It doesn’t seem possible that Marty Paulsen experienced a problem with stuttering until he was 22 years old, about the time he became a classroom teacher.
Today, almost a half century after launching a teaching career at Goodrich High School in Fond du Lac, Fond du Lac High School baseball coach Marty Paulsen has no such problem at all. The word “glib” springs to mind to describe his command of the spoken word.
Words, humorous stories, motivational speeches and the names of players (past, present and future) effortlessly roll off his tongue in a rat-a-tat-tat rhythm and style.
He could be a stand-up comic if he felt like it. In fact, that’s just what he is at times.
Paulsen is known far and wide as Coach, Marty, Mr. Paulsen (in class) and even Lou, a reference to the legendary Lou Holtz, former Notre Dame football coach, ESPN college football analyst and charismatic motivational speaker.
Paulsen bears a striking physical resemblance to Holtz, talks like him, lisps like Lou if he feels the need, and even drives and flies around the country doing motivational talks, just like Lou Holtz does.
The difference — Marty Paulsen talks baseball; Lou Holtz talks football and gets paid a whole lot more than Marty does.
Coach Marty and his longtime friend, former Mr. Steak teammate and fellow baseball junkie Gary “Red the Barber” Muellenbach traveled in mid-June on their 18th annual trip together to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. Over the years, the Fond du Lac contingent to Omaha has fluctuated, but Muellenbach’s son Eric and Paulsen’s son Chip have become mainstays.
‘Lou’ on the loose
“We get there and we see this guy selling tickets,” Muellenbach recalled, “so Marty walks up to him, sticks out his hand and says, ‘Hi, nice to see you, I’m Lou Holtz.’
“The guy looks at Marty and says, ‘You know, you really do look like Lou Holtz…you actually could be Holtz, but you’re not Lou. I’ve known Lou for 26 years and you are not Lou Holtz,” Muellenbach said, laughing all through the story.
Paulsen took it in stride, like he does most everything. “You got me,” he told the ticket seller, smiled, shrugged and moved on.
Paulsen has been approached countless times by autograph-seekers — so many times that he doesn’t bother to explain who he really is. It tends to get too complicated, so he just gladly signs “Lou Holtz,” engages in a little small talk and bids adieu.
“I’ve signed his name for people all over the country,” Paulsen said.
The autograph, by the way, is “dead on.” Coach Marty figures if he’s going to sign the coaching icon’s name, the least he can do is make the signature look exactly right.
One of his Lou Holtz autographs and a personal message from the Coach (a la Marty) is framed and prominently displayed behind the bar of a restaurant in Leadville, Colorado, where Paulsen and his family were having dinner a number of years ago. His wife Cindy and their children looked away and shielded their eyes as Paulsen went into his Lou act for the pleading Notre Dame fan.
“He wanted me to write something about Notre Dame, and I drew a blank for a minute on how to spell ‘Notre’…but I got it right, thankfully.”
“Far as I know, it’s still there behind the bar,” Paulsen said with a smile.
Have some fun
Marty Paulsen likes to have a good time and share it with those around him. He’s devoted himself to the pursuit of fun.
“I try not to do anything unless it’s fun,” he said on a recent afternoon at his baseball camp for “the young guys” at the Fond du Lac High School diamond. “If you want to have fun, just follow me around.”
That philosophy is a hallmark of his 47 years as head baseball coach, first at Goodrich High School and now at Fondy High. If he’s talking with someone about a game, he doesn’t ask if he or she won. He asks them if they had fun.
“The No. 1 goal is to have fun,” Paulsen said. “The No. 2 goal is to prepare to play the game the best we can.”
Good things and ultimate success will grow out of those goals, he says. And they have.
His overall record in the course of 47 years stands at an exceptional 547 wins and 369 losses. His teams have advanced to State six times and his team in 2000 won it all.
“A lot of schools have never made it to State, and a whole lot more have never won the state championship,” Paulsen said in a reflective moment.
“I have a love of the sport and a passion for it,” he said. “Heck no, I’m not thinking about retiring. I’ll be done when I’m done. I’m nowhere near done.”
He has a number of Marty-isms that he’s coined over the years.
He unleashed “Holy Snickercats” when he was being interviewed in the wake of the 2000 state championship game. “People were saying, ‘What the heck is a Snickercat?’ Gotta have some fun.”
In tribute to Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs, he regales his players with “Let’s play two.”
