By: Joshua Williams
The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will. – Vince Lombardi
Coaching is more than just a job. It’s a game. It’s a passion. It’s a skill. It takes patience, compassion, and will. Anyone can coach, but few are greats. The names Lombardi, Belichick, Krzyzewski, Saban, Wooden, La Russa are known by many, and have had historic careers. Their success translated into popularity, wealth, and dynasties. They put themselves on the map, clad with rings and trophies, and their names are prominently etched in the record books. The question becomes, how do you get to that point? How do you gain this knowledge, passion, and success? What makes you a Saban, Wooden, or Lombardi?
Ken DeGood coached Hamilton Baseball for 22 years. He coached JV baseball for the first six years, then became the varsity coach for the next sixteen years. DeGood’s overall record was 330-187-1, a solid 64% win percentage. Hamilton Baseball won four district titles, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2015, and five conference titles, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014 during his sixteen year span.
Mark Behnke spent 9 years coaching with DeGood and said “His knowledge and his work ethic,” referencing what makes DeGood a successful coach. “I miss coaching with him and would give up all the things I’m doing, or will do, to have one more season coaching with him. Those times were one of the top highlights in my times at Hamilton.”
I asked Brian Grabinski, the current varsity baseball coach, what his biggest takeaway from DeGood is and he said “Doing things the right way. Coach DeGood never took any shortcuts in the way he did things. It was going to be done the right way or it wasn’t going to be done at all. The players see that and soon they start to act the same way.”
DeGood was met with the decision of either being the varsity baseball coach for his seventeenth season or helping his son and granddaughter at home. DeGood spent his whole career preaching that we do things right, or we don’t do them. That family comes first. He knew that when the time came for him to set this example, he had to, and it was the right move in his mind.
“In a perfect world, Coach DeGood would still be coaching, but when he had to make a decision, putting his family before baseball was a no brainer. He had a family commitment and needed to be there to take care of his new granddaughter after school. None of us wanted him to leave,” said Grabinski.
DeGood made an impact in, and on, Hamilton Baseball. He set the standard for what baseball is and what it’s meant to be. His example formed what we see today in the program. Hamilton has not seen many changes in their coaching staff over the years, so this change was huge. Grabinski said that they saw this was coming, but they didn’t think that this change would be permanent.
“Coach DeGood is a great friend of mine,” says Grabinski when asked about his relationship with DeGood. “All of the baseball coaches are very close. We’re regularly with each other on the weekends and throughout the summer. It’s almost like we’ve become a big extended family. To have something like that is very special to all of us.”
“He is one of my best friends in the whole world,” says Behnke when asked about how he is influenced by DeGood. “I have witnessed him live his principles in private moments. He showed me what a consistent leader could do if they stayed to what they believed was right.”
“I personally love the game of baseball. There are many life lessons that can be learned through playing this great game. I would not have the perspective that I do in life without the many years that I have played and coached baseball. I have also met many great people in playing and coaching. I have gone down to the field for some home games, and I still have conversations with umpires and opposing coaches who I consider friends,” said DeGood when asked about baseball.
“We tried to come up with solutions to keep him around. I offered to be his assistant and fill in whenever he couldn’t be at practice but when it came down to it, he wasn’t going to do it if he couldn’t do it the right way. I give him all the credit in the world… many people talk a good game, but when push comes to shove they don’t always practice what they preach. This was never a thought for Coach DeGood. He knew his family needed him and that was his number one priority – far more important than baseball.”
“Fortunately, he’s still been around and even helped out at some freshmen practices and coached a JV game this year when Coach Roon had a prior commitment that he couldn’t get out of. We still consider him part of the program. Coach DeGood made Hamilton baseball something very special to be a part of and we are all very grateful for that,” Grabinski added.
DeGood has built a long lasting impact on Hamilton Baseball. His leadership and examples have shaped those around him. He may not be coaching, but his presence is still there on the field everyday.
Once DeGood decided that he would step away, he went and proposed that Grabinski would take over. After consideration, Jordan Bandstra decided to hire Grabinski as the new head coach of varsity baseball.
“Following someone who had as much success as he did, I would expect to feel pressure,” said Grabinski. “But, honestly, that hasn’t been much of an issue. Having been a part of the program during the entire time that Coach DeGood was the head coach I’ve felt more like this is a continuation of what we’ve always done rather than something new.”
“Coach Grabinski is a great coach and I have every confidence in him taking over the program. He is very knowledgeable of the game and he has a passion for the game that allows him to teach it the right way. He has also been instrumental in the past year and a half that he has guided the program in getting some new things for the program and in making some other improvements that needed to be made,” said DeGood.
Grabinski has coached in Hamilton for nineteen years this year. Three years as a freshman baseball coach, fourteen years as a jv coach, and now his second year as varsity. The varsity team was eleven and seventeen last year, making it all of the way to the district title game where they were outs away from a district title. So far this year they are twelve and thirteen, hopefully headed for another playoff run.
Grabinsk has been in the program for a while now. He has built strong relationships with those around him, and kept the same principles that have been in place for the last eighteen years.
I asked Matthew Bierschbach, Grabinski’s assistant for the past thirteen years, what his relationship with Grabinski is and he said, “Coach Grabinski is one of my closest friends. Both our families travel with the team to South Carolina during spring break every year. I’ve learned everything I know about coaching baseball from him and Coach DeGood.”
Bierschbach also said, “Coach DeGood and Grabinski have both shown me what it takes to run a successful baseball program. Not only do they push their athletes to be successful on the field, but more importantly off the field as well. We have a lot of former players that are still very interested in Hamilton baseball. That shows how much respect they have for the coaching staff and the program,” when asked about DeGood and Grabinski’s influence.
So now I’ve asked myself the same questions from the beginning. What makes a hall of fame coach? What makes a coach successful? I look back at all of the quotes, all of the interviews, and there is one thing that always comes up. Do it the right way.
Coaching is more than just calling plays or telling people what to do. It’s setting an example, it’s surrendering their ego, it’s putting forth all of their time, too. A great coach makes the environment feel like family so that his or her players will do what it takes to be successful. What do the great coaches have in common? They all do things the right way, starting with culture and commitment and ending with effort and leadership. All the great coaches have the same winning formula regardless of whether they are coaching at the highest level, or at Hamilton High School. They do things the right way.