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Q&A with coach Denny Hopkins

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Posted: Thursday, August 24, 2017 3:33 pm

Denny Hopkins

Linden varsity football coach

Depending on who you talk to, Denny Hopkins may be a legendary baseball, basketball or football coach at Linden High School. Actually, all three answers are correct. Hopkins coached baseball from 1979 until 1998 and became the varsity football coach that same season. Prior to that he was a longtime assistant football coach. Mixed in those mentoring careers he also coached the varsity boys basketball team since the 1979-80 school year. He’s won over 900 games in the three sports combined.

How did you get into teaching and coaching?

 “Growing up I always looked up to my coaches. And there were a couple of high school coaches I really looked up to. When I did my high school student teaching I did it for Bob Sutter and John Herrington out of Farmington Hills Harrison. That sealed the deal. Watching what they did and how the kids responded to them, I thought, ‘Boy that’s what I want to do.’”

How were those first years as a coach?

 “I coached at Crestwood High School and I coached football, basketball and baseball. I was the assistant varsity football coach, JV basketball and varsity baseball. I was at Crestwood for one year.

 “I learned that I had a lot of work to do, to be honest with you. Some of the things that happened that first year, I sure didn’t learn in any college class. The two guys I team taught with — Tom Tate and Jim Fletcher — really helped me. They told me to just be myself.

 “One thing I learned from John Herrington is be honest with the kids. And another thing Bob Sutter taught me was the kids don’t care how much you know. They just want to know how much you care. And I think about that all the time. It’s not how much you know but how much you care.”

How have the students changed since your first  seasons of coaching?

 “I don’t think they’ve changed all that much, I really don’t. Some of the kids think you owe it to them instead of them earning it. But most of them haven’t really changed. I think the kids want to be disciplined. I learned if you are honest with them and you have a set of rules then don’t bend the rules. They break the rules, they pay for them — don’t bend them. It doesn’t matter if he is your No. 1 player or your last player, don’t bend them. You have to treat them all the same.”

How has the sport changed and how have you changed?

 “They are better athletes, I’ll tell you that. The kids want to have a good time. I want to have a good time. As long as they come every day. We have a saying — ‘We either get better, or we get worse, you guys decide!’ That’s what we are doing.

 “(Co-varsity football coach) Nick (Douglass) has been with me 14 years and we never talk about having to win. I never do. He always asks me, ‘We haven’t talked about winning yet.’ If we get better we’ll win. Don’t put any more pressure on the kids than there already is. You win a few years so everybody expects you to win all of the time.”

What advice would you give to new coaches just starting out their career today?

 “Be prepared to put in your time and learn. Don’t come into it thinking you know everything, because you don’t. I have learned from everybody I have been associated with all these years. Nobody develops their own stuff. They steal from everybody. I’m fortunate that I’ve had relationships with coaches from other districts — I’ve taken things from them and put it into our program. If you think you know everything you are kidding yourself because you don’t know everything.”

What has been the most rewarding part of your coaching career?

 “When the kids come to you at the end of the year, especially the seniors, they give you a hug and tell you thank you; thanks for your time. I don’t think you can get any more of a compliment than that. You sit around and all of a sudden you get a thing in the mail and you are invited to the wedding. You haven’t seen the young man in four or five years and all of a sudden you are invited to his wedding. Or you get a thing in the mail after they are married with a picture of their new baby. Christmas cards or out of the blue you get a phone call, and they ask if you have a minute to talk. You can’t get any better than that. Sometimes I get off the phone and it almost brings a tear to my eyes.”

How long do you plan to coach?

 “I don’t know. I told you when I decided to get out I’ll be the first one to call you. I don’t know because I’m having fun. As long as I have my health — I have had a couple of scary moments — and am having fun, I’ll keep coaching.”

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