COVINA, Calif. — Warren still probably doesn't know what hit him. On another lost Friday night, he's pounding the registers at the In-N-Out Burger, when suddenly 60 football players roll off a bus, pour through the door and fan across the floor in a fast-food restaurant manager's worst nightmare.
Then a strange thing happens. The football players don't jostle and shove and yell at once. They line up in order. And in the middle of all this humanity is an old man, bent over, shaking a cane and asking for the names of the people behind the counter — and the cooks, too, hey don't forget about the cooks.
Each time he gets a name, the old man turns on his cane, looks at the players and, clutching the stick for support, uses his free hand to wave a fist in the air and begins a chant.
"Hey Warren!" he shouts.
"Hey Warren!" they respond.
"Go Warren! "Go Warren!
Frosty Westering doesn't occupy a room as much as he takes it over, wobbling in with his standard uniform of coach's shorts, golf shirt and specially made tennis shoes with extra soles to accommodate the 1-3/8-inch disparity in the length of his legs. And everywhere the Pacific Lutheran coach leads his team, a multitude of "attaways" are delivered daily to bus drivers, hotel managers and fast-food cooks. This is the Frosty way: Show respect, and the love will come pouring back.
"Boy, we had that joint jumping," he says the next morning. "After we started giving them the attaways, those double burgers were coming out so fast."
Night has turned to day, the sun bursting over the San Gabriel Mountains in a golden blaze. It trickles through the branches and out to the pool of the Embassy Suites, where it finds Frosty still beaming about the In-N-Out Burger. This was going to be a special day, an important day. For Frosty Westering, 75 years old and beginning his last year of coaching, has spent the last eight months locked on 299 career victories.
Everybody had been looking forward to Saturday night, to this game at nearby Azusa Pacific, tucked in a spectacular movie backdrop against the foothills where Frosty might become the 10th man in history to win his 300th game.
It doesn't matter that this didn't happen, that Azusa would come running onto the field looking as big as the Green Bay Packers or that the Azusa players were twice as fast or that PLU's last, desperate gasp would be snatched from the sky by an Azusa defender. To Frosty, it never was about the 300 wins. Just as it was never about the four national championships, seven national title games and the two national coach-of-the-year awards.
In Frosty's world, winning has never been that important, even though all of his teams in 31 years at PLU had winning seasons. Instead this has been about the love, the friendships and the family that seem to grow with every "attaway." A few years ago, he wrote a book called, "Make the Big Time Where You Are," and he has lived every word.
Maybe the 300 wins and the Big Time will come this Saturday afternoon at Puyallup's Sparks Stadium against Chapman. But no matter. This is a team that has given itself to the sunny world of its eccentric coach.
"These guys find out they don't have to be this real tough stud guy anymore," says Chad Johnson, Frosty's grandson and former PLU quarterback. "You just learn to let go of all that."
It might be the most contented team in all of football.
"We do things a little different around here," Frosty likes to say. And he isn't kidding. Here it is seven hours before game time and the coaches are sitting around the pool in what is loosely described as a strategy session. They are supposed to be talking about situations and formations, but each attempt at a decision meanders into another of Frosty's stories.
Like the night in Iowa when the bus broke down. Or the time they ran when they needed to throw. "Worst decision we ever made in a game," Frosty laughs. Everybody giggles.
"Hey, Frosty, what are we going to do about special teams?"
"Oh, yeah, special teams. Well, let's see, you know that reminds me of the time ... "
Frosty hates game-day meetings. He has never understood how coaches could sit there and bury their players in rooms all morning, flooding them with paperwork and game films. "The hay is in the barn," he always says. "If you don't know it by now, you aren't going to know it."
For him, game days are to relax, to have fun. All around him, his players are sitting by the pool, splashing in the water, snapping pictures. Already, he has taken a belly flop into the pool, this despite two artificial hips and a slipped disk between the fourth and fifth lumbar that hits a sciatic nerve. He did this because the players wanted him to, because they love it when the old man plunges into the water, sending a tidal wave across the deck.
The thing that bothers Frosty this morning has nothing to do with his team. He has just heard that Purdue held on to beat Wake Forest, and something about the news disturbs him. Purdue's coach, Joe Tiller, he has heard, was so infuriated with his team's loss to Bowling Green the previous week that he made the team go out the next day and scrimmage. This strikes Frosty as all wrong and the reason he never cared much for the Big Time.
"That's the last thing I'd do," he says. "He thinks he has to put the fear of God in them. I believe that's not the way to do it."
Frosty doesn't like fear. He tells his players to worry about the things they can control. They can't control the weather. They can't control the officiating. They can make themselves better by practicing, by setting small goals and then meeting them each week, but they can't play afraid to lose.
The only thing that has worried him about this game is that the hype of the potential 300th win might affect his team too much. He's concerned they have heard so much about it, that they're going to play determined to get him the victory. He doesn't want that; he wants them free and loose. This is the way he has always won in the past: by making them believe they can always win even in the most dire of circumstances. He is convinced this is why PLU has come back so many times in games that were lost. More important, his players believe, too.
"Frosty takes away the fear," says Scott Sorrensen, a former player who has come out to the pool. "You don't fear losing because you can't control it. You can only control effort. All the players at other schools get so caught up in the winning they forget about the control."
This is PLU's secret. They know they aren't as strong or as fast as many of the teams they play, but they also think the pressure their opponents feel will cause mistakes. And if they just remain patient and positive, they will be able to capitalize on those mistakes.
And this is why on the day he could get his 300th victory, Frosty Westering would rather sit by the pool and talk about anything but football. He grabs a pen and paper and draws out three rows of three dots, almost like a tic-tac-toe board.
