MANITOU SPRINGS — This past spring, Justin Armour decided to get back into the world of high school coaching. He spent two years as the head football coach at his alma mater of Manitou Springs before stepping down to open a restaurant in his hometown.
This winter, he'll roam the sidelines as the Mustangs' girls basketball coach.
It's been quite a ride for the 2011 CHSAA hall of fame inductee. After a star-studded career with the Mustangs he found college football success at Stanford. Then he made his way to the NFL.
As one of the rare standouts who has reached the highest level of athletic success, he was able to look back at how high school sports worked in his day and how today they're better in some ways and not as good in others.
Question: What's the biggest thing you expect in your second go around as a varsity head coach?
Armour: Probably less surprises. Just from an administrative point of view and the handling of communication with the parents and all that will be a lot easier.
Football is different venture. It's more complex on a day-to-day basis. There's a lot more film review required, there's a lot more strategic planning for a particular opponent each week. That's why you have the collaboration of all these coaches and it's a much larger process than playing basketball.
I don't expect it to be quite as much (of a time commitment) as being the head coach of football requires. Obviously I have a vested interest in that I get to be around my daughter and her friends that all play basketball that I've been coaching for a while.
Probably the most important thing that I expect is that I didn't just move here. I was trying to open a restaurant with my family. I wasn't just starting to work full-time (at the school district). Now I'm just running a business, spending a lot more time with my family. It's a much better time-management time of my life to be doing this.
Q: You're now pulling double duty as a parent and a coach. Between those two, what do you see now from kids, parents or coaches in general that you've from or used as an example of what not to do?
Armour: I would say my coaching style has matured for sure. It's from observing parents, observing other coaches - particularly good coaches.
I've definitely become less feisty, or tried to, and stopped blaming officials or other factors in the game other than how you're team is playing. I've kind of matured to and become much more friendly with officials and the environment instead of going in there with a hot head of steam wanting to compete.
It's funny how it's taken a while. I'm 44 now, so I'm mellowing out for sure.
Q: Back when you were 17 or 18, could have imagined that the high school sports world would blow up to the size it is now with 24-hour recruiting services and kids who are always looking for the next best offer?
Armour: Not so much. It's funny, because I always tell the kids that I got through college basically without the internet. It pretty much arrived right when I got out.
Back then you had fewer teams, very select tournaments. Not as many kids traveling.
You certainly played against teams with superstars, kids who were really good and really great shooters. Nowadays every player on every team is good. Really good. I think the competition is way better. It's much more available. It's available all year long, through every season.
So that and the fact that everyone communicates immediately, it's a frenzy. Once you get on the field level or the court level, I don't know, I don't think it's that different.
You have kids that love it and some that don't. The kids that love it are fun to coach.
Q: What was your decision-making process like compared to what it is today? Now, kids announce what they do on Twitter. What was happening in 1990 or 1991 when you decided to sign and play football at Stanford? How did people hear about it?
Armour: That's a good question. I would say, honestly the majority of the people who knew me or followed me found out through the newspaper.
That's a good question...
My family knew immediately. Probably some of my best friends. I'm sure it spread through my own close-knit circle.
My only concern with these kids is that they have to remember that they have to remain personable with these people. Communicating via text, especially emotional things or important things, really diminishes the value of what you're saying.
Of course, you're always giving these kids your corny speeches over dinner and whatever chance you get. I think they're listening.
Q: Going to Stanford, going to the NFL, sometimes people don't grasp how rare and unique of a situation that is. What do you tell your kids and the kids you coach when they tell you that they want to reach such a high level?
Armour: I think that my main thing would be that a lot of things have to come together for a student-athlete to get that opportunity.
In my case, one of my recruiters told me that my academics, my grade-point-average, my test scores and really all the participation in all the things that my school offered - school plays, student council - basically said that it was a slam dunk application.
So that piece has to be in place. And then you have to have some gifts in place that hopefully you've worked on and developed enough that they want those too.
That has to happen.
If a kid really wants to create that opportunity for himself, he really has to learn to want it early. In high school, you really have to keep all your ducks in a row at school.
And then maybe if you're good enough, you practice hard enough and you want it badly enough you can get a chance to go play and someone will pay for your college tuition and education.
I wish I had been more organized about it or more aware of what was happening.
I didn't really have have much of a college plan per se. I thought I'd just go to business school or law school basically. So my undergraduate degree was in public policy, which I was drawn to and what I was interested in.
But beyond that, I didn't have much of a plan.
There's a lot of race to nowhere going on with these parents and these kids. I feel like we're overdoing it, putting them in these camps and tournaments everywhere and spending a lot of money with no guarantee of a return.
You have to look at your kids and see if they're having fun. Are they looking forward to this? Are they excited to go to Wisconsin and compete or whatever you're doing.
If the kid is excited and passionate about it, then support him and go for it. But I'd encourage parents to not corner their kid into things that they don't have passion for.
You have to like practice, you have to like the process of it.
Q: So as a parent, how do you deal with that when it comes to your own kids?
Armour: It's tough. It's very tough. They know who I am as an adult. They know my personality isn't that much different. I'm kind of a charger-like person. My wife is laid back, my son is a blend of our personality and so is my daughter.
