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Courtesy Matt Wells
Utah State head coach Matt Wells, second from left, and his brother Luke, far left, with his mother and father. Jim Wells passed away about a month ago at age 72, but he was the No. 1 fan of both Aggie coaches.

Real Salt Lake head coach Mike Petke’s father worked the 3 a.m. shift for the Long Island Railroad so he could be there to greet his children when they arrived home from school.

Utah State head football coach Matt Wells’s dad was never too tired after a long day of work to play catch in the back yard or take his boys to the track for a workout.

And Utah women’s basketball coach Lynne Roberts’s father provided her the framework that she uses for managing people as a college basketball coach.

Whether they intend to or not, dads have an ability to shape their children in ways both subtle and significant. Some are full of wit and wisdom, while others send a powerful message with a disciplined, generous life.

Kearns head football coach Matt Rickards said most of the lessons he learned from his father were offered by his actions.

“Out of high school, I helped my dad coach my little brother's 10-year-old baseball team,” Rickards said of his father, Ken. “Late in the season, we had a tight game, your typical bases loaded, two-out scenario. Up to bat was a kid who wasn’t very good. In fact, he’d never played baseball before and could barely hit off a tee.

“We’d worked with him hard at practice, and he just wasn’t getting it yet. In a time out, I asked my dad if we should sub him. My dad said no, that it was his at-bat.

“That kid hit a ball down the third base line and scored the winning run. I will never forget his face, and what that meant to him. I learned from my dad that the most important thing is not winning, but what a person can become and the experiences that they can have.”

Wells lost his father just a month ago, and he choked back emotion as he considered all the ways his father, Jim, impacted the man he tries to be each day.

“There were a lot of things he taught me, but two that have really stuck with me,” he said. “The first thing is to have a genuine care and respect for people, and finding the good in every person you’re around. He also taught me a work ethic that was basically set your dreams big and work every day like it depends on you. Don’t cut any corners.”

Wells said his father “epitomized” embracing the grind, and he said he supported his sons’ dreams by “not letting me give into a weak mind.”

Courtesy Matt Wells
Matt Wells with his father, Jim Wells, who always had time to help his boys train, despite long work days.

In losing his father, he lost his No. 1 fan.

“He was a guy who would work all day, and the minute he got home, he took us to the track and made us run, made us compete,” he said of training with his brother, Luke. “He coached our baseball teams, and he always had time, as soon as he got home from work to play catch in the backyard.”

Salt Lake Community College softball coach Cyndee Bennett said her father wasn’t about to let his daughter waste her softball talent.

“The only reason I got a scholarship to the University of Utah was because of my dad,” Bennett said. “He caught (for) me six days a week, usually, from the time I was 10 until I ended up (pitching) on the campus at the U.”

Bennett said she didn’t initiate the practices, and she didn’t entirely appreciate what her dad, Roger, was offering.

Courtesy Bennett family
SLCC softball coach Cyndee Bennett and her father, Roger.

“We fought every single day about it,” she said. “Sometimes he would give me incentives. Sometimes he would drag me out by my ponytail. The best way to get me out there was to say, ‘I bet so and so is pitching right now.’ Through all the fighting and arguing, he never gave up, and I received a scholarship to my dream school. When I got old enough to appreciate what he’d done for me, I wrapped my arms around him and thanked him and told him I loved him.”

But the lessons her father taught her weren’t all sports-related. The family lived in California when Bennett was younger, and the family had the same car as their LDS Bishop — an ‘88 Caprice.

“One Sunday, we noticed that our bishop’s car was missing a hubcap,” Bennett said. “Well, my dad grew up during the Depression, so he had two of everything. That night we got into the car and snuck up to the bishop’s house. We turned off the car lights, and my dad ran out of the car, pounded on a new hubcap and we sped off. That must be where I get my athleticism from!”

Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke learned more from the life his father lived than any advice Ed Petke offered.

“He was the epitome of a blue-collar person,” Petke said. “It might not mean much to some people, but the biggest lessons I’ve learned from him were not from anything he said but how he lived his life.” When he thinks of his father, who worked his way up from an entry-level job at the railroad to a head conductor, he sees resilience, commitment and toughness.

“He worked for over 30 years, and he took less than seven sick days,” he said. “He had a terrible back, and to see him, every day in agony up at 3 a.m. to go to work, working the earliest shift, so he could be home when we got home from school, that’s definitely something I carry with me, for sure.”

Ed Petke also offered him advice about conflict that has become a critical piece of the coach’s daily life.

“He warned me, ‘Never hit first’, meaning don’t be a bully, try to resolve things, but always defend yourself,” Petke said. “And be the last man standing. Growing up in Long Island, I’ve been a lot of scrapes, and with the exception of one time when I was really small, I’ve never hit first, and I’ve been the last man standing. That shaped me more more than the (literal) meaning. It has to do with standing your ground and what your beliefs are.”

Roberts said her father was a “military brat” as her grandfather spent his career in the Navy. Don Roberts went on to become an officer in the U.S. Army and is a veteran of the Vietnam War. In his 35-year career with Driscoll's Strawberries, his leadership style was infused with military influence.

“He created ‘Roberts Rules of Operational Management,’ and they’re pretty amazing, funny and relevant to my job now,” Roberts said. “I have them printed and on my desk and always have had them (displayed), ever since I became a head coach.”

Every time Roberts is headed to a big game, her father will text her the last line of his rules, “Don’t forget your smoke grenade!”

“The point is just always have a backup plan to get out of trouble,” she said.

Courtesy Lynne Roberts
Utah head women's basketball coach Lynne Roberts, 1982, enjoying a camping trip with her father, Don Roberts.

Utah Warriors Coach Alf Daniels said his father, Jeff, delivered powerful lessons with the way he lived his life.

“We didn’t have a lot of chats,” Daniels said. “The biggest thing I learned from my dad, well there were two things. One was his work ethic. He was a very hardworking man. And I never heard my father speak an ill word about any person, at all in his life. Those are the two big lessons that stand out about him.”

Morgan volleyball coach Liz Wiscombe said that when she thinks about what she’s learned from her father, one thing stands out.

“The one thing I think of is, ‘An honest full days work, for a full day’s pay.’ It sounds old-school, but he was just a great example of that work ethic to me.”

Comment on this story

Even if they deliver inspiring peptalks, most dads instilled their most important lessons through the lives they live. That’s true of my own father. It was in watching him that I learned that hard work was its own reward, that life was a contact sport, and that if nothing is bleeding or broken then it was best to carry on without any drama.

The best piece of advice my dad gave me was something he repeated every time I tried to explain why I couldn’t be held responsible for some failure or mistake. In deference to my mother — and my employer — it has been edited for publication.

“Excuses are like (rear ends),” Dan Donaldson would say, squinting his eyes like Clint Eastwood so that I felt the heat of his gaze penetrating my soul. “Everybody has one, and no one is interested in hearing about yours.”