How Coach Earl Was The Most Influential Person In My Life

Coach Earl was the most influential person I knew and had a profound impact on my life. He touched the lives of those around him and inspired countless people to emulate his wonderful qualities; his appreciation of all who played for him, his honesty, his patience, and his modesty. He could teach, imparting his thoughts in a way that never alienated anyone, and he could understand the frustration of a player who wanted to play better so badly. He controlled the most stressful situations with ease and most importantly, he knew how to listen.     

It still amazes me how much Coach Earl rubs off on you. You don’t really think about it until one day you realize something you do every day is something he did. Like, “Dressed and ready to go by 7:00.”  The “watch” was Coach’s signature card. He opened up an entire way of life to all of us. We all just fell in line behind him, trying to absorb as much of his teachings as possible. And if any player ever asked him, “What time is it?” His response, “Are you taking medicine?”

My teammates at Niles West were a band of sisters who came together to play at the highest level for the best coach in basketball. I know most of the players who preceded and followed me at Niles West. They all contribute to our tradition of excellence on the court. Struggling, succeeding, trying again and having fun within a nurturing but competitive environment-built character in all of us. The sacrifice, the effort, and the friendships I experienced in my four years are cherished.

Coach Earl always said, “You can live without Hemingway and you can live without calculus, but you cannot make it in the world without common sense.” As I got older, I understood the importance of these words. Adulthood is nothing but a series of choices:  you can say yes or no, but you cannot avoid saying one or the other.  

When I first met coach, I was a painfully shy kid but he gradually helped me get out of my shell. I can honestly say I would not be where I am today without all of his guidance.

Thank you for always believing in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. I had a lot of personal problems in high school but you know exactly what they were, how to encourage me without me ever saying a word. I can’t express how grateful I am for your advice. No matter what I had going on in my life, whether it was stress at home or at school, basketball was always there as my refuge that ultimately saved my life. 

Thank you for discussing my personal problems over a “Big Orange”

Thank you for rebounding for me every day after practice and trying to convince me I wasn’t going to make every shot. You poured hours into developing me, not only as a player, but as a leader and as a person. You invested more time in me than I ever imagined.

Thank you for giving the best advice even when I didn’t see it that way. During a game, I was hit in the mouth and when I grabbed my face you said, “Z, spit the loose ones out and get back in the game.”

Your passion for our team, was evident in everything you did and said. You never failed to remind us that we were the reason you were coaching. You never failed to remind us that we (each and every one of us) were an important part of the team and that you cared about us as more than just players, but as people. Your words were always uplifting, always encouraging, always inspiring. You taught us that ‘nobody is a whole team, we need each other’ and it carried us on and off the court.

Thank you for never letting us walk away from a practice without getting better (even when it meant spending an extra hour making free throws or repeating the same drill seven times). 

Thank you for always reminding us at half-time that the score was zero-to-zero and we still had time to win the game (even when we were down by 10 points against Maine West). We ended up winning that game  

Thank you for always believing that our five was better than any five we faced and coaching us that way. Thank you for turning everything (wins, losses, life) into a lesson. Thank you for always pushing us, even when we weren’t happy about it. Thank you for not walking away when it seemed like it wasn’t working. 

Thank you for putting up with my stubbornness. After numerous talks about my constant offensive charges and how you repeatedly told me to just stop and pop, and not drive too deep, I still didn’t listen. So, the next day in practice you put folding chairs in the lane. I said, “What’s this?” You said, “You still want to drive down the lane?” I never had another offensive foul that season.

More importantly than the success he achieved on the basketball court, Coach Earl lived his life with purpose and intention. Long after graduation, he maintained relationships and continued to encourage and support his former players. I will always count his love as one of my life’s greatest blessings. His legacy is an inspiration. After I got engaged, pregnant or a new job, coach was the first person I wanted to share the news with. I valued his friendship more than anything. My birthday was a few days ago and this was the first time in 35 years that I didn’t receive a birthday call from him. Heartbreaking.

Thank you for being such a great coach and an even better person, because I appreciate that more than anyone can imagine. Thank you for helping to mold our team and players together, because we would not be as close as we are today without the impact that you have had on all of us. Thank you for the life lessons, the laughs, and all the good memories. And, most importantly, thank you for leaving such an indelible mark on me because that is the greatest gift anyone could ever ask for.

I love you and I am so grateful for how you changed my life. I miss you so much!


Z  (Nancy Zoros Lindell)

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