replacing. I know, what keen coaching minds we had.

The next morning, I got to room 134 at DCHS early to get some things ready for class. Long time DCHS Activities Director Dennis Anderson and then DCHS football coach Dave Lukens, who now coaches with Anderson's son, Kent, at Iowa Wesleyan College, were waiting for me. Both had been in Eddyville the night before and both had a twinkle in their eyes.

"Good morning, fellas" I said, a little too enthusiastically, wondering how long I was going to wait before starting to pay a bitter price in taunting from these two.

Lukens said, "Coach Pace, Denny and I have been talking. And we can't decide if you're the worst coach we've ever seen for allowing that to happen or the best for getting away with it."

Long pause.

I said, "Well, fellas, I think we all know the answer to that question."

Fun times.

Since then, at least a couple times a year, Steve would call me from a high school baseball game and say that he had just been chatting with the opposing coach from that fateful night. I'd ask how the old coach was doing and Steve would snicker before saying in his Davis County drawl, "Well, I think he's still pissed."

That was a good man. And one who'll be missed by many. And one who'd want us to share good laughs. Godspeed, friend.