The only constant is change |

The only constant is change

Jim Adams
Sports Columnist

There is the age-old adage: "The only thing constant is change."

Indeed, we are challenged to be change-masters. We are encouraged to embrace it and make it work for us in new ways, unique ways, perhaps unconventional ways.

Yet it comes with challenges, hurdles and sometimes even consternation.

Dennis Houlihan is the man for the job as the new head coach of Nevada Union football. He is a "youth" advocate. He helps them make the transition from boys to men. He has a deliberate, dedicated style. He gets students to "buy in." He makes them part of the process. Dedicated to winning, his first priority is to deliver life's lessons. Dennis Houlihan is a life-changer.

When he was approved as the coach of Nevada Union football, he stepped into a job for which he had been mentioned for many years. The people who know football said he was the man once legend Dave Humphers stepped down.

Somehow, it happened. Despite a good dose of Nevada County gossip and tongue-wagging, Houlihan is the right choice. He is a good man. He has changed so many students' lives. His pedigree reads like a "who's who" of youth sports. Simply stated, he has touched many in an appropriate and positive way.

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So, he takes the helm of what is arguably Nevada County's most scrutinized sports program. In the past, Nevada Union has largely been defined by Miner football. It is a source of pride that spreads throughout the state of California. When one travels places and speaks of Nevada Union football, those in the know raise eyebrows.

Houlihan almost immediately called in some favors. He recruited coaches who have long been associated with success. In some cases, he brought them out of retirement. His request was not for a mere one-year cameo appearance. He thinks ahead. Houlihan looks long term.

So change begins. The curtain rises on the Houlihan era in moments.

Three of the coaches he recruited were Ernie Flores, John Keith and Curtis Smith. Truth be known, they all itched to get back on the field. It did not take much head coach arm-twisting. They were game for another shot.

Watch for a slightly new scheme. The old wing-T is back. There will be no shotgun. It will be a game of total deception.

Keith commented, "Dennis wants to get all of the plays perfect. They will have it all down."

Flores spoke of how it will be an offense re-focused on the run, one in which the pass is secondary.

Smith offered, "That will give us an edge. They will underestimate it."

Most look at this as a rebuilding year. Wins may be tough, especially in the grueling Sierra Foothill League. It offers up some of the most difficult opponents in the Sacramento area. Some have said that if the team wins more than it loses, it will be looked upon as a positive start.

Keith offered, "We are here to compete. This will be a good year. We are starting a three- to five-year plan. This squad is getting re-invested in the community. It is an old-school, back-to-basics approach."

Smith looks at it differently.

He commented, "We are going to regroup and teach them how to be good, young men."

This may well be the wild card in this zany equation.

Smith spoke of how he has never seen a team with so many coachable kids. He mentioned how impressed he was.

Flores discussed how much they all love football and Nevada Union. He chimed in about how important it is to want to help the players succeed.

They spoke of how they missed coaching and the players. It seemed crucial that they educate them more in life's lessons than football. Flores quietly spoke of how he missed the opportunity to make a difference. He is humbled to again have the chance to make his mark with students.

At the helm is Houlihan. He has defined clear expectations of the team and coaches. He is orchestrating a new direction, bringing in his own system. He is described as tough but fair. Houlihan is a no-nonsense guy. He keeps his coaches and players accountable.

Yet he maintains unwavering rapport. It is a reflection of his glory days that he spent starring as an NU football player. Some will assert that this gives him a unique perspective on how to get the program to where it needs to be.

Some players came back on a behavioral contract. There are those who hinted they should not play. Yet Houlihan views it differently. He is smart enough to know that he has the ability to turn it around, to change lives. His system is working so far.

Part of his mantra involves hard-nosed, focused football. He is developing a team that will love bad weather. They will enjoy playing in mud but will savor a driving snow storm. It is an atmosphere of hard work and accountability.

Yes, the only thing constant really is change. For NU football, it is a bevy of new faces complemented by veteran contributors. The atmosphere will be different. The tenor is unique.

There is skepticism that this will be the year. There is confidence that the long-term journey is beginning. This will be a blue-collar, cantankerous squad. Win or lose, it will bring a work ethic that is unique.

Nevada Union football would have it no other way.

Jim Adams lives in Nevada City and is a regular contributor to The Union and a broadcaster for TouchDown Productions. Contact him at

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