If Bishop Carroll doesn't win the Class 5A football championship today against Blue Valley, it won't be because the Golden Eagles were outcoached.
Alan Schuckman, in his 16th season, long ago established himself as one of the best coaches in Kansas. And he has a group of loyal and committed assistants, including offensive and defensive coordinators — Dusty Trail and Jim Nance — who have been with him all 16 years.
Defensive backs coach Jimmy Allen has been with Schuckman for 15 seasons. And Matt Bye, who coaches defensive ends, has been at Carroll for 14 years.
Throw in kicking/punting coach Dave Armagost, with 12 years at Carroll, and freshman coach Mike Laubhan, another who has been with Schuckman from the beginning, and you have a staff that knows the Carroll way.
"The consistency, the continuity in our coaching staff is definitely a big reason for our success,'' said Schuckman, who will be chasing his first state championship and Carroll's second (the Eagles won in 1978) today. "We wouldn't be doing the things we've done the last 16 years if we had had a lot of turnover.''
Schuckman's assistants, especially Trail and Nance, have been pursued by other schools to become head coaches. Five years ago Nance left Carroll to be the coach at Maize. It lasted a week before he came back to the Eagles.
"That was a weird week for me, not being a part of Carroll,'' Nance said. "I was ready for the challenge and I wanted to make the move. But it was just so different, the oddest feeling ever.''
Nance will be at Carroll as long as Schuckman is at Carroll. And it wouldn't be surprising if the same holds true for the other long-time assistants.
They agree that there's something about being at Bishop Carroll that goes beyond coaching football. They love the intimacy of the school and the student body. They are bonded because of their Catholic backgrounds. And they've grown accustomed to winning, a strong bond as well.
"Our longevity as a staff has a lot to do with us being great friends,'' Trail said. "We like being around each other. We do quite a few things together that are outside of football. To a degree, we have similar interests. We have similar ways in which we think about life in general. When we're coaching, it's not just about the game. It's about teaching these kids to deal with the situations they will face in their lives.''
What makes them click? What makes them tick? Here's what they think:
* Trail is the most analytical of the bunch, a former science teacher who loves to pick apart a game film and look for new ideas.
"He's John Dawkins, Jr.,'' said Bye, who coached with Dawkins at Wichita Collegiate a few years back. Dawkins, who died earlier this season, was known as having one of the great football minds among area coaches. "He's as good an Xs and Os guy as I've ever been around.''
Trail, 44, is from Osborne and he married a Carroll alum. After years of teaching physics and physical science, he's now teaching P.E. and weight training.
"He's the guy who, once it's game time, has his 'A' game,'' Nance said of Trail. "When I need something as a defensive coach, I'll go to Dusty because his mind is so complex.''
Schuckman credits Trail for developing so many Carroll quarterbacks over the years.
"He meets with those quarterbacks all year long,'' Schuckman said. "For Dusty, it's not just a football season that starts in August and finishes in November.''
Allen, too, is impressed with Trail's organization.
"His offensive line is amazing,'' Allen said. "What he does with the kids we have is just incredible.''
* Nance, 48, is a Carroll grad from 1980. His family — seven brothers and a sister — are Carroll grads.
"The place has a special meaning for me,'' he said. "People will ask me why I'm still here and it's because it's home. It's all I've ever known.''
Nance, too, is a teacher whose background is in science. But he's not as structured as Trail.
"Jim is our social director,'' Schuckman said. "He always knows what's going on with the kids and has a lot of close relationships with players. Having grown up in this school, he knows a lot of the families.''
Nance keeps the coaches meetings — what few the Bishop Carroll staff has these days because of their experience — entertaining.
"Jim's a character,'' Trail said. "He's always got a comment about just about everything that goes on.''
Said Bye: "Kids will run through brick walls for Coach Nance.''
* Years ago, Schuckman instructed Allen to join Nance in the press box during games. There was a good reason.
"He did so much screaming and hollering at officials,'' Schuckman said. "But we took care of that.''
The word most used to describe the 39-year-old Allen, a teacher at St. Elizabeth, is "fiery."
"I guess I was pretty intense in my younger years,'' Allen admitted. "But I've never had a flag thrown because of me. Not in a varsity game, at least.''
Allen started coaching at Carroll when he was 24. A native of Burlington, his wife is a Carroll graduate.
"It's been fun watching Jimmy develop as a coach,'' Bye said. "If you watch, we used to do just plain coverages. Now our kids are going from Cover 2 to Cover 3 right before the snap of the ball.''
Allen is probably the most vocal of the Carroll coaches and one of the disciplinarians on the staff.
"An intense guy but a great guy,'' Trail said. "One reason we've stuck together as a staff is because we figured out after a few years that we're a good mix. We have some different personalities, but those personalities have meshed together well.''
* Bye, 51, is the group's punching bag, nicknamed "Grandpa," even though he's only a few years older than most of the others.
He has worked at Spirit and before that Boeing for 31 years and has been an assistant coach at several schools over the years.
During football season, he gets off his job at Spirit and drives straight to Carroll for practices.
"Coach Bye is a calming influence on our staff,'' Trail said. "He's very thoughtful in the things he does and he keeps things in perspective.''
Nance calls Bye a "father figure," though he's only three years younger.
You get the idea.
"I'm the guy they all pick on,'' Bye said.
* As for Schuckman, the words his assistants use most to describe him are "leader" and "friend," dispelling the notion that you can't be both.
That his coaches stay with him as long as they do says it all. They trust and respect him and are treated mutually.
"He's a friend, a leader and a coach,'' Nance said.
Schuckman gives his assistants a lot of responsibility and rarely intervenes.
"It's not all about him,'' Trail said. "He lets you make decisions. He wants to be informed, of course, because he's the guy in charge. But if you have a good basis behind your ideas, then he'll let you run with it.''
It all starts, of course, with Schuckman, 46. He has built one of the strongest football programs in the state at Carroll and things aren't slowing down. Last week's 21-0 win over six-time defending state champion Hutchinson in the Class 5A semifinals was probably the biggest win of his career. He'll be trying to one-up himself today in Emporia.
"Every year here is a fun year,'' Schuckman said. "Last year, we had one of the best players in the country (quarterback Blake Bell), we were on national TV and we played in the state semifinals. Then this year, here we go again. It seems like every year just gets better and better.''