New coaches begin season on a high note

AnotherViewsquareI recently attended my first high school football game in over a decade. Fellow colleague Mitchell McDonald does such a fine job in his prep coverage that he doesn’t need me to entreat on his beat.

However, last week, as opposed to the press box, this college and pro sports reporter sat near midfield, on the first bleacher row directly behind the home team bench at De La Salle football field, located across from Nicollet Island. I was there last Friday night to see not only the Islanders in action, but also the home debut of the school’s head football coach: my son.

On a cool September prep football evening under the lights, I tabled my usual sports journalist impartiality and silently rooted for the home team. But unlike some local sports reporters who too often see things, rightly or wrongly, through home team-colored glasses, I often, throughout the contest, bit my tongue and refrained from interjecting my two cents’ worth.

CJ Hallman
CJ Hallman (Charles Hallman/m

I heard some fans grumbling when De La Salle struggled or suffered self-inflicted setbacks, costing them untimely penalties that stalled or snuffed out potential scoring drives. Such things happen with a young team in only its second game of the season.

These things, at any level, can’t always be the coach’s fault, whoever the coach may be. Especially on this night.

I watched Coach CJ Hallman, the first Black football coach at De La Salle, stay cool throughout the many missteps by his players. I watched him coach them up when they returned to the sidelines. I watched him pat them on the back, as well as offer them encouraging but needed instructions for their next opportunity on the field. He kept in constant communication with his staff in the booth through the headset firmly affixed on his head.

I watched with pride, which began swelling soon after hearing my son’s name introduced in pregame introductions to the cheering partisan crowd.

After a scoreless first half, De La Salle eventually found its footing, snatched a lead they lost, and scored a late fourth quarter touchdown and defeated Irondale 22-17.

The victorious players expectedly celebrated. CJ’s assistant coaches gave the head coach congratulatory handshakes and hugs. It was his first career victory. After shaking hands with the visiting players and coaches, he gathered the team in a brief post-game huddle.

He told them how proud he was, but also advised them that more work is needed and that things needed to be cleaned up. But their overall goal of playing in November, perhaps in the new Vikings stadium, is still intact.

CJ, as a De La Salle sophomore, played in the Prep Bowl at the old Metrodome when the Islanders won a state football title. I missed that game because I was in Detroit caring for my ailing uncle. He understood, but it didn’t make me feel any better for missing out on one of his life achievements.

That is why I worked like the dickens to not miss his first varsity head coaching win last week.

Chip Taylor
Chip Taylor (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

The last time I shelved my journalist hat for a family member was when CJ’s youngest brother Johnell played in the junior college national basketball championship game in upstate New York, surprising him with my presence.

Last week was my second football game in two weeks to watch a first-year head coach make his home debut. Chip Taylor won his first game on Labor Day weekend as Hamline University’s first Black football coach.

“The players really like him,” noted school President Fayneese Miller at halftime. She is the school’s first Black president. “It means we are moving in the right direction. We are putting people in place who have the ability to do the job and do it well, and not judging them on some criteria that really doesn’t matter.”

“I’m just trying to be myself,” said Taylor in a brief MSR postgame interview.

Likewise for De La Salle’s first-year head coach, who had this to say about his team’s first win: “I’m happy to have our first victory on the ‘Island.’ I’m back here where it started for me in the first place” as a student and player, then later as a longtime assistant coach before his promotion this past spring.

He continued, “It’s a dream that you finally get to wake up from. I get to call the winning [play]… I get on the mic and tell the OC [offensive coordinator] this is what I want to see happen on the play, and the play is a touchdown. I can’t ask for anything more than that.

“We didn’t play the cleanest game,” admitted CJ. “We stuck to the plan, didn’t change it up, and didn’t get too emotional. It was a good night and we got the victory.”

As the head coach proceeded to his post-game wrap-up duties, he said to me, a father and journalist, “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you. I’m glad that you were here to see this. I appreciate you being here.”


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