Steve Charles—With the exception of the Monon Bell Game, Little Giant football isn’t the beat I cover here for Public Affairs. And even at that Game, my assignment is “crowd shots.”
At Homecoming, I don’t take game or queen contest photos. I photograph Wamidan, the Jazz Band, Brass Ensemble, and the Glee Club at that evening’s Homecoming Concert.
No one on our staff should have less to say about the departure of Chris Creighton. No one knows less about him as a football coach.
But I do know and respect him as a teacher and mentor. And the first time I caught a glimpse of that was, strangely enough, in my arts beat over at Salter Hall.
Little Giant quarterback Russ Harbaugh ’05 had just finished showing one of his documentary films, either Beside Myself, Russ’s film that traced the history of Wabash’s study of coeducation and the controversies surrounding those studies, or Thy Loyal Sons, the film he completed his senior year. I can’t remember which, as Creighton saw them both.
I do remember thanking Chris for attending the screening, which I realized, almost as soon as I said it, was a little like thanking a father for coming to his son’s play. But Chris was gracious, said he “wouldn’t miss it.”
Chris would later say that the experience of making that film and the response it received from the Wabash community contributed as much if not more to Russ’s confidence and remarkable senior year on the football field than any training or change of technique.
Chris sees his players not just as athletes, not just as students, but as human beings. His approach to the College’s mission to educate mind, body, and spirit is among the most holistic I’ve seen in 10 years at Wabash. He understands that men often bond most strongly working alongside one another, and that young men, particularly those of us who are kinesthetic or tactile learners, learn best not while we’re sitting on our butts in the classroom, or even engaged in debate afterward, but while we’re on the move, when we’re doing something, putting what we’ve learned into tangible, physical practice.
The football team’s 2006 immersion trip to Panama exemplified that understanding and approach. Ostensibly a trip to play a football game in Panama, Creighton, history professor Rick Warner and their colleagues shaped it into service learning/immersion trip with a football game at the end.
“Something extraordinary has happened to 39 of our students this week,” wrote Warner of the trip. “They have become immersed in a society considerably different than their own, rubbing shoulders with ordinary people in a developing country. Most importantly, they have reflected on the value of working toward an understanding of a different culture.”
This wasn’t just a coach making sure his students were doing well in the classroom; this was a coach extending that classroom into the world.
I believe coaches and professors can learn much from each other about the most effective ways to reach and teach Wabash students, and I believe all of us who care about teaching and learning could have learned from Chris Creighton. The good news is that history professor Rick Warner, Creighton’s partner in crime on the Panama trip, has just been granted tenure, so that learning is still possible.
As Rick has written, “I’ve realized that there are fruitful ways that professors and coaches can work as partners in bringing the world to our students. Not only do we teach the same students, but important life lessons well beyond the realms of academics and athletics can be learned when such partnerships are forged.”
The photograph of Coach Creighton I’ve included here reminds me of this holistic approach he brought to Wabash. Not wearing a headset or Wabash coach’s shirt, he’s on the sidelines of a different sort in this picture I took last spring at Commencement. Chris was watching and listening intently as Patrick Millikan ’07, the Little Giant lineman and NCAA Postgraduate Scholar, one of those 39 men on the Panama trip, delivered his 2007 Commencement Address.
“Proud of him?” I asked as Patrick finished and his coach and teacher applauded.
Chris just nodded and said, “Sure gonna miss him.”