"There's an engineer who invented a way to connect all the dots with just four lines that connect," he says. "You say it's impossible — well, watch."
Frosty takes the pen and begins to sketch out long lines that stretch off the rows of dots, linking them in a sketch that looks something like an umbrella left on its side.
"Nobody said you couldn't go outside the box," he says. "A lot of coaches think this is a physical game. But you can do it with a lot of finesse. You just have to think outside the box."
He stands up. It's lunchtime, and he has a surprise for his players. He has been talking about it all morning. They gather in the lobby much to the bewilderment of the hotel staff suddenly confronted with the same sight as Warren the night before at In-N-Out Burger. But Frosty wants to introduce the team to his friend, Alan Waddington, a music professor at nearby Citrus College.
The PLU players have long become accustomed to their coach's eclectic group of friends, and Waddington is no exception. With his long curls, slender build and silk shirt, he looks like the last person you would have talk to a football team.
Soon Waddington has them gathered in the restaurant, with a makeshift drum set of an upside-down aluminum container, a pitcher of water and a glass of ice tea. He grabs two knives and belts out a drum solo that sends the team into a frenzy. And when he finishes with a flourish, throwing his hands into the air, they leap to their feet and with a roar.
"You just buy into it," says safety Josh Parnell. "It's like everything else around here; you just buy into it and learn something."
When Waddington finishes, Frosty runs to a television in the front of the room. His son-in-law, Gary Spani, a former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker, is going to be inducted in the team's hall of fame at Arrowhead Stadium the next day. A special video has been developed for the occasion, and Frosty wants to show it. And for five minutes the players watch a montage of the undersized Spani hunting down helpless running backs and knocking quarterbacks to the ground.
"I just swell with pride," he says, his voice beginning to crack. "Because he did it the right way with none of this trash-talking they do now."
They do not swear at PLU — not on the field, not in the locker rooms. It isn't a rule, more an unspoken edict. Frosty doesn't curse, so the rest of them don't curse. This becomes apparent in the late afternoon and evening as nothing seems to go right for the Lutes.
The team gets to the field only to find that its locker room is a block and a half away, and that it is far too small to accommodate everybody. Players are dispatched to find patio chairs around the Azusa campus, setting them up as makeshift lockers in the shower.
At halftime, the team returns to the locker room to discover it locked. So impromptu meetings are arranged outside with Frosty's son Scott, the offensive coordinator, giving a chalk talk on a board propped on a trash can, held by two assistants and lighted by the headlights of a pickup that someone has graciously started for them.
The game itself is a disaster. PLU blows two opportunities to score early and is clearly undersized. Frosty decides not to wear a headset the way he always has. His back is too sore, and he needs to sit on a stool that is placed along the sideline. Still, he keeps calling to his assistants to run screens and hook-and-ladders, anything to negate the size advantage. In the end, Azusa is just too big, and the final score burns on the scoreboard: 21-12.
The players are crestfallen. The 300 PLU fans and parents who have come in anticipation of No. 300 sit in silence in the stands. Two of his starters have taped shoulders and appear out for the season.
But they don't dwell on losses at Pacific Lutheran. And with all those fans and his team, Frosty can't wait to get over to the stands to begin what he calls his "afterglow." This is something they always do at PLU, whether they're home or away, lining everybody up in the stands as Frosty sits in front on his stool calling down players and asking people to talk.
"There aren't many schools who do this," he begins. "They hang their heads and go home. But not us folks. These guys played a great game tonight. How about those fourth-down stands!"
The crowd cheers.
The injured players stand up and talk, linebacker Chris Linderman's voice choking as he starts to tell how his bicep is probably torn. The crowd claps. Frosty talks about "empathy not sympathy, you know the difference, right?" Everybody nods. They know the difference; they will hurt but they won't feel sorry.
There's an "attaway" for Chris. They sing, they pray, and players point out their parents, brothers, sisters and roommates and ask them to wave. Everybody who has a birthday in August or September is told to come down and sing "Happy Birthday" in front of the stands.
An hour goes by. The Azusa people turn off all but one bank of the stadium lights, nearly plunging the group into darkness.
"Don't worry," Frosty shouts. "We have the moon."
He points to his left where a giant orange moon hangs low in the sky.
"How about an attaway for the moon?" someone shouts. Everybody laughs.
Frosty pauses for a moment then begins to laugh, too.
"Why not?" he says. "Let's do it swing style."
"You got a hey, hey moon!"
"You got a hey, hey moon!"
"You got a go, go moon!"
"You got a go, go moon!"
"You got an atttaaawayyy!"
"You got an atttaaawayyyy!"
And on the night he was supposed to make history but didn't, Frosty Westering gazes up into the faces, into this world he has created, and smiles, his eyes shining, teeth gleaming. They are all laughing now, singing to the moon and the stars.
Les Carpenter: 206-464-2280 or email@example.com.
|In elite company|
|Frosty Westering ranks 10th in career victories among college football coaches at four-year schools for all divisions. The list:|
|2.||John Gagliardi*||St. John's (Minn.)||55||401-114-11||.773|
|3.||Joe Paterno*||Penn State||38||337-102-3||.766|
|4.||Bobby Bowden*||Florida State||38||335-96-4||.775|
|7.||Roy Kidd||Eastern Kentucky||39||315-123-8||.715|
|8.||Amos Alonzo Stagg||Pacific (Calif.)||57||314-199-35||.605|
|10.||Frosty Westering*||Pacific Lutheran||39||299-94-7||.756|
|* Active coaches|