The sons grow up wanting to be a part of the game their fathers love so much, and the fathers dream of one day coaching their sons.
For a few brief years, the two share a bond that blends father with coach and son with player.
And then it’s over.
In Cobb County, a handful of football coaches have shared the experience with their sons, or in some cases, are preparing to take on the often complex relationship.
For many coaches’ sons, the introduction to football comes at an early age, with chasing balls on the sidelines almost a rite of passage.
“I think it’s kind of a prerequisite that, if your dad’s the coach, you are going to be a ball boy,” said Whitefield Academy coach Jimmy Fields, whose son, Jay, played for him. “Sometimes, I don’t know if it’s by choice. They are just appointed. Jay did it probably from the first or second grade, on the sideline chasing down balls.”
North Cobb quarterback Tyler Queen remembers being on the field with his father, Warriors coach Shane Queen, for most of his childhood.
Pope coach Matt Kemper remembers sons Nick, Max and Mike drawing up plays in little notebooks at home and carrying footballs on the sidelines. Nick is an offensive lineman who played for his father at Lake Howell High School in Florida, while offensive lineman Max and tight end Mike are current members of the Pope team.
McEachern coach Kyle Hockman said the situation was similar in his household, and probably that of every coach’s family.
“He’s been a ball boy since he was old enough to get out of the way of the guys coming off the sidelines, you know,” Hockman said of his son, Bailey. “He’s been at practices. In the huddle, he was probably 6 years old running one of our plays. Everybody kind of let him throw it, he completed it and everybody went crazy, that kind of stuff. So he’s been in the middle of it for probably as long as he can remember.”
The younger Hockman just finished his freshman year as a quarterback at McEachern and will play under his father next fall.
And just like that, the relationship between Kyle and Bailey Hockman will evolve to something more than father-son. They will be coach and player.
So it is with all sons of coaches.
“I think we both kind of grew up together knowing it was inevitable,” Jimmy Fields said of Jay, now a linebacker at Carson-Newman College in Tennessee. “Obviously, me being a high school football coach and him growing up with the desire to not only play high school football, but to play college football. So we knew that, in all likelihood, I would be his coach one day.”
Hockman jokes about the upcoming shift.
“(Bailey) plays offense, and I coach offense, so I keep telling my coaches, I’m going to move over to defense for the next four years,” he said. “I think it will be interesting. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
If Hockman takes the word of several of his fellow Cobb County coaches, he is in for the experience of a lifetime.
“This is going to sound corny, but it’s the greatest joy in my life,” said Matt Kemper, who, in addition to coaching his three sons in football, also coached his daughter, Katie, in weightlifting. “A lot of times, people work, and if you are lucky, your job is your passion. And, if you are a coach, that needs to be the case. It’s a really special thing when you can share something that you love that much with your son. Hopefully, they love it just as much.”
South Cobb’s Ed Koester, who coached sons Kurtis — Cherokee County’s all-time leading passer — Kyle and Klay on the gridiron, agrees.
“It can be the most uplifting time, and it can be the most aggravating time,” he said, referring to the balancing act coaches have with their player sons.
Jimmy Fields said he wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
“Coaching and getting to be around kids, especially in their high school football playing days, is a great joy,” he said. “So, certainly, to be involved as your own son’s coach, I look back on it as one of the greatest joys of my life.”
If one coach knows how it feels to be on both sides of the father-son and coach-player relationships, it’s Hockman, who played under his father, Ken, in his native Ohio.
Hockman said he looks to how his father — now a member of his McEachern coaching staff — handled the situation as he prepares to coach Bailey.
“(My father) has been through that, so I kind of rely on him and talk to him a lot about it,” Hockman said. “For the most part, I think you try to treat them like everybody, but in the end, you have to get in the car and drive home.”
Koester said he always tried to leave his coaching duties on the field and fatherhood at home.
“One thing that was important for us was that I didn’t coach at home,” he said. “When we came home, I was dad. When I was at school and we were at practice, I was coaching, but at home, I was always dad. We didn’t bash the coach at the dinner table and we didn’t bash them as players either. We didn’t coach them and we didn’t bring film home and watch it together. We were father and son at home. We were very guarded that we didn’t do those types of things.”
Hillgrove coach Phillip Ironside said that coaching his son, junior quarterback Elijah, gives him a chance to make up for some of the family time he misses during the season.
“You sacrifice a lot of time away from your family as a coach, and it has allowed us to be around each other and spend time together,” the elder Ironside said. “It’s hard to believe (Elijah) is going to be a senior next year. I’m amazed at how quickly it has gone, but we are thankful for it.”
Most coaches agree that there is a tendency to be harder on their own sons than on someone else’s. Not only that, but sons often must outperform their peers in order remove any doubt that they are favored.
“No question, it’s harder being the coach’s son,” said Kemper, one of four members of the coaching staff with sons on Pope’s team this season. “They have to have been clearly the best player. They have to do things a little bit better than the other kids. Leading up to it you make sure they have earned it. They have got to do more than the other kid that’s not your son in order to go out there.”
