Friday, October 1, 2004

Hope springs eternal for football coach

Dick Springs

Express Staff Writer

Dick Springs, Wood River High School football

?It is a mistake to try to look too far ahead. The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time.

--Sir Winston Churchill

Team sports grant us the opportunity to be the link. It gives individuals a chance to transcend themselves and contribute to the greater good of a group.

No sport is more team oriented than football. A quarterback cannot pass if his offensive line does not allow him time to and a running back cannot charge unless his teammates block. The singular effort players make add up to a team?s success both on and off the field.

Dick Springs is the ultimate team player. Reminiscing about his days as the quarterback of the Princeton Tigers evokes emotion akin to love. In his words and actions, Springs embodies the Tiger creed of ?Tradition, Honor and Excellence.?

?You come out of that tunnel on game day and there is not a high in the world like it. The camaraderie, the fans, the worthiness of the opponent, everybody should be lucky enough to have that experience,? Springs avowed.

Currently the offensive coordinator for the Wood River High School football team, Springs resides with wife, Melinda, and two children, Dima and Mariana, on a pastoral patch of farmland south of Gannett. It is a home where Dr. Doolittle would feel completely comfortable, complete with horses, dogs, cats, chickens, goats and ducks.

With every thing he touches, Springs brings not a Midas touch, but a Midas heart. He has a passion and appreciation for many things, and at the top of the list: family, friends and football.

Springs remarked, ?The reason I am a football coach is that I have unfilled debt to a handful of men who were role models for me. It is a way to thank them.?

The eldest of four, Springs was born in Mount Kisco, New York in 1942. The family home was situated an old farm in Westchester County about 50 miles north of New York City.

An outdoorsman from his earliest days, Springs? first job was trapping and selling muskrat pelts to Sears Roebuck. He also fished and hunted and played every conceivable sport.

Springs said his father, while not a natural athlete, loved sports and encouraged him. His mother was a gifted sportswoman who stood 5-10 and could lay a basketball on the rim of a basket, played a mean serve-an-volley game of tennis and competed in the renown National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden on a regular basis.

Fittingly, his parents fell in love on their second date at a New York Rangers hockey game at Madison Square Garden.

?She loved athletics and was very keen to help us. She would pitch to me and could throw a curveball,? Springs recalled. ?We would play ping pong every night and I don?t think I beat her until I was in the eighth grade.?

Despite her active lifestyle and bustling home, Springs? mother was dying of cancer.

?By the time I was 14 I knew she was not going to recover,? he said. ?Even in her illness her courage shone through. She was a heckava role model.?

Springs? mother died when he was 16. At the time he was a student at Kent School in Connecticut playing both hockey and football.

?I saw her at Christmas in 1959 and went back to school. My father and two sisters showed up on a Sunday and I knew,? Springs said.

?It was interesting. I had a big hockey game on Saturday and before my mother died she told my father not to go get me until Sunday.?

When asked of his mother?s decision, Springs replied, ?It makes sports too important.?

?We children never got to see our mother as a real human being. She was always an angel.?

Springs graduated from Kent, and like his father before him, set off for Princeton College. It was a decision that initially surprised him.

?I have never been attracted to a conventional lifestyle,? he explained. ?I thought I would go west and go to Stanford. But my high school coach took me down to Princeton and I got to see it through my own eyes. He had been a fine football player at Princeton and was sure that I could play.?

Play he did ? quarterback ?and Springs and his team built on 5-4 records in 1961 and 1962 to go 7-2 in 1963 and claim a share of the Ivy League title.

?We were ranked in the top 20 over the course of the year and we won our first six games in a row,? Springs recalled. ?We lost to Harvard 21-7. They just plain beat us.?

The loss still sticks in Springs? craw. He said if given the chance it is one of two days in his life he would live over again.

?My two most significant, most memorable games we lost. But I did stuff I am not capable of doing. It was an outside the body experience,? he remarked.

Princeton coach Dick Colman?s teams of the early sixties established a winning tradition, which carried over to a 24-3 record from 1964-1966.

?I was part of a group that changed the climate. We left a legacy,? Springs said. ?As far as being an athlete that is what I am most proud of.?

Springs graduated with a degree in philosophy in 1964 and set out west wanting to be one of three things: a college football coach, a headmaster of a school or a cattle rancher. He has in various capacities reached all three goals.

In the late sixties, Springs was a teacher at La Jolla Country Day in Southern California and for a time worked as a curator at the famed Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

In 1971, Springs became a cattle rancher. He and wife, Deborah Booth, moved to Oakland, Oregon and bought a ranch where they started their family, which includes three girls. In 1979 Springs moved to Adrian, Oregon. All three of his girls graduated from Nampa High School.

