When former Creston/O-M players Dane Wardenburg and Ryan McKim talk about “lifestyle decisions” in their moves in the coaching business, I know exactly what they mean.
I’ll try to explain.
It was 25 years ago this month that I began a stint as assistant sports editor of the Mason City Globe-Gazette.
I’d started out with four years at the Atlantic News Telegraph, followed by four years at the Creston News Advertiser. Now, I was ready to “climb the ladder.”
It was a pretty good-sized staff. It also gave me a chance to cover Class 4A sports, in a conference that would take me to events at my high school in Fort Dodge.
But, there was just one problem. I had a young family, and it was difficult to stay connected to them. My night shift was the exact opposite of my wife’s job at the Mason City YMCA. One son was in preschool, and one went to a sitter during my wife’s shift, because once I got up, I often had work-related duties to get to at odd times.
So, I ended up seeing my family for one hour a day, during my supper break, except for the two days that were my “weekend” — Wednesdays and Sundays. We had to stagger days off, since we published seven days a week.
So, when Joe Loudon announced he was leaving the News Advertiser about a year into my stay up north, Deb and I talked it over. We realized everything fit better in Creston. I had more flexibility in my schedule, especially with only five editions a week instead of seven, and the fact we put the paper together in the mornings instead of evenings.
(That has since changed here for sports, but thankfully while my kids were young I had mostly a daytime shift.)
Jeff Young and Arvid Huisman took me back into the CNA family, and it’s worked out well overall since. This fall begins my 30th year with the CNA.
So, when Dane Wardenburg announced he was leaving a coaching job at Wisconsin-Whitewater to coach the offensive line at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, it made complete sense to me. It’s closer to home for both he and his wife, who is from northwest Missouri, and there was a professional strategy as well.
Working with the network of coaches you meet at IWCC, where four-year schools are recruiting your kids, might help put him on the fast track to a future opportunity, perhaps in the MIAA, where Wardenburg played for the national champion Northwest Missouri State Bearcats.
In the meantime, Iowa Western is a juco power and he’ll be working with some top-shelf talent there. A lot of his recruits will come from right here in southwest Iowa.
So, that’s a good fit.
Likewise, Ryan McKim’s return to the Creston/O-M staff as offensive coordinator makes sense to me.
Sure, he was in the big time. He was a special teams quality control coach at Oklahoma, which is getting some notice as a contender for one of the four NCAA playoff spots this year. In January we saw pictures of McKim and other coaches holding the Sugar Bowl trophy after the Sooners knocked off Alabama, 45-31. It was Alabama’s first loss in a postseason bowl game since the 2009 Sugar Bowl upset to Utah.
It doesn’t get much bigger than that.
Prior to that, he was in Ames for a year and a half as a graduate assistant offensive line coach at Iowa State, where he earned his undergraduate degree and also served as a member of the football recruiting staff at one time.
He was plucked away from his position at Creston by Paul Rhoads in 2011, having just served as assistant coach for football and girls basketball, and was about to be SWCC’s golf coach. At the time, he said he couldn’t turn down the opportunity.
He got exposed to some great stuff in those college jobs. Things he’s brought back to the Panther program. But it wasn’t the life he was looking for. In collegiate coaching, unless you’re a head coach, you’re a bit of a nomad.
It’s not a profession suited for maintaining relationships off the field. Not to say Paul Rhoads and Kirk Ferentz aren’t good family men, but there’s a long list of assistant coaches who weren’t able to find harmony in their professional and personal lives.
“First off, this is home,” McKim told me. “That’s part of it. For me, it was really more about lifestyle, and professional goals of mine. I wasn’t willing to move every two or three years and sacrifice other personal goals that I have.”
So, even though he has a master’s degree in higher education — and could teach right now at the college level — he’s employed as a special education paraprofessional at Creston High School while working to obtain his Iowa teaching license.
McKim is enrolled in Regents Alternative Pathway to Iowa Licensure, which is a one-year program coordinated by the three state universities to put applicants on the fast track to a teaching career.
RAPIL allows the participant to be a salaried teacher in a secondary Iowa school, on a Teacher Intern License, for one year. Upon completion of the internship year and meeting all program requirements, the candidate is recommended for the Initial Teaching License.
In essence, McKim hopes to be eligible to teach at the high school level at this time next year, and continue his coaching career. I asked him what discipline he hopes to teach. He was a straight-A student as a 2004 graduate of CHS.
“Not 100 percent positive,” he said. “Science or math, probably. This semester will be a lot of experience with special ed, so that’s an option if I like it.”
Football is his specialty, but McKim does a great job coaching basketball and golf, as well. It seems kind of funny to say that, since many moons ago I helped people like Dave Buck and Diana McKim coach Ryan and my son Brett, and their buddies, in travel basketball.
He will be a great asset to Iowa secondary education. Already, he’s making an impact on the Panther football program.
In a system somewhat styled after Auburn, the Panthers have a more effective way of communicating offense. The streamlined communication system includes plays being signalled from the sideline, rather than running kids in and out of the huddle. Practices are more efficient.
The Panthers will still be a run-oriented team using gap schemes and zone blocking, but will also use the entire width of the field to test the defense with precision timing on quick pass routes.
“Whatever he’s picked up at the college level, really seems to bring some new things in teaching wide receivers,” assistant coach Steve Birchard told me during the summer.
In the end, McKim is happy. He said he doesn’t mean to imply there isn’t a sense of team and family at the college level, and he enjoyed his time there. But it’s really special helping young high school kids work toward a goal together.
“Here, you truly do make a difference with young kids,” McKim said. “They want to learn. You can make an impact on the field, and off the field. Athletics are a great way to reach kids. I truly believe that. Here, we’ve got a great bunch of guys working together, trying to win games with the kids they grew up with.”
And there’s something to be said for that.
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