Sunday, December 6, 2015

What About Ernie?

The man could pull his weight.

Doctor Frank is pissed. And embarrassed too. You see, a Husky legend, Bob Ernst, was fired for doing his job. And that Husky legend happened to be the guy who was Doctor Frank's gruntie coach back in 1976 when Ernie was in just his second year coaching at Washington.

So yeah that makes me an old fuck. And it means Ernie is an even older fuck, sixty-nine, in fact, in his forty-second year at the Connie. And sure, you can make your comments and ask your creepy questions about whether it's ok to have a dude that age coaching women in their late teens and twenties. Go ahead. But if that's creepy, is it Bob's fault? If that's creepy then the AD should have figured that out years ago when Ernie applied for the job. He was sixty-two. If it's creepy now, it was creepy then goddammit so stop acting like it's news or he should be ashamed of himself when all he did was ask for a job and the AD said ok.

Wait. I said I was embarrassed. I'll explain the embarrassment, then I'll get back to the ranting.

When Doctor Frank penned his opus "The Boys in the Boathouse," it seemed like a cute thing to leave Ernie's name out. Not because he wasn't important. God no. It just made Doctor Frank laugh to picture Ernie reading the book looking for his name and saying whatthefuck.

That just seems all fucking childish now. He deserves a place in that book.

Ernie was a pillar of strength in Doctor Frank's life, a rock of consistency. Ernie recruited me. Sure, Dik talked to me, impressed me, took me out to watch a practice, told me not to worry about those ratfucker varsity guys giving me shit. But Bob Ernst took the time, in the spring of my senior year in high school, to find out about my grades, talk to my basketball coach, talk to my parents, ask about shit that mattered in my life.

Ernie cared about me. He cared enough to get me over from Wenatchee early that summer to take me down to that weight room under the Graves building, the one with the Vince Lombardi quote in purple and gold at the top of the stairs. He gave me a workout to take home that summer, forty years ago in 1975, and told me to find some weights in a gym somewhere and get my ass to work. And when he got done telling me what to do, you know what he said then? You know what he fucking said to me, an eighteen-year-old kid with big tender dreams that could be dashed with the slightest mean words? Here's what Ernie said.

He said "Emfbo, I want you on this team. In fact I want you in that first boat. But your seat is not guaranteed. if you come back this fall fat, weak, and out of shape... Someone else will get your seat. And you know what else? You might do this workout every day plus sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups and five miles through all those hills in the orchards over there, work it til you puke every day, and guess what? Someone else still might get your seat even if you're in the best shape of your life. You gotta work for it, you gotta want it, and sometimes you still won't get it. That's when you just keep on pulling harder. That's what crew is all about and that's sure as hell what it's going to be like rowing for me. There are no guarantees here. Husky crew is bigger than you, Frank. And it's a privilege to be a part of it. Don't ever forget that."

He had that talk with every guy he recruited. He set that standard from Day One. And you know what every guy did? Every guy made a choice. You pretty much had three choices. One. Bust your ass every day and keep pulling harder every day until you know you couldn't have done any more. Two. Slack off and face the consequences. Three. Or quit.

You know what choice we never even considered? Let me put it this way. Star Wars was huge that year, total amazing impossible fantasy shit, and even in that world or on any other goddamn far out sci-fi mind-bending mentally twisted planet, one thing would never have occurred to us. You know what that was? Choice Four. Going to the AD and complaining about how he hurt our feelings.

So last spring Ernie sat his women's crew down after they raced in the Pac12s, and made them cry when he said they let the program down. Jesus, and they bitched to the AD about this? And the AD said something other than "Ernie's right, now get the fuck down to the weight room where you belong, or get off the team, but either way stop wasting my goddamn time?" That's not what he said? What kind of world is that?

It's a new world and a different day, that's what it is, forty years later. It's all Kum Ba Yah let's hold hands because our feelings count more than character, hard work, accountability, and for God's sake Husky tradition.

I've been told -- and goddammit fine, it's not my day anymore and all that shit, but still, in my day -- I've been told that I let the team down (see "Dear Pullman..."). It was the lowest moment in all my years of rowing. It was way beyond the personal embarrassment of losing a race. It was the knowledge that through some action of mine, I'd embarrassed the program. It was the knowledge that thanks to what our boat failed miserably to do, there was a nick in the armor of this great Husky thing that was so much bigger than we were. And I got my ass directly back to work that day.

Forty years later that moment still stings. Still slaps me in the gut every time I think about it. And it doesn't sting because my oh so mean coach pointed it out in front of the whole team.

