A cool late fall November day in 1998 I was standing on the sideline as a graduate assistant for the University of Texas as Ricky Williams broke the all-time college rushing record against rival Texas A&M. Yes, you heard that right, even though they have not played in 15 years back in the day they were both in the same conference and played every year on the Friday after thanksgiving. He broke Tony Dorsett’s record wearing number 34 in the last regular season game of his senior year by scoring a touchdown all while Tony looked on from the sidelines. As a 24-year-old new strength coach from a small town in Minnesota who played at a small college it was quite an experience. I looked to the south and saw Tony Dorsett and looked north to see Roger Clemens. Ricky was wearing number 34. Even if you are old enough to remember that day most will not remember that early in his career at Texas Ricky wore number 11. He wore 11 because someone else already had 34 when he arrived at UT.
The other day I was looking at the roster of Duquesne and noticed a bunch of double numbers. This is something I noticed when I was still a collegiate strength coach and thought it was silly. However, this was downright absurd as there were 42 players with jersey numbers from 0-20. Over the last five to ten years, I noticed this trend. Of the 0-20 numbers four of them are triple numbers held by 3 guys. Back in the day you never wanted to have the same number as someone else. Having the same number as someone else meant you were a school start walk on and 1-99 were already taken. It also meant you would never dress for games let alone see the field. There are only two sides of the ball, offense and defense and you can only have one number on the field at a time. Sure, there is special teams, but all of these guys play either O or D first. One year we received a penalty for two people with the same number on the field at the same time on a punt return. This occurred because of an injury to someone, and the sub had the same number as someone else and the coaches didn’t notice. This does not happen when you don’t have double and triple numbers. You never dress 99 players so there is absolutely no need for double numbers. What is the purpose of numbers? To distinguish each player when everyone is wearing the same uniform.
Why would a coach allow this? In my estimation, it is a symptom of coaches being afraid to tell players no. I understand with the transfer portal and NIL coaches are worried about losing players. I believe it is still possible to set boundaries, have rules and hold people accountable. However, that view is increasingly “old school” and lead to conflict in my past role. As Dave Ramsey says, “No is a complete sentence.” This is a symptom of entitlement and coaches being afraid to say No and hold them accountable.
It is ok to say NO! It is ok to have boundaries and hold people accountable. I tried to coach and parent with the philosophy that “It is far better to render beings in your care competent than to protect them.” Jordan Peterson (12 Rules for Life). This framed my training and coaching. The training must be hard and prepare them for a violent, chaotic game and prepare them to endure extreme forces. To many try to do rehab type training but that cannot properly protect them for the violence of the game. This philosophy also meant that I would hold them accountable and have high expectations. This led to conflict as some coaches were afraid to say NO and tried to “protect them” from being upset instead of rendering them competent. Double and triple numbers are a result of entitlement (I want this number and I should not have to wait for it) from the players and lack of boundaries from coaches. That requires a united policy from the coaches or it will not work. It is OK to say No!
The double and triple numbers are just a symptom of a larger problem, a problem of why I am no longer in collegiate coaching.