I feel like if anything, and my kids will attest to this, I probably don't push them enough. I talk to them and I support them, but I want them to enjoy it. They don't have to go this route. Scholar athletes.
My biggest sell is that it's a great way to get through school and create opportunities for yourself. If you create that for yourself then you've already learned how to work really hard. Because you're going to have to starting right now.
My son turned 14 this year so he works (at my restaurant) during the week and has practice all week. He's a busy kid and he's a fit kid and he's healthy. Because he plays.
He'll have to set his own goals.
I wish I would've had the goal to play NFL football when I was in high school, but I certainly did not. It wasn't a conscious goal. I think my goal was to get a scholarship. Once I was there, my goal was to win at the first conditioning exercise.
I think when I got to the NFL, on some level I was shocked. I don't know how to explain it. So many people would naysay and tell me I'm not fast enough or just that it wouldn't happen.
By the time I was a senior, it looked like I would get the opportunity and then I had a pretty good first year.
And then, I don't know. If my goal had been to become a professional football player, I would've been more professional about it when I got there instead of moving all over the place.
I probably should've moved to Buffalo and lived there for 10 years and gone in (to the facility) every day. But on the other side, I would leave and meet the people who eventually gave me my jobs after football.
You look back and think if I had just gone one different direction, I could've maybe made a different move here or there and gotten to play five more years.
Q: Everybody in this area knows Justin Armour the football guy. What would Justin Armour the basketball guy have been like? Not everybody knows that basketball was your primary sport.
Armour: Yeah, they don't associate me with basketball. Few people realize that's what I love. I love basketball and spent all my time doing it.
(Former Manitou football coach George) Rykovich had to talk me into pretty going on the field as a sophomore. I did not want to.
I was a super-physical basketball player, but getting the ball every play and getting hammered, I wasn't there yet. It evolved later.
Most of the schools that ended up offering me football opportunities only knew me because of seeing me at the Nike Camp and playing in tournaments against the Fab Five and those type of high-level tournaments and games.
That's how most colleges saw my athleticism and ability to compete at that level. It certainly wasn't here at Manitou. Then they would come back and realize 'oh, he plays football too.' Then they would tell people that this kid they were looking at for basketball was also on the football field.
That's how it worked back then.
And when you go to school on a scholarship, you have to take the scholarship that offers more. Football programs offer more.
But my intention was honestly to focus on basketball there.
I think they would be surprised at how much I like it. Even today, it's probably what I watch more than anything else. My son gets to play a lot and I love watching his games.
It's a fast game, they're quick games. The weather is always perfect.
It's probably one of the most athletic games there is just with the way you have to transition in the game and use a lot of technical skills, make difficult shots. Then there's the team component. It's exciting to watch. I love watching, especially when my kids play.
I'm looking forward to it. We've had open gyms all June, I've had a lot of the girls that are playing next year. I'm excited about what I see. We pretty much scrimmage together and push each other around.
I just give them the freedom to play ball and go attack the basket right now, don't worry about whether or not it goes in.
There's a lot of enthusiasm at the middle school. I think 20 to 25 girls are interested in basketball. That's a good fleet coming up.
I'm excited to be around the gym.
I'm excited to have (Amelia) Schofield, and for a lot of people who follow local basketball, they know she was a phenom at Manitou a couple of years ago.
And then there's another girl, Jessie Black who works in the district. She's a local, Woodland Park, girl and she's been coming to all the open gyms and scrimmaging with the girls.
We're going to have fun. We have some good teams in that league the next couple of years so we'll probably learn how to play really good defense and take a pounding a few times.
St. Mary's looks good, CSCS obviously and Lamar. All those teams are going to be beasts for the next couple of years.
Q: You said earlier you were mellowing out. Now that you have, where do you put your emphasis on learning, having fun and winning?
Armour: Having fun and learning... if you're paying attention in practice you're into it and having fun, you win. I think it goes that way naturally.
It'll be different this time. I don't have any expectations. I want to just go coach basketball.
I considered it last year when the job opened up and they had a pretty good senior team. I talked to my family and I wasn't quite ready. At the end of the year, I knew it was available and I had talked to Ed (Longfield) and Danny (Gieck) and it gave me more thought.
Needless to say it hasn't been a super-popular position in the last little while. I didn't exactly weed through a bunch of applicants.
I think it'll be a good fit. The other reality is that my son is going to be a freshman. The way that the boys and girls teams travel together, I'll be traveling to all those games anyway.
I was already planning on the time commitment because I love watching him play.
I've learned that basketball is coached in practice. When you get to the game, you let them play and see what they got. Maybe talk to them a little along the way.
When I say I've mellowed, I mean I'm done trying to verbally force the game with energy. That was my style to bring a lot of energy. While I try to bring it, I don't bring it toward the officials anymore. I just act like they're not there.
I really do. And I've learned that from other good coaches.
I just take a deep breath because I've never seen an official change a call. Even if it was a bad call. Even if they know it was a bad call. In the NBA they do now, I guess. But at our level, they don't and they're not going to.
It's a tough job. It's a lot like being a restaurant server, I'm sure, except you don't get tipped, but you do get yelled at.