MORRIS: Schmotzer twins have been faces of Coker athletics for almost three decades
04/25/2014 9:51 PM
04/25/2014 9:59 PM
They are identical twins, born five minutes apart and barely separated in the 61 years since. They complete each other’s sentences and shere the same interests, from playing golf to a passion for classic rock music. Both can disarm anyone with terrific senses of humor. Both are veteran coaches.
So when the Schmotzers, Dave and Dan, recently opened the door to Pam’s Restaurant just outside Hartsville on the Bobo Newsome Highway, it was no surprise to their guest for lunch that they were again thinking alike.
“I won’t sign any autographs today,” Dave deadpanned.
“Yeah, I don’t have time for this,” Dan chimed in.
They share the same boisterous laugh.
While autographs are not usually part of the celebrity status the Schmotzers enjoy in Hartsville, the two have established themselves as the faces of Coker College athletes – Dan as the head men’s basketball coach for the past 26 seasons and Dave as the baseball program’s only head coach in 22 seasons.
Lynn Griffin, the Coker College athletics director, is short and direct in her assessment of the impact the Schmotzers have had on the athletics department and the young men they have coached over the years.
“Dave and Dan are Coker College,” Griffin says.
Dan was inducted into the Coker Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012 along with his 1988 team, the first of three over the years that have won at least 20 games in a season. He has coached two All-American players and three Academic All-Americans.
Dave and his 1994 team were inducted into the Coker Athletics Hall of Fame in 2010, which along with the 2013 club advanced to the NCAA Division II College World Series. He has been a conference coach of the year seven times and has coached six All-Americans and one Academic All-American.
In a meeting one recent day in his office, Dave said the twins long ago gave up their dream of coaching at a Division I school with sensational salaries, large staffs and all the perks that go with being in a “big-time” athletics environment. “This,” Dave said of Coker, “is our UCLA, our South Carolina, our Clemson.” A couple of hours later, in a separate meeting in Dan’s office, he talked of his time at Coker and said, verbatim, “This is our UCLA, our South Carolina, our Clemson.”
In making Coker their home, the Schmotzers have gone about steering athletes into their adult lives, making certain every athlete graduates and generally teaching the life lessons learned from their parents growing up in Cleveland, through their counter-culture days attending a small college in Texas, and coaching first in high school and, later, in college.
They do it all with a natural manner that makes anyone around them feel at ease. You can’t help but smile when they greet you, both looking every bit like the crazed, wild-eyed professor played by Christopher Lloyd in the 1985 movie “Back to the Future,” complete with balding head and lengthy silver locks in back.
Christian Stryker, an associate athletics director for external operations at Coker, had the recent misfortunate of wearing a spiffy suit and tie to a couple of separate meetings with the twins. Upon entering Dave’s office, Stryker was greeted by, “Where’d you get that suit, Roses?” Then, upon greeting Dan later, was asked, “That the same suit you wore three times last week?”
Dave keeps a 1966 paperback book by Dusty Boggess titled “Kill the Ump!” prominently displayed in his office. He once wast thrown out of a game against Barton College and promptly left the premises. A few innings later, the umpire thought Dave had returned to the dugout in street clothes, and tossed him out of the game for the second time. The umpire never knew that it was Dan who had replaced his twin in the dugout.
During a recent basketball game at tiny Timberlake-Lawton Gymnasium, which the basketball programs are leaving soon for a new gym across campus, Dan was told by an official that his English-speaking Australian guard Bryce Arnott needed to calm down and curb his tongue.
“I tried to explain to you,” Dan said to the official, “he’s not American.” They both laughed.
Never was Dan more animated than during a basketball game about a decade ago at Erskine. He was upset at an official’s calling of the game and attempted to get his attention, perhaps even draw a technical foul. But the official was having none of it, continuing to ignore Dan’s pleas from the sideline.
Finally, Dan jumped to the scorer’s table and ran atop it all the way down the sideline to the opposing team’s bench. There he leaped off the table “like I was John Travolta in ‘Night Fever,’ ” and still was not whistled for a technical foul as the officials merely shrugged and laughed.
A week ago, Dave concluded a pregame pep talk to his baseball team by asking every player to work his rear end off on the field. Then, he added, “OK, let’s get a gin-and-tonic victory today!”
When asked exactly what that meant, Dave responded: “Something that tastes good. It could be anything, you know, like pumpkin pie!”
Dave’s talk had nothing on the speech his brother gave to the basketball team prior to Coker’s game in January against Catawba. The topic was bullying and Dan’s attempt to get his team to play more aggressively. He began by talking about growing up on West 49th Street in Cleveland and the daily encounter on the way to St. Boniface School with a bully named Al Hudson, who was four or five years older than the Schmotzers.
The rambling story told of how Hudson once made Dan stand on a model car that had a couple of M-80 fireworks attached to it. When the fireworks exploded, Dan was off to the hospital with plastic embedded in his ankle. Other times, the bigger and badder Hudson simply beat the snot out of Dan.
One day, Dan said he decided to challenge Hudson, and again was on the losing end of a fistfight. Mind you, the West Side suburb of Cleveland was where, according to Dave, “your Facebook was your right fist, and you tweeted with your left.”
