This letter is late because it takes a while for me to sift through my stack of mail and pull out my hometown newspaper. The Uinta County Herald keeps me connected to my incredible hometown, and I am grateful when I see a familiar face.
When I read Mark Madia’s fantastic article about my friend Bubba O’Neill, I was proud all over again. You see, Brent Sanders had already shared the news with Bubba’s former teammates and contemporaries that he was celebrated as AD of the year for Wyoming. Bubba, of course, wanted to deflect any accolades, consistent with Mark’s rendition.
What Mark didn’t say in his article is that Bubba isn’t just a great coach or administrator, he is a wonderful teacher, and he was one hell of an athlete. A fantastic baseball player, best in our class, basketball player, football player, golfer, fisherman — he excelled in every sport. Still does.
Bubba is one of the most competitive people I have known — fiercely loyal — full of love, and self-critical, sometimes to a fault. What sets Bubba apart in my book is that he has become the mentor he always wanted. He believes our calling is to do better and improve on what has been. I agree. I subscribe.
And while Bubba has had wonderful mentors, his legacy will be the life lessons he imparts on his students and players.
Recently, Bubba, Stuart Proffit, Brent Sanders and I spent time rehashing old stories and competing on a golf course. First time we had spent that kind of time in 30-plus years.
Bubba recounted a story about a few of his former players who showed up late at his house, asking if they could come inside and talk. They wanted advice about school, choices, challenges and next steps. They went to someone they trusted to teach life lessons.
The relationship a coach has with a young person is different than any other relationship. It is more intimate than that of a parent; more honest and unfiltered.
Back to Bubba’s story. Much to Karen’s chagrin, his former players stayed into the early hours of the morning with their old coach. Bubba ended the story with tears in his eyes, saying, “This is why I do this.”
There really was nothing else to say. Bubba cares more about service to others than he cares about himself most of the time. Truth is, Bubba is my example when I think about work ethic, drive and self-honesty. And no matter how his supposed critics talk about his style, I call it brutal honesty.
In my opinion, we need more brutal honesty in this world when it comes from a place of love. Indeed, it is the calling card of my mentor and partner Gerry Spence. Congratulations to Evanston for keeping this amazing warrior so long.
And my deep respect to Bubba, Karen and his wonderful two children, his mother and father, sister and two little brothers. Funny thing about awards — they are never as meaningful as the lasting legacy that is never celebrated nor said. Love you my teammate and dear friend.