Divorced from Booth, Springs became involved with a woman who would lead him to his second wife in an extremely roundabout way.

Springs met a woman in Chicago, and they were engaged shortly thereafter. Four months into the whirlwind relationship, Springs became convinced marriage would not work and broke off the engagement. The woman sued for breach of promise to marry.

The case and the ensuing verdict in which Springs was found guilty (he later won on appeal) garnered nationwide publicity and Springs appeared on a few TV and radio shows.

His current wife, Melinda, saw Dick on TV, told a friend he was the man she was going to marry and subsequently wrote him a letter. They met, hit it off and moved to the Wood River Valley together in 1996.

A little more than two years ago, the pair adopted two teenagers, Dima and Mariana from Russia, and the family settled in to their homestead on Punkin Center Road.

We spoke with Dick twice last week.

JZ: What makes you unconventional?

DS: I guess it is how you define conventionality. At least in our culture, success is generally defined by an accumulation of assets and when we get caught up in that accumulation becomes and end in itself. No matter what you have it is never enough. You always want more. So I think a lot of people don?t enjoy the journey through life as much as they might. I made a decision early in life that the journey was in end in itself. I chose lifestyle over accumulation and it has served me very well. Certainly, at times I have gotten caught up in it. I can?t paint myself as a purist. But I have had so many failures I had to define success in a different way.

JZ: What have you failed at?

DS: My first marriage. I would have much preferred to marry my high school sweetheart and live a long life and both go out on the same day.

JZ: Isn?t that a little idealistic?

DS: I am idealistic. I still cling to some of that ? for better or worse. At a younger time in my life I wanted to be one of the most notable stockmen in the country and I did not see that through. I never got baron status (laughs).

JZ: Who are your favorite philosophers?

DS: I like Friedrich Nietzsche, (Georg) Hegel. He was interested in the evolution of thought. When a thought comes into your mind that is your thesis and the opposing thought is your antithesis. If you are a well considered person those two ideas tangle with each other and over time they synthesize and over time that becomes a new thesis. I can really relate to that because that is how my mind works. Nietzsche is so misunderstood with his supreme theory and Hitler. That was not his position. He talked about how to excel at what you were doing and how to use your powers to do your best. That appeals to me, especially as an athlete.

JZ: How do you work with players who don?t take the game as seriously as you do?

DS: I learned long ago that few people take the game as serious as I do. I try and build on positives. You?ve got to let the negatives go. You have to find the positives for each kid and accept and build on that.

JZ: You said that you did not have athleticism and you made up for it in determination and execution. Can you coach determination?

DS: You can?t coach determination. You can set an example for it. Larry Brown of the (Detroit) Pistons was talking about it. He said, ?Coaches coach execution. They can?t coach effort.?

JZ: Who is your favorite historical figure?

DS: Zeus, because he is imperfect. As a god he has power, but he has imperfections and frailties and the world still goes on, and Churchill for many of the same reasons. He understood the human condition. That we are flawed and it gives you a greater appreciation and understanding of those around us.

JZ: Why were your days at Princeton so hallowed?

DS: It was a dream come true. I used to watch Princeton in the third or fourth grade when Dick Kazmaier won the Heisman and for two-and-a-half years they were great. I would watch them in Palmer Stadium (then the second-oldest football stadium in the country) in Princeton and I wanted to be one of those players. That was a goal. In those days not many prep school kids played college football. There was a guy from Kent who played jayvee football at Yale and we thought that was pretty big. So I thought major college ball was out of reach. I have loved football before I could remember and it has always been a treasured possession.

JZ: Are you a good sport?

DS: I think so. Losing does not bug me as much as not playing up to the best of my ability. To be a successful player I had to give it everything I had. The lesson of the game I try to impart to my players is they are better than they think they are. The right mental attitude coupled with a maximum use of physical effort are attributes that will hold them in good stead throughout their lives.

JZ: What is stronger: the power of the mind or the power of the human spirit?

DS: The spirit is stronger than the mind. It is not even close.

JZ: By what tenets do you live your life?

DS: The Ten Commandments about sum it up. I am not big into organized religion, but the Ten Commandments make as much sense as anything.

JZ: What do you think the 20-year old Dick Springs would think of the 60-year old Dick Springs?

DS: I would like to think the 20-year old would like to have the 60-year old as a role model.

JZ: What are you the most proud of as an athlete?

DS: I was part of a group that changed the climate. We left a legacy and I did that twice. As far as being an athlete that is what I am most proud of.

JZ: What are you the most proud of as a person?

DS: I think I am a pretty good father and I think I am a pretty good husband. I am a good friend. I think there are two important things in life: to have families and have friends and I strive to do both.

"Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb."

--Sir Winston Churchill

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