“Most of them don’t know what I’m talking about so I tell them to ask their parents,” he said. “If nothing else, I’ll get ’em to talk to each other.”
And then there’s “No kidding, Dick Tracy,” except the real word is not “kidding.”
He also resorts to Stengelese (Casey Stengel), perhaps as a baseball tribute: “Something I hate is what I don’t like,” he tells his students in class as well his players on the field. When they look at him like he’s lost it, he tells them, “Think about it!”
Paulsen has made a name for himself well beyond his Fond du Lac circles, thanks to his sayings, wit, humor and ability to tell stories with deeper meaning in terms of education, athletics and life in general.
“I’ll go anywhere anybody wants me to,” Paulsen said of his mission as a motivational speaker.
He’s delivered around 125 speeches over the past 25 years for groups large and small. Three years ago, he spoke to an audience of 3,800 in Dallas at the American Baseball Coaches Association conference. Turns out he warmed up the crowd for fireballer Nolan Ryan, one of the biggest baseball legends in Texas history.
Paulsen and Mark Fuller, the baseball coach at Cumberland High School, struck up a friendship years ago and have developed their own personal motivational show.
“I’m Johnny Carson and he’s Ed McMahon,” Paulsen pointed. “Works pretty well for us.”
“Marty is an upbeat person, a high-energy guy,” said his friend Red the Barber. “He’s fun to be with. He’s a good fit for the kids whether it’s in the classroom on the field.” Or even with coaches and baseball buffs on the rubber-chicken circuit.
Baseball camps for kids
Coach Marty relishes his annual summer baseball camps with youngsters. He focuses on fundamentals, proper techniques, communication skills, competition, cooperation and, of course, fun.
“They get better right in front of your eyes,” Paulsen said. “The older guys help the younger ones. They make the young guys feel welcome. We have our own World Series at the end of the sessions.”
He admits he is concerned about the lack of interaction and communication among young people.
“They spend so much time on their computers and their phones,” Paulsen noted. “You can’t be on the phone when you’re on the field. That’s a good thing.”
Paulsen has a photographic memory when it comes to his players and his teams over nearly five decades.
He can name players, the batting orders, their positions, team by team starting with his first team in 1969.
“I’m looking younger than members of my first team,” he says with his best Lou Holtz grin. “And — think about it — I’ve got to be one of the only guys to coach in six different decades.”
Player now his boss
He marvels at the fact that his one-time All-Conference centerfielder Jim Sebert is now his boss. Sebert serves as the Fond du Lac superintendent of schools and is one of Paulsen’s biggest boosters. In fact, it’s likely that Sebert and a host of others of a like mind eventually will be instrumental in naming the Fond du Lac Baseball Complex in honor of Marty Paulsen.
One of Paulsen’s fondest memories is his son Chip playing for him in 1989 and being selected as the first-team All-State catcher. Without missing a beat, he points out that he’s equally proud of his daughters Missy and Trish for their athletic and academic accomplishments. He says none of it would have happened without his wife Cindy.
“You can’t do all this without a very supportive wife,” he said.
He confesses to a sense of wonder about how it all transpired. He was hired in 1968 at Goodrich to succeed business education teacher Gordy Ferg. A year later he was named head baseball coach, even though he had never been an assistant coach. He started at the top and stayed there.
His first two teams went to State despite his total lack of experience. “Thankfully, I was blessed with good players,” he said.
Gordy Ferg went from teaching to running the Mr. Steak franchise in Fond du Lac. He created the Mr. Steak softball team, which became a local sports dynasty. Paulsen met Muellenbach on the Mr. Steak team and they became teammates for 16 years and best of friends for life, along with several others who played for years on Ferg’s team.
Pencil yourself in
The classroom and the baseball field have gone hand in hand throughout Paulsen’s career.
“Do you have one of my pencils,” he invariably asks. If you don’t, do your best to get one. His philosophy for baseball, education and life is spelled out there.
It looks like a series of abbreviations. In a nutshell this is what it says: Attitude is comprised of enthusiasm, energy, effort, encouragement, excellence, ethics and enjoyment, “not necessarily in that order.” Call them the Seven E’s for the sake of convenience.
The message rings loud and clear for anyone who has been around Marty Paulsen for any length of time at all…in the classroom or on the field.
Michael Mentzer, now retired after a 40-year newspaper career, writes a monthly column for Scene.