Northwest Coach Is Put to the Two-Hat Test

"It's not about me," double-duty coach Andrew Fields tells students. ". . . It's about you doing things the right way all the time." (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
By Preston Williams
Thursday, November 29, 2007

Andrew Fields has spent much of his professional life communicating with young athletes, as an assistant or head coach or as a teacher. He even left an assistant principal job, taking a pay cut of about $38,000, to coach. Standing and speaking in front of kids is what he does.

In his classroom last month at Northwest High School in Germantown, the usually convincing Fields, in his first year as head football coach, met his match. He was trying to explain how he, at the request of Northwest Athletic Director Jim Tapley, was also going to coach the boys' varsity basketball team.

Fields, 35, has plied his trade long enough to know when members of his audience aren't buying what he is selling. The returning basketball players had assumed they would be playing for sixth-year coach Nathan Lewis, and they were trying to make sense of the news that Lewis had resigned.

Fields had never played high school basketball and has been associated with the Northwest football program since the school opened in 1998, so there were plenty of concerned looks as he addressed his new players.

"It was like the room was dark but there was a spotlight on those [returning] guys," Fields said at a recent Saturday morning basketball tryout. "I could see it. I could feel it."

That's why this basketball season at Northwest should be an interesting one, with Fields undertaking the rare twofer of being head coach in the two major boys' sports at a large school in an era of specialization and coaching burnout.

Years ago, at the beginning of his career, Fields served as the junior varsity basketball coach at Poolesville, but he readily acknowledges, "I'm not a basketball guy by nature." At this particular practice, he was wearing a Northwest football shirt. He quoted Vince Lombardi in a huddle. He said he could not name more than three Montgomery County boys' basketball coaches.

Fields is operating under this premise: Coaching is coaching. And there are no basketball banners hanging in the Northwest gym, so how much damage could he do by applying his football management principles to basketball and leaning on new, young assistants Kevin Jones (a Northwest graduate) and Eric Cheeks (a Magruder grad) just as he would offensive and defensive coordinators in football? (Another Northwest grad, C.J. Jenkins, is handling the JV program.)

"That's what I stress to these kids: It's not about me being a basketball genius," said Fields, a Sherwood alumnus who played football at Towson University. "It's about you doing things the right way all the time. If you do that, we will win. If you don't, I could be Pat Riley, and if you want to do your own thing, we're not going to win basketball games."

At an introductory meeting, Fields recalls saying: "You can call me what you want. You can call me a football coach. You can call me a non-basketball coach. But I'll tell you right now, I am a coach. Not only that, I am your coach. And we will win basketball games my way."

At first, the Jaguars thought that Fields would favor his varsity football guys. They soon found that was not the case. Sophomore guard Jarrhett Butler is the only football player on the roster. But their overriding concern was the obvious one.

"I didn't know if a football coach would have the experience to coach a basketball team," junior guard Donte Seraile said. "The little things that a basketball coach is supposed to tell you, like 'do this because of this.' You might not know those things, so he might just say, 'Good job, come back on defense.' Generalizations instead of telling us specific details of what to do."

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