Interview with Coach Biff Pogi, Gilman School
1. Why did you choose coaching as a profession?
Well that happened a long time ago I think it was where I felt most comfortable and because of my experience in college, but I also wanted to do something where I felt that I was giving back to people.
2. When you say giving back to people, can you just expand about that just a little bit?
Yea I think that as a coach I have a huge influence on peoples' lives and you have the ability to be caring to the kids and to help the parents by caring for their kids. In a pretty powerful way. You can be a coach that is someone that leaves a mark of damage on a person, or you can be a coach that someone that that could build up someone. To me it is very interesting that Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God with all that you have. The second one is like it; love your neighbor as yourself. That is very interesting. Then he goes on to say that all the laws of the prophets hang on these. So basically if you want to boil it all down it is these two things and I think that coaching gives you a great opportunity to serve both kids and parents in a powerful way.
3. What is you primary goal as a coach?
When you think of what it is that you want to accomplish, what would you say is your primary goal as a coach what is it for you? To love kids. It is all about kids.
4. What ultimately is the desired outcome for you and your staff?
The staff has to be absolutely parallel with that and if they are not they aren’t on the staff. And I think that is critical and the players have to take the way that they have been treated and treat one another in the same way. And what you eventually want to turn out are kids that are good, kind, empathetic, caring kids.
5. Who has influenced you most as a coach and why were they the most influential for you?
Well I would say two people… one is a group. All of the coaches that I have had in my career that were opposite of what I am talking about here, the guys that tried to use a different approach to motivate kids. Those guys had a huge impact on me, because I realized right away that I never wanted to be like them. And that was a powerful negative influence for me and second I would say is Joe Ehrmann my assistant coach and the philosophy of how we decided to approach the kids.
6. How has your personal relationship with Jesus Christ shaped you as a coach?
It is the very foundation, as I told you, I mean I don't think that you can say to people …look coaching is a very interesting profession and it's hard to hide. You can hide from some. You can go to this thing and give a talk and that thing and give a talk, but really your players are going to know. They are going to know because . They are going to know better who you are better than anybody, because you are going to go to some you know speaking engagement and say something but and it might sound great, but when the emotions and the visceral aspects of coaching are around then you decide and anybody can see really, really see what you really believe in and what you are like. And so the second greatest commandment is one that you cannot talk about unless you are going to live it. That is the foundation.
7. How does your personal relationship with Jesus Christ affect the way that you coach? Practically?
I think to me it is about taking a long-term view. It is not about that day of practice. Meeting certain practice schedule requirement or you know when you go into practice you set you look today we have to learn offensively how to run to a corner. We have to get that out today effectively. Or we have to today learn the perimeter run support we got to you don't enter with those kind of things you enter with those kinds of things what are these kids getting from me today. I have a number on my computer that says what does it mean to play for people? What does it mean to play? So I want to know what it is going to be like in 25 years, not whether or not today we can support the outside running team. And when you approach it that way you approach it like a life long mentoring, these kids have been given to us to coach. God has made each and every one of them. It is not by accident that these kids are on that field or that we are coaching them. And we have a role in the development of these kids so it is much longer type of approach. I don't want to give you any bull either. We want to win. We do win we are very successful, but we do it in a kind of different kind of way.
8. Is there a connection with Christ and your ability to perform at an optimal coach?
Yes. I don't think that I can coach another way. I know that I cannot coach another way. And secondly it gives your team and enormous advantage, because it’s the truth. And whenever you put truth into a kid you are at a huge advantage. Yea. I can sit there and tell a kid look that if we going into the season and you are not win a championship you are not man you are a wimp. That is a lie. Yea. Oh I can tell them the things that I am telling them and there is no doubt that that is an enormous advantage because you know that if I am coaching against you but you have lets say better athletic talent, that doesn't mean anything to me because my kids have been built in the way that they have heard the truth everyday and that’s powerful. That is a great equalizer.
9. How do you incorporate the biblical aspect in your teaching, practically? Do you do Bible studies, character studies, etc.?
