Amy’s Friends, No Explanation Needed

Topeka Daily Capital
Oct. 23, 1960

A friend of mine named Amy, who is three years old, has as one of her best friends a man who is an inmate in the state penitentiary in Lansing. It is a friendship built on the simplest sort of foundation. It is a friendship between a man who probably needs friends and a little girl who is overwhelmed by unexpected favors.

It’s a rather long story, and it doesn’t get any shorter the way I tell it. . . .
One of the hardest things about being a college football coach is the ceaseless demand on the coach’s time and patience. He has to appear here, there, and everywhere. He has to be pleasant when he doesn’t feel like it, and often to people he doesn’t really like at all.

He has to practically abandon his family for long periods of time. He, and his family, must become immune to the criticism of a vast army of meatheads known as alumni. Worst of all, he has to win, and the worst thing about losing is that he has to explain to those same meatheads why he lost.

It always has been a mystery to me why a coach likes anybody except his dog, and it always has been significant to me that every coach I know has a dog. . . .

The best thing a football coach can possibly do is in. If he wins, he has a million friends and the money isn’t bad either. Building character and helping boys become men is important, but it is infinitely easier to do while winning.

The coach who said, “Winning isn’t everything – it’s the ONLY thing” wasn’t kidding. A coach doesn’t have to explain why he’s winning, unless the NCAA asks him, and he can get a big kick out of listening to the alumni explain the team’s success to each other.

Wining is so much better than losing that it is no surprise most coaches do almost everything they can to win. It is not my purpose here to condemn or applaud extreme efforts to produce a winner. I merely wanted to point out that the life of a football coach depends on winning.

Generally speaking, during the season the coach has no time for anything except those things that will keep the meatheads from becoming too restless, and things that will help, in some way or other, produce a winner.

If this is true of coaches in general, it is particularly true of the University of Kansas coach, because he works for perhaps the most demanding alumni in the world.

It was a Kansas coach’s wife who went to a movie and said, as the savage hordes descended to sack the town, “Here come the alumni.”

All this should qualify Jack Mitchell as a man completely absorbed in trying to produce a winner, but…

Since the season has started, I’ve learned he corresponds regularly with an inmate in Lansing. They discuss football and other interests they’ve found in common, back and forth. Maybe an inmate and a coach in a tough job have much in common.

The inmate mentioned he read my column and Jack said he knew me. The inmate said he was pretty well taken with the girl named Amy. He wrote, I believe, that “she must be a real little button.” Jack said he knew her too.

One thing led to another. The day before a recent game I received a package from Mitchell. In it was a beautiful hand-tooled purse, made by the inmate for Amy. He’d sent it to Mitchell, and asked that he send it on to me, and to Amy. She has it now.

With it was a letter, in which the inmate said he carried a column about Amy around with him and whenever he needed cheering up he’d get it out and read it.

There was a note from Jack too, which said, “This is a great guy – I want to tell you about him someday.”

This is a strange world. . . . A man with little but time on his hands gets together with a man who hasn’t time, really, for even his family and friends, and they do something for a little girl one of them scarcely knows and the other has never seen. . . .

But I’ll say this – Neither of them will ever have to explain to Amy what went wrong, or why they lost. They’re in solid with her, and nothing will ever change that. . . .

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