The restaurant business showed Dan Hinds a glimpse into his future.
He learned about working 60 hours per week, including nights and weekends, and sticking to your guns.
Twenty years ago, Hinds had just finished playing football and earned a business degree from Northern Arizona University. Since he liked Flagstaff, he stuck around for nearly seven years and became involved in restaurant franchising.
Somewhere in that wave of work emerged a desire to teach and coach. As it turns out, similar hours and schedule, less pay.
Dad objected at first, but Bennie Hinds’ lifelong influence — and salary concerns — weren’t enough to sway Dan away this time.
Desert Vista should be thankful they found and stuck with the 2011-2012 Tribune Coach of the Year.
Dan returned to the Valley, student-taught at his alma mater, McClintock (where he caught two touchdown passes and had an interception in the 1980 big-school state championship game playing for Karl Kiefer) and worked as a bottom-rung assistant alongside the late Scot Bemis (also a former Chargers’ player and then-defensive coordinator).
That led to a lower-level assistant spot under Jim Rattay at Desert Vista 15 years ago, and has run the program for the past 11, despite “probably being the most unqualified person in America.”
“I had a guy tell me who’s been around when I took the job, he said you have to approach it as a marathon,” Hinds continued. “You won’t get everything done. Keep working and get better. It’s been a process.”
There have been several proverbial jabs, reminiscent of the Hinds’ boxing days of his youth: A couple personal and familial issues beyond anyone’s control had an effect at one random time or another. A 2-9 season in 2009 crunched by injuries at quarterback, offensive line and defense still sent a faction of Ahwatukee up in arms about Hinds.
There were a couple changes to the staff, and the Thunder rolled on.
“Believe it or not I was able to stay focused,” Hinds said. “I don’t get on blogs and don’t want people to tell me what’s on there because I don’t care. I don’t hear it. I just kept my head down. People took a good look at one season out of a five-year stretch (2006-2010) and it was a bump in the road. If I had one more bad year I might have been in trouble, but we kept moving on.
“I think it defined us. ‘What are you going to do now?’ We came back strong.”
The Thunder has made three semifinals and two championship game appearances since 2007, including the 2011 title. But until D.V. crushed Hamilton in last November’s Division I championship game, many in the East Valley football world viewed D.V. as an underachieving program. That outside perception didn’t figure to change since Hamilton used three big plays in the passing game during a 35-10 win against D.V. in early October.
But a core of his staff (Don Rezac, Greg Battle, Andy Arredondo) has largely been with Hinds since day one, and he let them make a few changes. More importantly, they had little trouble helping their kids buy into the reality that beating a juggernaut was feasible.
“We threw all our game tapes out,” Hinds said. ”We gave up three long balls through the air (in the first meeting) and shored that up. We said we’re not playing the 3-time champions or 53(-game winnning streak). We’re playing 13-0 (Hamilton) vs. 12-1 (D.V.). It was the only tangible evidence we had in our preparation, but we shared everything with (the kids). Once they saw on the field exactly what we thought they were going to see, they were confident.”
It worked again last weekend. After being pushed around in the trenches during the 2011 showcase, a few late roster additions and a mish-mash unit of Arizona’s graduating seniors came together well enough to beat Southern California in the second version of this inter-state All-Star game at Surprise Stadium.
Hinds was asked to coach the team this year and purposefully sought assistants he felt would be void of egos: “We’re not an All-Star team, we’re a team representing Arizona.”
Can it all work again for Hinds and D.V. in 2012? Who knows. Well aware of the “repeat” difficulties, the Thunder enjoyed success at the lower levels the past two years, and like their current junior and senior classes. But a 36-player senior class leaves massive voids to be filled in both abilities and locker room leadership.
Then again, boxers tend to bounce back.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever done anything in my life for 15 years,” Hinds joked. “I’m having a lot of fun. I hope I get to go another 15.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.