March 5, 2015 / 8:39 PM / 4 years ago

Field of dreams: Championship coaches tell of small-town starts

NEW YORK (Reuters) - It doesn’t matter if you are Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning or any other of the all-time sports greats: Even the most talented people on the planet need a coach.

Notre Dame alumni coach Lou Holtz (L) directs to his team before the start of the Notre Dame Japan Bowl football game against Japan in Tokyo July 25, 2009. REUTERS/Issei Kato

With that in mind, Reuters talked to four great coaches - Tony La Russa, Nick Saban, Lou Holtz and Scotty Bowman - about their first jobs and the path that led them to their legendary careers in hockey, baseball and football. It’s part of our series to accompany the nation’s monthly jobs reports

Tony La Russa

Claim to Fame: Three World Series titles and six league championships with the Chicago White Sox, the Oakland A’s and the St. Louis Cardinals.

First job: Diaper handler

“My father was a milkman, and I would help him from time to time. However, my first paid position came from the sponsors in my Pony League. Alongside two of my teammates, we would have to wash, dry and fold all the diapers picked by Rock-A-Bye Diapers, a local cloth-diaper delivery service.

“We made a few dollars, but it was more about keeping the sponsor happy. I decided I need to improve my baseball skills to stay in baseball, so I would never have to work for a living.”

Nick Saban

Claim to Fame: Three-time national champion with the Alabama Crimson Tide

First job: Gas station attendant

“My first job was at my father’s service station when I was 11 years old, for $1 an hour. It wasn’t self-service like it is now. In those days, I pumped the gas, cleaned the windows, checked the oil, checked the tires, collected the money, gave the change and treated the customers in a certain way. We also greased cars and washed cars.

“The biggest thing that I learned was how important it was to do things correctly. There was a standard of excellence, a perfection. If we washed a car, and there were any streaks, my father would have you do the whole thing over again.

Lou Holtz

Claim to fame: National champion with Notre Dame Fighting Irish

First job: Steel mill laborer

“When I was growing up, all I wanted in the world were four things: A 1949 Chevrolet, a girl, $5 in my pocket and a job in the steel mill.

“One summer I applied for a job at Crucible Steel in Midland, Pennsylvania, but they didn’t have any openings. I went back every day at 7 a.m. and kept asking until they hired me. It was such a hot job: Emptying coal cars, putting the coal into a burning furnace. It felt like I was melting. After only a few days I knew I didn’t want to work at a steel mill for the rest of my life.

“I made only $1.75 an hour, but this was back in 1955. Man, I felt like I was living high on the hog.”

Scotty Bowman

Claim to fame: Winner of nine Stanley Cups, with Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Detroit Red Wings

First job: Paint-company stocker

“Once I finished junior hockey, I took a job with Sherwin-Williams up in Montreal when I was 21, with their stocking department. The same paint had to go to three different companies in three different cans, and I had to remember all the different codes.

“I had to develop an excellent memory. I even remember Sherwin-Williams’ phone number from back in 1954. Eventually the goal was to visit hardware stores and sell paint. I was bilingual, and that was a big asset at the time.

“After a couple of years there I got an offer from Sam Pollock, the general manager of the Montreal Canadiens, who went on to win nine Stanley Cups. He gave me my first shot.

“He asked me how much I was making, and I said $3,800 a year. He offered me a big raise to $4,200 a year.

“The second thing he asked was whether I had a car. I stretched the truth and said I was getting one. It all worked out in the end.”

Editing by Beth Pinsker, Lauren Young and Andrew Hay

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