Waunakee, Wis. does not need to be told that Friday night football lights are a big deal in their town. Synonymous with that weekend tradition is the coach who has been supporting the team throughout the last two decades. During the last 20 years, Waunakee has held the same head coach for this amazing football program, head coach Pat Rice.
Under the supervision of him and his staff, the Wisconsin Waunakee Warriors have won all of their home games for the last 13 years. Yes, that’s right, I said years. This is an accomplishment that not even NFL coaches Don Shula, formerly with the Miami Dolphins, or Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots have been able to pull off. And yet, this is the man who is helping our own local stadiums fill with so many fans every fall.
As impeccable as the professional reputation that he carries with him is the view point that his team, staff, friends and associates have of him personally.
“He is a great coach,” assistant coach Paul Martin said. “He doesn’t pretend to know it all. He listens to what his staff have to contribute. He also delegates well.”
Martin has been with Coach Rice since 1992, operating as the offensive coordinator. Not only are they friends on the field though, the two tackle real life as comrades as well.
“We all have a love of the game,” Martin said. “We’re a band of brothers. We’re not just willing to work hard together, we’re also really good friends.”
This is apparent by the earned nicknames that they and a fellow friend have been donned with.
“We joke and call the three of us the Holy Trinity. Pat, he’s the Father, I’m the Son and Steve, well he has grey hair so he’s the Holy Ghost,” Martin said.
Luck is apparently no part of the equation that ushers in all these wins year after year. Under Coach Rice and Coach Martin, Waunakee has won four state championships (1999, 2002, 2009, 2010), and were runners-up on two other occasions (2001 and 2005). They have also won 13 conference championships in the last 14 years.
What most want to know is, how do they do it?
Brian Smith, Waunakee athletic director, is fully supportive of the staff that run the Waunakee football program. Year after year he has been able to witness the ingredients that amount up to regular success.
“Coach Rice is a great communicator,” Smith said. “He gets our players to perform at a consistently high level by getting them to do on the field what he has envisioned in his mind. Coach Rice, along with his staff, put in countless hours during the season and in the offseason to make our players, team, and program the best it can be each year.
“Our players believe in him, the coaching staff, and the system we run. He is also a great motivator. Our players would run though the proverbial wall for him,” Smith said.
Coach Rice is no more lax today than he was when he first came here after coaching in Jefferson for one year.
“I don’t know if there really are any key things,” Rice said. “We tell them there are no shortcuts. We have to earn this, every game, every year. We have to remain consistent and persistent and take care of the business we have at hand.
“You can never let your guard down. You always need to be looking for areas to improve and grow in the game. The moment that the team starts to think that it isn’t a challenge is the day that we will have lost our edge,” Rice said.
Despite attempts from other schools to secure Rice as a coach, no efforts have prevailed. Don’t expect to see him go any time in the near future either.
“I have three daughters, and this is a great school system and wonderful community. You can’t get the kind of package that I have here anywhere else, it’s not worth the risk. I have some of the best friends here and a supportive administration. We’ve built something here, something great. You can’t just walk away from that,” Rice said.
As with any group effort, the importance of unity and teamwork is pivotal. Not surprisingly, the Waunakee football program runs just as smoothly off the field as they do on it, supporting and encouraging each other.
“We couldn’t do it without each and every one of the staff members that we have. We all work together during and after the season, looking for ways to help each other and improve the game,” Rice said. “I’m very fortunate to have a staff that is so committed.”
Smith agrees with the consistent teamwork.
“In regards to the staff, and especially Paul Martin, Coach Rice has always tried to surround himself with a good coaching staff. Paul Martin has been with Rice from day one and is a huge part of our football program’s success,” Smith said.
The field is not the only place that success is apparent either.
“We want all our students, athletes or not, to be the best that can be,” assistant coach Martin said. “If any of our players don’t apply themselves in their classes and get a failing or incomplete grade, they are ineligible to play until the next grading period and their teachers sign off on them. We also do drug testing for all of our co-curricular activities. These players are representing their community, themselves, the school and the team.”
We can only imagine what will be in store for us for the 20th season that Coach Rice will be treating us to. If it’s anything like the last 19 years, it will not disappoint.
“I am competitive, but we all need to keep it in perspective. These are 17-year-old boys playing out there. We can’t expect them to be perfect,” Rice said.