Former Duhawk publishes book on academic success
PHOTO COURTESY: USC Sports Information Office
PHOTO COURTESY: USC Sports Information Office
Wed, Aug. 14, 2013 - [Football]

Bob Bierie didn't just recruit football players in his 25 years in charge of the football program. He also recruited people who he believed could support the program in any number of ways. John Baxter was one of those young men. 

 

Nearly 30 years removed from his time at Loras, Baxter hasn't forgotten the influence that Loras College had on his coaching philosophy, academic growth, and overall maturity that college students of all kinds experience.

 

Over the course of his career, Baxter has developed and implemented "Academic Gameplan" – a program to develop young people into better students – with his teams and others who see its positive influence. Now, he has published his first book, "I Hate School: How a College Football Coach Has Inspired Students to Value Education and Become Lifelong Learners", is an inspirational tale of his life's work and takes a hard look at problems with education in America today.

 

Below is an excerpt regarding his arrival at Loras, his own academic rollercoaster, and what he calls 'a third chance' to get things right in the classroom.  

 

"They encouraged me daily…" Baxter says of the Loras coaching staff and Bob Bierie, "and they gave me some hard corrections when I needed them."

 

 

  

You can learn more about the book at THIS LINK.

 

WORDS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE

One day in 1981 when I was working as Coach Erlanbaugh's

assistant—I basically did anything he needed done, such as fold

gym towels, take roll, put the balls away or organize the intramural

games—a coach named Bob Bierie came walking in. He was

the Head Football Coach at Loras College, a Catholic university in

Dubuque, Iowa.

 

"Can you tell me where the football coach is?" he asked me.

"Sure, he's right over there," and I escorted him to see Coach

Erlanbaugh. As we walked, he asked me who I was. I told him I was

the teacher's assistant and wanted to be a coach. Later I got a phone

call. It was Coach Bierie asking me if I'd like to come to school at

Loras College. I told him it was certainly an interesting idea.

It was my practice to always consult with my coaches. I asked

Coach Amato what he thought of the idea. He said it was something

I needed to do, and Loras, a small Catholic school, would be a great

place for me. So I called Coach Bierie back and said I'd like to take a

closer look at the possibility of playing for him.

 

"I don't want you to play," he said. "I want you to coach." And

those words changed my life.

 

I wasn't exactly quick to seize the opportunity. "You don't understand,"

I told him, "I want to play. I haven't been able to play Varsity

sports because of travel logistics and grades and this is my chance to

finally participate."

 

He explained that he'd just restarted a small Division 3 program

and needed some help and that he would teach me to coach a position

and help me get my career started early.

 

"Well, thanks, but that's not what I want right now," I told him.

 

I went back and told Coach Amato, and he gave me some clear

directions. "You call him back," he told me, "and beg for that opportunity."

And that's how I launched my career as a coach.

 

The two coaches at Loras College back then, Bob Bierie and

Ralph Micheli, would become the next two important figures in my

life. And they kept me in the channel. As a young adult in college,

you do some things that you're proud of, and you make some errors

in judgment because of your new found independence. They encouraged

me daily, and they gave me some hard corrections when I needed

them. There was no doubt about the standards and what their expectations

were. Those standards did not compromise.

 

ROUGH START IN COLLEGE

Because my grades had been so weak in high school, Loras College

accepted me on condition of what they called a one-semester review,

which is academic probation. If I could attain a 2.0 at the end of the

first semester, the condition would be lifted. During my first semester

at school, everything seemed to be going great, at least as far as I was

concerned. I was away at college and it was fun. I got three Cs and

a D+. Those grades average 1.9. So I got the boot letter, right before

Christmas vacation. I went to see Father Lang, the dean of students,

who confirmed the rules.

 

"No, you don't understand," I told him. "There's no possible way

I can go home and do this to my mother. There's no possible way this

can happen. I need a second chance."

 

 "You got a second chance. We admitted you on the second

chance," he said.

 

"Then I need a third chance," I begged. He told me he would

think about it and call me in a few days. In the meantime, I said

nothing to my family. And sure enough, the phone rang.

"In early January," he said, "you will need to come back up here

and appear before the Board of Readmissions. I want you to show us

what it is you plan to do and do differently."

 

I started interviewing players on the team and asked how they

studied. I made a three-ring binder with dividers and school supplies,

and I included a free calendar that I got from a real estate office.

I cut off the fishing scene and punched three holes in it. It was a

comprehensive student organizer. And I talked to Pete Jebson, who

was a place kicker on the team and who today is Dr. Peter J. Jebson,

MD, an orthopedic surgeon in Michigan. He would write all his

class scores on index cards. He told me he wanted to go to medical

school and couldn't afford to get a B, so he needed to know where he

stood in class at all times. BAM! Life changing!

 

So I followed Pete's lead and made a little score board out of

graph paper for the binder. That same scoreboard concept is a fundamental

part of Academic Gameplan to this day.

 

With binder in hand, I drove up to appear before the Board of

Readmissions. I was punctual, and I wore nice clothes. I waited in the

outer office, and finally, I was called in. Th e Academic Dean, Father

Barta, was there, and the Director of Admissions, Dan Conry, and

the registrar, Mr. Noonan. Father Lang was there too. This was thirty

years ago, and I can see their faces now. They began to interview me.

How comfortable did I feel in school? Did I feel that college was for

me? I was asked an investigative question from one of the courses I

had taken in the fall. I was asked "How was my family life?" And I

was asked if I had a plan as to how I was going rectify my academic

performance or lack thereof. And then I pulled out my binder and

passed it down the table. I could see them nodding as they examined

it.

 

After a while, they asked me to wait in the outer office while

they conferred. When they called me back in, they said, "We've reaccepted

you."

 

As we were preparing to leave, Dan Conry turned to me and

said, "By the way, Mr. Baxter, do you mind if I give you one piece of

advice? You know this book you put together?"

"Yes," I said. "What about it?"

"Use it!"

 

The day after graduation, I went to the offi ce to pick up my

diploma, and I happened to see Dan Conry in the hallway of Keane

Hall.

"I want to congratulate you," he said. "I remember how we were

wondering whether to give you another chance, and, you know, you

did all right."

"Yeah," I said. "Father Lang told me I had to appear before that

Readmissions Board."

 

He looked at me. "I want to tell you something," he said. "That

committee didn't exist. You're the only person we've ever readmitted."