It stings because it was true. And by God as much as it hurt to face the truth, we did it. And facing up to the truth, being accountable for it, allowed us to work harder and be accountable adults.

I wonder what kind of adults these children will be. I wonder how they'll see their actions after twenty years or more. I wonder if they'll be handed great opportunities in life, then disgrace themselves by blaming someone else and playing the victim when the shit hits the fan and the truth hurts too much.

Oh wait. That already happened. That great opportunity was called your fucking scholarship.

And now the UW Athletic Director, rather than pointing out that you're disgracing yourselves, has encouraged and validated your choice, and it was your choice,  to blame Bob Ernst and play the victim. The Athletic Director failed to require you to step up like adults and be accountable for your actions. And the Athletic Director has allowed you and your petty grievances to be bigger than Husky Rowing, a legacy that's bigger than any of us.

Husky Rowing is even bigger than Ernie. And Ernie is bigger than any of you. Doctor Frank learned in his first real job as a callow college graduate, if you're going to be someone's boss, you take responsibility for everything they do. Success or failure, winning or losing. Which as a twenty-something in my first job explained a lot to me about Ernie. Not so much about Dik, because Dik was an "opportunitist" (see the Epilogue if you don't get that).

But Ernie was an authoritarian, detailed, even a micromanager. A control freak. Because he knew our success was his responsibility, a direct reflection on him. And a coach who sees it that way has to be in charge all the time. And he will not take himself out of his comfort zone by changing his style.

And knowing Ernie, even though Doctor Frank is not in Ernie's head since I'm not that kind of doctor, that's probably how we got here all these years later. Maybe this has absolutely no relation to what really went down but...

I can see Ernie doing his job, speaking frankly to today's coddled tender athlete, hurting her feelings and not really caring. I'm not saying he's mean and hard hearted, not at all. I'm saying it's not in his nature to back down in the face of tears when he knows he's speaking the truth and simply doing his job.

I can see Ernie continuing to do his job the way he knows is right, because he can't do it any other way, even if he's losing control of the team thanks to having no backup from the AD.

I can see Ernie doing his job coming to a meeting, being ambushed by his athletes in front of his boss, and declaring this is bullshit because no matter how much he knows he's doing it right, a man can't do his job if he's not backed up by his boss.

And most anyone who knows Ernie can see him doing his job, sitting across the desk from the AD, getting counseled by a man who has no clue what it takes to become a Husky Legend, listening to the AD's demands and saying no. Fuck that. I can't do my job if I change my way. I can't coach people who will disrespect me if I change my way because they griped about me. I won't resign gracefully. There is nothing remotely graceful about this in any way, so guess what. Fire me. Meanwhile I have work to do, so I'm going to go do my job.

And I can see Ernie getting fired for doing his job.

When I first knew him, Ernie had no legacy. He was in his second year, still fighting his image of a guy who wasn't, you know. From Here. Not A Husky. Bobby Irvine. Not Even A Rower.

Hiram Conibear wasn't from here, and he wasn't a rower either. He was a bicycle racer. Then he was an athletic trainer for the Chicago White Sox for Christ sake.

For a guy who knew nothing about being a Husky, who wasn't From Here, Bob Ernst sent an unforgettable message to nine nervous grunties the night before their first race in San Diego. He reached in a box and pulled out each racing shirt one at a time, shook hands with each guy, and said, "Not many guys ever get to wear one of these. You've earned this honor. Congratulations." A guy with no connection to the legacy would have tossed the shirts at the guys on race day and said fuck it let's race.

Not only has Bob Ernst shed all that bullshit criticism to become a Husky Legend, Bob Ernst has served this school longer than any coach in Husky history. Bob Ernst has seen more men and women come and go through the boathouse than anyone ever has. Even George Teasdale falls short of what Bob Ernst has done, always there through more than a third of Husky Rowing’s history, the ebbs and flows, the highs and lows.

Bob Ernst deserves better than this. Bob Ernst deserves to be honored on his way out and treated like the Legend he is. It's a travesty to see his tenure end this way, at the hands of an out-of-touch AD, with such absolute disregard for his character, in a careless, clumsy, and crass validation of a mutiny.

And I have a question for those forty-something women two decades from now.

Proud of yourselves, ladies?

1 comment:

  1. Right on. And the AD slithered out the door barely a month later. This is the word on the disgraceful dismissal of a legend by a louse. Not anonymous, Lenny O'D (now, aka Pat the Rat back in the day).