Kemper points to an incident during the summer of 2011 when twins Mike and Max were entering their freshman year and the team was going through two-a-day practices.
“I walked into the field house, into the coaches’ office — it looked like there was an intervention going on or something,” he said. “There was the whole staff waiting for me saying, ‘Look, coach, they’ve got to play.’ And I fought it because you don’t want to open yourself up, and them up, to scrutiny. But at the end of the day, you have to put the best players out there — but you make darn sure they earn it.”
As a player, Tyler Queen testifies to the pressure of being a coach’s son.
“Obviously, you are going to be held to a different standard just because you have to live with it at home as well,” he said. “There is going to be outside pressure from (your father) and from other people. They always have their eye on you, especially in school since he’s a teacher as well. It makes me have to be that much more of a leader in the classroom and on and off the field.”
Even if coaches’ sons have to hear from naysayers and critics more than the average player, there are some advantages to being in the second generation.
Shane Queen firmly believes growing up with the game helped his son, Tyler, develop as a player.
“He’s been around it all his life,” the elder Queen said. “He’s been around coaches, been around older players and seeing them. Not only the ones that have been successful, but the ones that didn’t do the things they should to be successful. He’s seen both sides of that. Growing up being a coach’s son has hopefully increased his knowledge of the game and has helped him in the process of becoming a high school football player.”
And Tyler isn’t just any high school football player. This season he was one of the most successful quarterback in the state. His success isn’t unique among sons of coaches, and according to Tennessee Tech head coach Watson Brown, there are some good reasons for it.
“It’s not just Xs and Os,” Brown said. “From a young age, these kids hang around practice and they learn so much more than just Xs and Os. They see the pressure of the game. They ride on the buses. They learn how to get ready for games and they seem to have a sense of competitiveness. They learn early the respect of the coach-player relationship.”
But Koester touched on something more than just gleaning knowledge of the game.
“I think that, from a mental aspect and understanding situations of the game, my boys were more advanced than other boys,” said Koester, who didn’t allow his sons to play football until they were at least in the seventh grade. “From a physical standpoint, they turned out to be the better ballplayers, but I think a lot of that is just genes.”
Most football coaches were at one time football players themselves, and often very good ones.
Kemper (Miami of Ohio), Queen (Tennessee Tech), Ironside (Middle Tennessee State), Koester (Texas Tech), Hockman (Bowling Green), Fields (Mississippi) and Brown (Vanderbilt) each had successful collegiate careers. Kemper, Koester, Fields and Brown — the only four with sons old enough to play in college — have each had their offspring follow in their footsteps.
Brown didn’t have the opportunity to coach his son Steven in high school. He had to wait until college, first at UAB and then at Tennessee Tech.
Steven, who is now the offensive coordinator on Brown’s staff, was a quarterback in high school, like his father before him, but was a receiver in college. That changed when Tennessee Tech lost three quarterbacks to injury and Brown turned to Steven as a last resort.
At the time, that seemed OK to Steven, but not so much with Brown’s wife, who was visibly angry and waiting for coach at the door when he got home.
“She met me at the door and said, ‘Oh, great, it’s not enough you already got three quarterbacks hurt, but now you are trying to injure your son,” Brown said.
Brown’s story points to another part of the father-son, coach-player dynamic.
“The other ingredient is that it’s hugely important to have a great lady at home,” Matt Kemper said with deference to his wife, Vicki.
Koester said having a son play for his father is often hardest on the wives and mothers.
Coaches know this special time with their sons is fleeting.
“I think it’s the same thing with coaching all kids,” Kemper said. “You concentrate on the moment. A lot of times, we get caught up in wins and losses and the end results, and before you know it, things are past you. With a lot of things in life, you just need to focus on the process and enjoy it.
“After a big win, you give your son a hug — it’s pretty special. It’s something I will never forget, and I hope it’s the same for them.”
Brown said when you have the opportunity to coach or work with your son and you are successful, it makes attaining whatever goal you reached extra special. Brown said he and Steven got their moment two seasons ago when Tennessee Tech won the Ohio Valley Conference championship after Steven became a member of his father’s coaching staff.
“We had just won the championship and we were sitting in the locker room after the game,” Brown said. “Eventually, when everyone else was gone, we had a chance to reflect on what had happened, and the thing I remember was the biggest hug I got was from Steve. It’s bloodlines. It’s family. And when you can accomplish it together, it’s a really neat deal.”
Koester said that, for him, the best part of coaching his sons was that he always knew he was going to get their best.
“When you coach all the other kids, you hope they are going to play correctly, and that’s based on trust that those kids are going to give you their best effort,” he said. “But with a father-son situation, there was never a doubt that he was giving his best effort. No. 1, he didn’t want anyone thinking that he was just playing because he was the coach’s son. No. 2, they were competitors.”
Somewhere along the sidelines, the little boys shagging balls grow into young men who stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their fathers.
And when that happens, and the playing days are done, Fields said that one relationship always comes first.
“There was never a question,” he said. “I was always his dad, first and foremost, more than his coach. I don’t think that coaching really changed that relationship.”