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A coach's impact: letter from a former player

We post dozens of coaching transactions every week on The Scoop and, especially at this time of year, a lot of the reports we share aren't happy ones. Coaches move on, sometimes by choice and somtimes by choices made for them. It's unpleasant, but it's the nature of the business.

One of the transactions we noted Monday was the retirement of Jim Dennison. Dennison was the head coach at Akron from 1973-85 and until yesterday was the only head coach Walsh University, a Division II program in Ohio, had ever known. Dennison helped found the program in 1995 and led the Cavaliers to 119 wins. 

Due to the sheer volume of news items we post, we simply can not detail the impact and accomplishments of every coach we mention. The Scoop would simply become unreadable otherwise. But Monday night we received a note from one of Dennison's former players that we had to share:

Since Coach Dennison has announced his retirement, I felt it necessary to write this.

When I was being recruited from 2001-2002 I was promised many things, instant playing time, a favorable class schedule, brand new facilities, etc. I was a borderline scholarship player, and several Division I schools had wanted me to come in as a preferred walk-on promising me a scholarship after a year. I had made a choice on a college when I got a call from a coach at Walsh University. I talked to my high school coach, who is like another father to me, about the new development. He said, “I don’t know anything about the school, but I do know Jim Dennison is known as a man of character who plays good, traditional football.” Based on this alone, I went on a visit to Walsh in January of 2002. 

After the standard tour, which I had gotten at a dozen other schools, I was led into Coach Dennison’s office, expecting to hear the same lines I’d heard a million times before. Coach Dennison told my mother and myself that he couldn’t promise anything in football, that it was all up to me. What he did promise was positive support, a family atmosphere, and a solid education, and when I graduated he would personally help me find a job. I left his office, got in the car, and told my mother this is the man I wanted to play for and the school I wanted to attend.

When I arrived eight months later, every word he had told me had been held true. He had done everything possible to foster a sense of family and stayed positive throughout camp. On August 20, 2002, my life forever changed. I suffered a severe knee injury and in a moment, my playing career was over. When I got to the hospital, I was told that I might lose my leg and I would probably never walk again. These are tough facts to face when you are 19 years old and you feel as if your life has just started. Coach Dennison was one of the first people at the hospital after my mother arrived. He was followed by every assistant coach on the staff and then by seniors who barely knew my name. He assured my mother that I would remain on scholarship for as long as it took for me to graduate, which he honored.

A few weeks later, I arrived on campus to find out that Coach Dennison had coordinated with the Department of Student Affairs to move me to a handicap accessible dorm room, had moved my schedule to accommodate rehab, had gotten teachers to come to my dorm room to get me caught up, and had a spot for me as a student assistant coach. I worked as a student assistant coach for four years under Dennison and never once did he break his word, bend his morals, or treat the coaching profession with anything less than the utmost dignity and class.

I am successful today in a large part because of the example that Jim Dennison set for me. The coaching profession is losing one bright, shining star today, but the legacy of coaches that have learned under Dennison will remain forever. I felt the need to share my story to really put words to a blurb on a ticker. This isn’t a guy deciding to move on, this was a true molder of men who personified class, character, and dignity. 

As an alumnus of Walsh University, the school will be hard pressed to find a man like Dennison.

- Tim Foor

With so much unfortunate news to come over the following weeks and months, we thought it important to highlight the positive impact of one of the many coaches that will not return to their teams next season.