“I’ll tell you what the moral to the story is,” Dan told his team, whose members waited in breathless anticipation. “Don’t mess with Al Hudson!”
To which the team exploded in laughter. In one stroke of genius, the coach had removed every last air of tightness that might have engulfed his team. The players exchanged hand slaps and departed the locker room laughing and popping one another on the back.
Playing loose, Coker dismantled Catawba by 19 points.
Dave loves to boast that he is the older of the brothers.
“In five minutes, he’ll be as wise as I am, but he’ll never be as cool,” Dave says to anyone who inquires, or not. Then, he launches into a tale about the twins’ birth.
“I remember coming out of the womb and being slapped, and I vividly recall all the nurses and the doctors in that room stood up and gave a standing ovation,” he begins. “They looked at my mother and said, ’How can you have such a pretty boy?’
“Then, all of a sudden, five minutes later, here comes Dan trucking through. He was coined, ’The Mistake on the Lake,’ being that we lived off Lake Erie. He was delivered, and the doctor looked at the baby and instead of slapping him to life, looked at my mother and slapped my mother and said, ’How can you have such an ugly kid?’ ”
Presumably since birth, the Schmotzers have been carrying on that way.
Ray Schmotzer was a long-time switchman for Penn Central Railroad in Cleveland who spent most of his spare time with his four boys by coaching youth league baseball. Throughout their childhood, Laverne Schmotzer piqued her two daughters’ – and ultimately her sons’ – interest in music by providing LPs for the family record player.
For 35 years, Laverne also was general manager for food services at Municipal Stadium when it was home to Cleveland’s pro sports teams. The six children got the run of the stadium for sporting events and concerts, learning to idolize Jim Brown of the football Browns and Rocky Colavito of the baseball Indians with the same reverence as the Rolling Stones and Blue Oyster Cult.
Pickup games in whatever sport fit the season were plentiful in the German Catholic neighborhood where families like the Schmotzers, with six children, were average in size. Early on, it became obvious that Dave and Dan were exceptional athletes.
In 2010, the twins were inducted into the Padua Franciscan High School Athletic Hall of Fame for their exploits as a point guard and shooting guard on the basketball court and double-play combination on the baseball diamond. Although they broke their father’s heart by not pursuing the priesthood, the twins at least attended a Catholic college.
They arrived in 1970 at St. Edwards College in Austin, Texas, fresh off their first airplane flight and in full rebel mode, replete with bell-bottom pants and shoulder-length hair.
“You had these values, but with Kennedy being shot and Kent State, you start to question everything because this country is going south somewhere, man,” Dave says. “You don’t question your parents, you question their values. Then, you start fighting that.”
Don Amaral, a Coker trustee and volunteer assistant baseball coach to Dave the past two seasons, was a baseball teammate of the Schmotzers for a year at St. Edwards.
“They were wide open,” Amaral says. “It’s so different watching them now because they were absolute hell-raisers then.”
Amaral tells of when the entire St. Edwards dormitory, where the brothers lived, was awakened at 1 in the morning to the rumble of dirt bikes . . . in the hallway. It seems the Schmotzers hopped on their bikes, road up two flights of stairs, down the hallway, back down another set of stairs and into the men’s room. They conducted their business, revved the bikes back up and rode off.
During summers, the Schmotzers returned like all Cleveland-area college baseball players to play in the Cleveland Plain Dealer Triple-A League. A high grade of ball was played there before the Cape Cod League and other such circuits sprouted across the country.
They kept records, too, and one summer Dave set the league’s all-time mark for stolen bases in a season. The record-shattering “theft” of second base really was no steal at all since the pitch skipped away from the catcher and should have been ruled either a wild pitch or passed ball. At least that is what Dave’s teammates thought, and he endured their mock cheers and heckling as he stood at second base.
On the next pitch, Dave ran back to first base. Then, on the following pitch, he legitimately stole second base, and yelled to his teammates: “You want to talk to me now about that record?”
By their junior year at St. Edwards, the Schmotzers’ rebellious nature finally caught up to them. They might have been spending too much time listening to the likes of Jerry Jeff Walker and Frank Zappa at the Armadillo World Headquarters music venue. Or, it could be that Dave refused to trim his locks to the liking of head baseball coach Tom Hamilton. Or, maybe it was because Dan complained to Hamilton about playing time.
Whatever the reason, both were booted off the team. Then, the following fall, Hamilton died of a heart attack while officiating a high school football game. Only when the Schmotzers’ dad was hired as the new St. Edwards baseball coach did the two sons get reinstated to the team.
That hair was an issue with Dave at St. Edwards became interesting by the 2013 Coker baseball season.
Early in that season, Dave’s players began growing their hair out. By the time Coker reached the College World Series, they resembled the old House of David touring team with beards and flowing locks.
No doubt, remembering his past, Dave says he never has had a “hair rule” with his team. “You better go to class,” he says. “You better be on time. You better take your cap off when you eat. You better pass a drug test. You better, you better.” When asked his rules for the basketball team, Dan reels off virtually the same list of “you betters.”
