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Greg Lee column: Former assistant coach Henry Hamill master offensive line coach with a big heart

Former Lake City and Coeur d’Alene offensive line coach Henry Hamill often needled defensive assistants.

“How many points are we going to have to score tonight?” Hamill often would ask before games.

That was followed up with Hamill inquiring about what defensive scheme was going to be used.

“So, which one are we going with tonight boys? Base four cover none,” Hamill would quip. “Donut (soft around the edges with a big hole in the middle). Or the rope a dope (allow the opposing offense so many yards in the first half that it was too tired to function in the second half).”

Nobody – players, coaches, friends, fellow teachers, administrators – were immune from Hamill’s barbs.

Hamill passed away last week 17 days shy of his 68th birthday.

A Montana native, Hamill coached more than 40 years. He retired from coaching at Lake City in 2007 and teaching in 2010.

About 200 gathered to pay tribute to Hamill last Saturday at Lake City, where they listened for nearly two hours to some of the best stories that summed up Hamill.

While his sons, Pete and Alex, and football were his passions, Hamill took time to seek out the students in the margins – ones who didn’t have enough money to buy lunch, needed someone to talk to or were seemingly loners.

Hamill drew a lot of attention for his exploits as a coach, but behind the scenes he’d extend a helping hand.

He counted Dennis Erickson – the former University of Idaho, Washington State, Miami, Oregon State, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers coach – as a personal friend. Erickson called Hamill and spoke with his friend the day he died.

Hamill was a student of the game, always seeking to increase his knowledge. He wrote and self-published a 76-page handbook about coaching offensive linemen.

I dug up the copy he signed and gave to me.

He got his start as a head coach at Thompson Falls, Montana, and moved on to Glasgow, Montana. He coached state championship teams at both schools.

Hamill went on to Grants Pass, Oregon, his last stop as a head coach. He landed at Coeur d’Alene High in 1986, where he coached eight seasons before moving to Lake City when it opened in 1994. He was part of two state titles at LC.

I’ll never forget the story about his lucky coins.

Most coaches are superstitious to some degree – though most won’t admit it. Hamill was as superstitious as they come.

If you watched him when he was coaching on any Friday night you’d see him with his hand in his pocket at some point. He occasionally felt the need to rub his lucky coins.

Hamill carried $1.94 in change since his first game as a head coach at Thompson Falls.

The coins were broken down like this: A 1922 Liberty Silver Dollar, a 1968 John F. Kennedy 50-cent piece, one quarter, one dime, one nickel and four pennies.

He didn’t have the change at every game. He forgot it once in his second season and once at LC.

His team lost in the semifinals in his second year when he spent part of the change on a soda pop on his way to the game.

After every game, Hamill would wrap the coins in athletic tape and put them away in a jar in a safe place so he wouldn’t mistakenly spend the coins like he did that second year.

The memorial last Saturday was well deserved for a father, friend and coach who touched countless lives.

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