The Mother's Perspective

She's the Signal Caller Father, Son Answer To

Father and son pair Bill and Bryn Renner talk about their relationship as coach and starting quarterback of the West Springfield High School football team.
By Preston Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Former Fresno State football coach Jim Sweeney once fielded a phone call on his radio show from a woman who wondered if another quarterback would ever get playing time while Kevin Sweeney, the coach's son, was in the Bulldogs' program.

"Not as long as I'm sleeping with his mother," Sweeney replied.

When a high school quarterback's father is his head coach, the son answers to his dad on the field for hours a day, weeks at a time. Around the house, they might both answer to mom, who wants to be kept in the loop about team business but also make sure that football is kept in perspective, and that her living room does not become a satellite locker room.

Kathy Thompson, wife of Stone Bridge Coach Mickey Thompson and mother to senior sons Patrick and Zach, set some ground rules when her boys reached high school and were playing for their father.

"I want you to be a coach at school and a dad at home," she said she told her husband. "I don't want it to be their life. If you want to yell at them and scream at them from a football sense, it should be on the field, but not both places."

It's been harmonious at the Thompson home, with the football talk being mostly conversational. But when Patrick was trying last summer to play quarterback for the first time, Kathy wondered aloud why he should move from tight end, a position where he had been so successful. Was her boy being set up to fail?

Mickey Thompson left Patrick's development up to his staff, mostly, but it was the head coach who would be peppered with questions at home.

Kathy: "So what are they saying about Patrick?"

Mickey: "They're not saying anything."

Kathy: "Why don't you ask them?"

Mickey: "They'll tell me when they need to tell me."

That's not what inquiring minds want to hear.

Cindy Renner, whose husband, Bill, coaches at West Springfield and whose son, Bryn, is the Spartans' quarterback, can relate. She grew up in a football household. Her father, Ken Dobson, was the coach at Pulaski County High School for years.

As a coach's daughter, she is not above asking her husband if he has pored over enough game film on the upcoming opponent. And like Kathy Thompson, she wants details on how things are going, particularly with her boy. Her son and husband are not particularly generous sources.

On game nights, home and away, Cindy Renner hangs about 80 orange and navy balloons around the stadium as a way to ease her mind. She learned from her mother to not sit with the other parents for the entire game, mainly so that the spectators have the opportunity to yell at her husband if they want to. The worse the game is going, the more she migrates.

"I would say it's probably harder on her than anybody, and sometimes we're not as sensitive to that as we need to be," Bill Renner said with a laugh. "We're just so focused that she may be really worried about stuff, and if we would just talk to her a little more she maybe wouldn't worry so much. It's just that little bit of extra information about how he's playing or how the team's doing. She'd worry either way, but we could do better there."

Last year, Cindy Renner's son was taking over a high-powered offense from a quarterback, Peter Lalich, who had departed for the University of Virginia. She knew how much succeeding under center meant to Bryn. As a young child he would stand up his crayons 11 on 11. He would ask her to time him getting ready for school. And he cried when the doctor predicted that he would grow to be only 5 feet 11. "I have to be able to see over the line, Mom!" he wailed.

But even more gratifying than watching him lead the Spartans to a Division 6 Northern Region final appearance was watching her husband and son work so closely together, one calling the plays and the other executing them, two analytical minds in tandem -- or trying to be -- just like they are at home in front of the TV.

"For my two, it's definitely brought them closer together for a lifetime," Cindy Renner said. "Forever they'll be quarterback and coach, just watching games."

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