The NCAA News
Pacific Lutheran University’s head football coach Frosty Westering reached a milestone September 20 when he recorded his 300th career victory, solidifying his place as the second-winningest coach in Division III history.
The feat elevated him into a small fraternity of college football coaches who have won at least 300 games — a group that includes Paul “Bear” Bryant, Bobby Bowden, Joe Paterno and Charles “Pop” Warner.
But ask Westering about his accomplishment and he’s likely to brush it aside, instead focusing on how much he loves coaching and his unique philosophy that winning isn’t the most important part of the game. What counts the most, he believes, is what can be achieved when a team works together to be its best.
“One of the keys that’s made it so much fun for me is trying to help players not be afraid to fail,” said Westering, 75, who is retiring this year after more than 40 years of college coaching. “The general model is, if you win you’re everything, if you lose you’re nothing, and so many players when they don’t do well get down on themselves.
“It isn’t so much other critics, it’s that they criticize themselves. So the thing I try to free them up with is, ‘Listen, you don’t really know how good you are. Until you stop criticizing yourself, you’re not going to be the guy you want to be.’ So we work so much on the put-up game of affirming and encouraging and it just helps guys free up so they can play at a level where they haven’t played before.”
Sound unconventional? Maybe, but it works. The Lutes won the Division III Football Championship in 1999, which was the team’s second year in the NCAA. It did so while traveling about 15,000 miles to play all of its playoff games that year on the road.
The school also won NAIA Division II national titles in 1980, 1987 and 1993.
“When (Westering) talks about winning, he doesn’t talk about it from the standpoint of the scoreboard,” said Pacific Lutheran Athletics Director Paul Hoseth, “Yeah, (300 wins) is a big deal but maybe it’s a bigger deal for the rest of us, for players, for former players, for other coaches. He’d probably say that the lives of those in the program are much more important.”
His former players agree.
“Frosty is not a man motivated by winning football games,” said Ryker Labbee, who played for Frosty from 1992 through 1995. “Oh, he still wants to win. He still bleeds football like any other gridiron coach. The difference involves motivation. He may relish winning, but that simply isn’t what motivates his actions — winning is not the ultimate goal.”
Westering, Labbee explained, cares more about the process than the result. If you give it your all, the result will be a positive one, he tells his players.
“While he might not always succeed at doing so, he truly hopes to give whenever he possibly can,” said Labbee. “And that’s perhaps is the greatest lesson he’ll ever teach. You simply cannot always control what you get or have in life, only what you give and experience in the moment. If you do that with your entire being, then you ‘get’ everything you’ll ever really need. There are others who say these words, but fail to put them into practice. The difference with Frosty is that he does.”
Westering, who also is a full professor with a doctorate in education who specializes in sports psychology, admits that his philosophy may be sound eccentric to some. He uses the concept of a red car and a blue car to explain his ideas.
Red, he says, is the most popular color of car and represents the popular model of winning. It’s the model that says the way to truly succeed is to beat others. The trouble, Westering says, is that you have no control over what others do.
Blue, he says, is not as popular a color for cars, but it represents his model of winning. It’s the model that tells players to be the best they can and play as a team to achieve positive results.
“The game is not us against the other team, the game is us against our best self and we don’t know how good that is,” he said. “So many times in games you beat yourself, and so we’re always playing ourselves.”
Scotty Kessler, head football coach at Greenville College (Illinois), played for Westering in 1979 and 1980, and coached with him for many years. He says that he has adopted Westering’s philosophy for his own team.
“Every day my life is impacted through what I learned there, through him, the coaching staff and my teammates,” said Kessler, who has traveled the country trying to promote this philosophy. “It’s really who I am.”
Kessler, who calls Westering the greatest human influence on his life, admits his players don’t always buy into what he’s trying to teach them, but he hopes that in time they’ll see it his way.
“It’s the best way I’ve seen to do it,” he said of Westering’s coaching style. “For me, the vast majority of my football philosophy and life philosophy was built as a core at that place.”
As for Westering, he doesn’t intend to let retirement slow him down. He’s already written one book, called “Make the Big Time Where You Are,” and he says he plans to write a second book, as well as run clinics and impart his knowledge to other coaches. Retirement also doesn’t mean an end to his involvement at Pacific Lutheran — one of his sons and one of his grandsons are coaches there as well.
“I’m getting off one horse and I’m getting on another,” he said. “It’s just been a real wonderful adventure.”