Winning Isn't Everything: An Interview with Current TV's 4th and Forever Coach Raul Lara

They've produced more NFL players than any other school in the country, but for the coaches & players of Long Beach Polytechnic, football is still just a game.

By , Contributor

Current TV

As the clock runs out on season one of Current’s 4th and Forever, Coach Raul Lara takes a look back at the controversy, the triumphs, and the young men who have dedicated their high school years to the green and gold, the prestige, the tradition; the “Home of Scholars & Champions” that is proudly Poly.

It looks like your team already had a lot of experience in front of the cameras, but do you think that the show - being on a larger scale with a national audience - had any impact on the outcome of your season?

It’s hard to really tell if that really affected us that year. I know a lot of [people] indicated that, but the thing about Poly that’s kind of different is that we’re kind of used to the media attention. I think the difference between this year and any other year [is that] it was just constant, kind of like every day. But other than that, I tell people that the unique thing that really happened to us was that the players, and the crew, and even the coaches, became like a family. If we endured something negative, they felt it. And when we endured something good, then they felt good. They were a part of the team.

What do you think were the most valuable lessons you learned that season and in doing the show?

I really like what it’s showing in regard to the coaches and what we’re really focused on. We just don’t focus on wins and losses, we try to teach as much as we can - life skills, and stuff like that.

A lot of people come up to me, like one gentleman came up to me this summer and said, “I really like your philosophy, what you’re trying to teach these kids….” So, I think from that part, I learned that we’re on the right track regarding what we want to teach our kids.

The thing that I don’t like is the way sometimes we get angry. I’m a Christian person, and obviously on film, I’m not always being a very good example of a Christian person. But other than that, I think it does a good job of displaying what we’re all about at Poly.   

And your team?

You’re going to have to ask our kids, but I know it spoke a lot to our parents, and how the parents really are adding pressure to the situation for their kids. I think that, if anything came out of that series, it's showing that parents are really putting a lot of pressure on their sons; especially just for playing football.

How was it as a coach being able to watch the show and to hear the things that players and members of the community had to say about your performance?

There was one episode that bothered me a little bit when they’re talking about the quarterback position. Usually, I have thick skin, it doesn’t really bother me, especially when it comes from outside of the community. But when my players are complaining or have a concern and they never come to me and speak to me….

chaiyse_hales.jpgSo that next day, I actually had the team take a knee and I explained why Chaiyse Hales did not play that day -- and Chaiyse understood -- and how Chaiyse didn’t back my son up. In other words, they both were the quarterback, and what they need to do is, if one is not playing well, the other one needs to go in there and play well, and the other one should support him as much as possible.

Well at that game, he didn’t do that, and a lot of people don’t see what really happened, and why Chaiyse had to sit down and Emmanuel had to play the whole game.

To me, [the conversation] really just bothered me because it was the kids. Because I told them, “If you have any issue with the football team, you need to come to my office and sit down and talk with me.” I’m willing and open to talk about anything. I would have told anybody what happened and why he had to sit down. But again, a lot of people assume a lot of things. But in that scene, too, there were a couple of players that didn’t say anything, and I went up to their parents and to those kids and said, “I’m glad you didn’t say anything,” because obviously that looked pretty bad.

coach_lara_and_son.jpgHow do you think you did as a coach and father, wearing both hats throughout the season?

Well, in 2001 when I became the head coach, my youngest brother was a senior linebacker, so I had a little taste of that already. The only difference between him and my son is at that time, I was the quarterback coach, so I really had direct coaching with him.

At times it was difficult, but for the most part, I think [I] kind of really separated the coaching and the father part pretty well. He knew that when we were on the field, I was his coach, and then when we got in the car and we were going home, I tried as much as possible not to talk about football. But you know how difficult that is…. I think for the most part it worked.

The thing about my son is the struggle that he had. Not only is he the quarterback, but he’s the quarterback at Poly, and to top it all off, he’s also the coach’s son. So he had to endure all of that, and I think it was harder for him to deal with it than it was for me.   

In the first episode it looked as though you were worried about whether or not your son would be able to withstand that pressure that comes with being the coach’s son and the impact it would have on him. Did any of that play into your decision making when it came to filling the quarterback position?

What people don’t understand is that Chaiyse Hales was the only quarterback coming back from the previous year with experience, but Emmanuel had the ability to push Chaiyse. So in essence - and Emmanuel knows this - I really used Emmanuel to push Chaiyse to make sure Chaiyse does what he’s supposed to do. The series shows that both of them were [competing], but Chaiyse always had the starting position, it was just a matter of making sure he wasn’t giving that up.

We know that with so many different student-athletes with different backgrounds, there’s bound to be a lot of different outcomes from the players on your team once they graduate. What’s your one hope for all of your team members?

I pray, one, that they learn a lot out of our program so they can take that with them wherever they’re going. Second, we would love to see all of our players go to college and get an education. And if they can play football - whoopee. That’s an added thing. But I think the number one thing is to get our kids to understand that they need to go to college, and they need to get a degree.

The season finale of 4th and Forever airs Thursday, July 21 at 9|8c on Current TV.

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Shayla C. Perry is a freelance journalist based in New York. In addition to interviewing some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry, and covering the latest in celebrity news & gossip, her forte (read: obsession) is examining the sensationalism, gall, and sheer genius of reality TV.

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