Padecky: Windsor High School’s Tom Kirkpatrick a gentleman coach

Tom Kirkpatrick guides the Windsor football team in spring conditioning, Thursday Feb. 26, 2015. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

Tom Kirkpatrick guides the Windsor football team in spring conditioning, Thursday Feb. 26, 2015. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

By BOB PADECKY

FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

WINDSOR — Tom Kirkpatrick is a pointer, and this isn’t about a dog. Look, Kirkpatrick will say, and see how smart my quarterback is, how he read that defense. Look at my defensive coordinator and see how he got his kids to recognize that play action. My oh my, look, please, at how the kids don’t go for the knees, don’t smack-talk, don’t dance pre-game on the other school’s mid-field emblem. Aren’t they great kids?

Tom Kirkpatrick points to everyone except to himself. Always has. Always will.

That’s why the new football coach at Windsor didn’t want to do this interview Thursday. Not me, Tom said. It’s not about me. I don’t score touchdowns. I don’t play my butt off. I coach. Yeah, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. drives in circles looking for a gas station.

So I begged and begged and I was just about to buy Kirkpatrick off with a chewy chocolate chip cookie — his favorite — when he said, with a quite audible sigh, “OK. Let’s do this.” When he said that, I felt I was just handed the keys to the kingdom, to explore this Distinguished Gentleman, and this might have embarrassed Tom. Sorry. I wish I could ignore the obvious.

“If I can’t get you,” Windsor principal Marc Elin asked Kirkpatrick in the job interview, “who can I get that’s closest to you? I want to learn from you.”

Wonder how many job interviews have ever contained that kind of respect.

I also wonder how many high school coaches ever think of approaching parents this way, as he did every season when he coached at Healdsburg, as he will do at Windsor: “I want all my kids to come away from this season with a positive experience. But this experience might not to be the same for everyone. Your son’s experience might be that he holds the ball for an extra point.”

How can a coach make an extra-point holder feel valued? By understanding a sport is more than a game.

“I’ve had coaches come up to me in the second quarter,” Kirkpatrick said, “and ask me why I am substituting players when we’re leading 20-0. ‘How is winning 50-0 going to make you feel better than winning 20-0?’ ”

Perspective, Kirkpatrick is full of it, overflowing, always looking past emotion to where intelligence resides, overriding embarrassment and immaturity.

“Look,” Kirkpatrick will tell his team after winning a big game, “how do you think they feel right now?”

He’ll point to the defeated, to the opposing sideline, to the players with sad, long, stunned faces.

“What if that was you? How would you feel if you looked to midfield and saw players going crazy?”

And if one of his players went to midfield and danced like it was New Year’s? Kirkpatrick would summon him to the sidelines.

“It would be a learning experience,” is all Kirkpatrick would say.

Yes, he’s the first to admit, kids keep you alert. It’s one of the joys of being in charge.

“They keep you on your toes,” Kirkpatrick said. “You have to think on your feet with kids. You have to be alert.”

Which, of course, led to disbelief, far and wide, when Kirkpatrick accepted the Windsor job. He’s 62. He retired from

Healdsburg in 2011. The Distinguished Gentleman had that 168-58-1 record, nine Sonoma County League titles, two NCS championships. He never had a losing season in his 19 years.

So what possibly could Kirkpatrick want out of Windsor than he didn’t get at Healdsburg? If you need the kid fix, Paul Cronin was going to hire you to coach Cardinal Newman’s junior varsity. So you didn’t have to dive in all the way. Hey, dude, you’re in your 60s. You want to be around teenagers? Are you daft?

His answer, Kirkpatrick admits, doesn’t satisfy everyone.

He misses his passion.

“Now, some people will understand that, why I came back,” he said. “Other people will say this guy is nuts. He has a problem with perspective. He can’t see the big picture.”

To which Kirkpatrick shrugs. To the people who know passion, who love what they do, who find joy where others find work, that’s his big picture. Who would diminish that? Who would think such a thing is foolish?

I asked Kirkpatrick, “Coaching, it’s your sanctuary, isn’t it? It’s the place where you can go and everything else fades away. You are just there, in a bubble, with your team, your coaches, and time flies. Right?”

“Exactly,” Kirkpatrick said.

Not that Kirkpatrick immediately jumped at Elin’s offer. Things had to fall in place. Becky, his wife, had to say yes; she did. His Healdsburg coaching staff, who has been with him before cell phones, had to say yes; they did. And one other thing.

“Windsor could not play Healdsburg in football,” said Kirkpatrick, comforted in the knowledge the schools play in different leagues and different NCS divisions.

“Out of respect,” he said.

Respect, there’s that word again. It pops up in his speech like so many commas. It finds many forms and what

Kirkpatrick is about to say, it was a moment that left him momentarily quiet after he said it.

“In all my years of coaching,” Kirkpatrick said, “I never took a player out of a game in which he told me, ‘Coach, I need my yards. I need to score more. You need to put me back in the game.’ ”

Kirkpatrick’s heard the whispers. Healdsburg has 640 kids, Windsor, 1,700. The expectations — Windsor’s parents pay attention — are high. The heat has been turned up. Kirkpatrick, again, shrugs.

“No one is harder on me than myself,” he said.

The why of that goes back decades.

Kirkpatrick graduated from Santa Rosa High in 1970. A quarterback, he never started a game. He went to SRJC as No. 7 on the depth chart but ended up starting for Marv Mays. So passion and commitment are not some idle phrases to Kirkpatrick. He has walked his talk. And that skinny 140-pound kid with a big heart to match that big brain is still in there, a reminder never to coast.

“I like to prove people wrong,” he has said, a reflection more of what was than what is. It feels almost like a magic trick, to balance intensity with perspective. It was, more than anything, what most impressed Elin.

“I don’t easily say this,” Elin said, “but I haven’t met one person — that includes parents, players, administrators — who has said a negative thing to me about Tom. That’s remarkable to me.”

Maybe it’s because Kirkpatrick spends so much time thinking about others.

“Bud Baccitich was incredible,” said Kirkpatrick of one of his assistants. “He played in a Rose Bowl for USC. He was great with the kids. And he was so funny. Someone asked him how to spell his last name and he said, “No problem. Spell it just like it sounds.”

Yep, good ol’ Bud Bass-itch.

Bud Baccitich died 10 years ago. Yet Kirkpatrick spoke of him Thursday as if Bud was still with him, still radiating influence. That sounds about right, people who know Kirkpatrick will say. Tom’s like that. One way or another people tend to stay with him. Must have something to do with how he treats folks.

To contact Bob Padecky email him at bobpadecky@gmail.com.