You know. Have you read “Season of Life”? (I have.) Jim Tressel is a big “Season of Life” guy by the way he works with that. We have lesson plans just like you would if you were a math teacher or an English teacher. And we say that we play 10 games and have another 3 or 4 weeks of camp, we look at it like we have a 14 week almost a semester with them. And then we have lesson plans were we want to hit 14 topics. And we will take, figure out what those topics are and every day to begin practice we do a ten-minute teaching on that topic that culminates in the team's chapel period Saturday morning before a game. And so that's everyday they hear it basically. For example we'll be talking about selflessness. That is one of the 14. I will do 5 days on the parable of the talents, the three cords and then do something everyday on that, and then on Saturday we will bring it all together in a 30 minute chapel.
10. Does the transformation or the development; mental, physical, emotional, spiritual is the total development of the player your goal?
Oh, absolutely. That is why I coach.
11. How is the total transformation (i.e. development of your players) incorporated into your program?
It's all about that. That thing that I told you Jesus said, love the LORD your God and Second love your neighbor as yourself. Yea. So I want them to hear what Jesus has to say about these things. About dating, He has a lot to say about how you treat girls. About drugs and alcohol about selfishness about discipline. It is about all of those topics that we cover. And then I want to treat them like I would like someone to teat my children if I am not coaching them. Or God forbid I die and someone is going to be in their lives. I want someone who every day will positively touch them those kids.
12. Where did you get your model of coaching and what does it look like?
I think it came from… this sound kind of crazy but this was interwoven with me as a kid. I think this is what God kind of made me to do and he has use a lot of people. A lot of influences, my parents, my father, you know a lot of different people. He wove me this way kind of in the womb. Really. I just feel that he has been preparing me for this for a while.
13. In your opinion does the New Testament offer a viable model or philosophy for coaching?
I do not think that there is any question about that? Like I have said I would not want to coach without it. OK I'll just give you an example really fast. If you tell a kid, you have a team, it depends where you coach but you can have anywhere between 30 to 125 kids on your team. It depends where you coach. Now you’ve got to, at Gilman we don’t cut anybody . . . say a junior or senior wants to come out and do the work . . . Jim Brown or Bozo the clown. He is going to play. He is going to stay. He is going to be on the team. That kind of thing. How you do that and make a chemistry that works you have to teach these kids how to love and care for each other. What a better way to do that then through the words of Jesus. They are the most powerful words on earth. So you teach the kid that is a full scholarship guy at Notre Dame that will be drafted in the first or second round tomorrow by the way. You teach him to love and appreciate the kid who is has trouble getting his stuff on, for what he brings, because it is easier. You read the Parable of the talents. You go and read that and instead of talents being monetary, look at it as being talents from God and you say and you have to overlay this to do this and you have to internationalize this and it is so hard, for that boy with limited ability to come everyday and play and to get everything he does. It is so hard. It is a supreme sacrifice. And you have to get that kid that is on the scholarship to understand and everybody in-between and when you do that those kids have a love and an appreciation for each other. Where everyone is necessary and valuable. It is powerful. And you better pack a huge lunch if you are going to come into town and beat a team that cares about each other like that. And the key is not to just translate that into a game but then can you teach that. I don’t know for a boy to learn that is how you treat your parents and your siblings, friends, your date and eventually your wife and then your children, because if you can do that then you really have a full impact.
14. Is there a connection with the methods that Jesus applied to train his disciples and how a Christian coach has the ability to train his player for life through football?
I don't think that there is any question about that. The greatest example of that is this. If you look at Peter. We can all identify with Peter because he was really out there. By the way none of those guys got it. You know they didn't get it, but there is old Peter. He is kind of a knucklehead. Great heart but, what a bonehead. And he gets done making the biggest series of fauxpa's that anyone can make. And he ultimately gave the ultimate denial you know we are all part Peter and every time you see the response of Jesus to Peter he is pouring positive… his positive creation vision of Peter into Peter. Every time he is pouring the positive creation of Peter into Peter. You know the part where he said you are the rock and upon the rock I will build my church. Now if you can do that enough realizing that a kid is made in the image of God. If you can do that and say the same thing to a kid, you talk about changing a kid’s life. It is powerful. Because they hear everyday even if it is only one sentence and the things that we tell the staff. Make sure that you talk to each kid everyday. At least once and say something really encouraging to them. I think that is what Christ did with his apostles.
*This interview was conducted over the phone in April of 2007