The two began to establish the same rules they fought in college when they landed their first job out of St. Edwards, as coaches at Trinity High School in Cleveland. Chuck Preiffer, a family friend and later a coach in the NFL, set up an interview for the Schmotzers with the school’s head nun, Sister Catherine (Britton).
This was 1974, and the twins rode into town from Texas in a Volkswagen hippie van, wild hair flying in the wind. Dan wore a Nehru jacket to the interview that made him look like a priest. Dave was resplendent in a lemon-lime leisure suit with a white belt and white shoes that made him look like Ken “Hawk” Harrelson of Cleveland Indians fame. They got the jobs, then Sister Catherine wanted to know which Schmotzer would coach which sport.
Finally, Sister Catherine flipped a coin. Dan coached basketball, and Dave got baseball. The two would be assistant coaches for the other, until the first baseball season when Dave fired Dan. It seems that Dan took off on spring break, foregoing his assistant coaching duties.
After five years at Trinity High, Dan landed a job as an assistant basketball coach at Texas Christian University. A year later, Dave followed, even though there was no job for him at TCU. He started out getting a $500-a-month stipend to assist with the baseball program.
In addition to learning the ropes of college coaching, the Schmotzers also landed their wives in Texas. Dave met Brenda at a Fort Worth restaurant. Dan met Shelia when he wooed both her and her 7-foot brother, Greg Grissom, from Longview, Texas, to TCU. Both remain married. Brenda is a retired school teacher, and Shelia runs Dizzy Dancin Studio in Hartsville.
Shortly after Dan left TCU to become the head basketball coach in 1987 at Coker, Dave took the head baseball coaching position at Union (Ky.) College. Following his third season at Union, Dan called to tell his brother that Coker was starting a baseball program.
When Dave arrived, Coker did not have a baseball field, just an empty pasture and a load of dreams. With the financial backing of former Coker trustee Tom New, Dave went about building the stadium, complete with an incline – like Cincinnati’s old Crosley Field – instead of an outfield warning track and a Wrigley Field-like lining of bushes around the outfield fence.
Dave has been the program’s head groundskeeper ever since, and team members are his crew. Not to be one-upped by his brother, Dan always has stayed around after home basketball games to personally wash all of his players uniforms.
For more than two decades each, the Schmotzers have established themselves as Coker teachers both in the physical education classes they instruct at the college and on the athletic fields.
“They come off as goofballs,” says Amaral, the former college teammate and longtime friend of the twins, “but they’re so serious about their business.”
Amaral tells of how Dave has not missed a single day of teaching in the classroom in 22 years. He tells of how Dan constantly encourages basketball players from broken families. It might be, Dan reasons, the only time the athlete has been told he is not a bad kid.
Dan went through a particularly stressful period from 1998 through 2003 when he also coached the Coker men’s golf team. “I was getting 6-foot-8 golfers and 5-foot-8 basketball players. It wasn’t working,” Dan says by way of brushing off a period that sent his basketball program into a tailspin of nine losing seasons among 11.
Through it all, both Dan and Dave continued to leave lasting impressions on their athletes.
Dan recruited Dan Shanks 20 years ago out of Muncie, Ind., via Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy. Early during his Hall of Fame career at Coker, Shanks remembers one of Schmotzer’s sons attending a speech by Michael Jordan. At some point during the question-and-answer session, young Jereme Schmotzer asked the basketball star who had the greatest influence on his life.
Jordan responded that it was Dean Smith, Jordan’s college coach at North Carolina. Shanks, who today is Coker’s athletic development officer, has the same response.
“That’s what coach has been to me,” Shanks says of Dan. “It sounds hyperbolic, but it’s not. Aside from my mother and Jesus Christ, he’s had the greatest influence on my life. A great friend, a great teacher, great coach.”
Shanks says he learned upon his arrival at Coker that Dan possessed the teaching traits of legendary college basketball coach John Wooden, and the charisma and enthusiasm for basketball of the late Jim Valvano.
Not surprisingly, that is virtually the same way baseball players describe Dave, even though they usually admit to needing an adjustment period to deal with the Schmotzers’ sometimes unorthodox teaching and coaching methods.
Ernie Kirkwood came two seasons ago to Coker from Niagara (N.Y.) County Community College. During a game early last season, Dave signaled for Kirkwood to execute a sacrifice bunt. When Kirkwood failed in his first two attempts, Schmotzer called timeout and replaced him, doing so in the middle of the at-bat.
“In a matter of eight months I went from hating his guts to loving him like a father,” Kirkwood says. “He’s one of a kind. You’ve got to love him.”
Actually, the Schmotzers are two of a kind.
A year ago when Dave’s baseball team was surging to its appearance in the College World Series, Dan was approached by a fan on a downtown Hartsville sidewalk.
“How’s that baseball program, going?” the fan inquired.
“We’re doing great,” Dan responded without hesitation.
His brother, no doubt, was smiling in his baseball office.
Dan Schmotzer - Coker College’s head men’s basketball coach
Dave Schmotzer -- Coker College’s head baseball coach
About Ron Morris
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