Bob James, math teacher and retired football coach, is truly a driven individual. Whether he is guiding his team to victory on the football field or instructing his students on a particular concept in the classroom, James is ready to step up to the challenge at hand. He has sought to instill a similar work ethic within the players and pupils that he has mentored throughout his 30-year career.
“I tell them, ‘Be a hard worker, be trustworthy, and be a good human being,’” James said. “‘Don't worry about anything else. Do your job and everything will be just fine.’”
James started playing football as a seventh grader at New Buffalo Middle School. Two of his football coaches left a significant impression on him: the head coach and chief of the New Buffalo police, Dale Siebenmark, and Assistant Coach Al Harrington, who was also a policeman. To this day, James remains grateful to Siebenmark and Harrington for teaching him to love football.
James continued to play football through the rest of middle school and after he started high school. In his junior year, James found another mentor in his math teacher and coach, Clair “Butch” McNair. McNair was only a few years older than James and was almost like a big brother to him. James idolized McNair and would later follow in his footsteps by becoming a coach and a math teacher himself.
James graduated from New Buffalo Senior High School in 1982. At McNair’s suggestion, he began playing football at Adrian College in Michigan. However, after three semesters, James decided that he was not ready for college at that point in his life and returned home. He worked at his father and uncle’s roofing businesses for several years before returning to college. He went on to earn his degree in mathematics education from Western Michigan University in 1990. Upon graduating, James sought out coaching positions at several high schools in Northwest Indiana but was turned away due to his lack of experience. James returned to Michigan and began coaching football at Centreville High School. After spending five years coaching at Centreville – three of which he spent as head coach – James decided it was time to move on.
“Being a math guy, I took a map, put a compass on New Buffalo and drew an arc to see which schools were within 30 miles of the city,” said James. “One of these schools, Kesling Middle School in La Porte, had an opening for a math teacher position. I applied and was hired to teach seventh-grade math there.”
James also reached out to Bob Schellinger, the head football coach at Kesling, to apply for a coaching position at the school. James looks back fondly on his first time meeting Schellinger, a story that he finds quite amusing.
“I drove my family to La Porte for my interview with Bob on a really hot summer day,” James said. “None of my three sons were older than 5 at the time. When we arrived, I wasn't sure what to do with my wife, Mary, and the boys, so I just had them wait in the car. I said, ‘I'm going to meet with this coach, hopefully, this won't take long.’ I met with Bob in his office and started talking with him. At some point, I mentioned that my wife and kids were still in the car and he said, ‘Are you kidding me? Go get them!’ This showed me that Bob did things differently. He recognized the importance of family. He understood that running a football program was more than just throwing together a bunch of coaches and kids – it’s a family affair. I’m indebted to him for inviting me into the family.”
James spent the next two years teaching math and working as the head eighth-grade football coach at Kesling. He coached freshman football for the La Porte High School Slicers for four years before being promoted to a Slicers varsity coach. He began by coaching the varsity running backs and even served as head coach in 2022. James is best known for his work as an offensive line coach for the team. He had, in fact, been an offensive lineman himself back in the day, helping protect the quarterback from the opposing team during plays. In James’ view, offensive linemen play an important yet underappreciated role on the field. As a coach, he always made a point of letting his offensive linemen know how valuable they were to the team.
“Offensive linemen aren’t necessarily the best athletes on the field,” James said. “We don’t get the girls and we don’t score touchdowns, but they were my guys. I encouraged them to be a part of the process, a part of the team. I always told them, ‘Linemen drive the bus, the rest are just passengers,’ because without us, the team can’t do anything.”
Although he has retired from coaching, James is still an active member of the prestigious Indiana Football Coaches Association. He has been teaching math full-time at Brandywine Junior/Senior High School in Niles, Michigan since August of last year. As he looks back over his career, James is pleased by the effect he has had on the lives of others.
“I realize that I am a role model for a lot of people, so I try to be vigilant and help out in the community however I can,” James said. “Over the years, I’ve learned just how much of an impact I’ve had on kids as an educator and a coach. I had no idea that I could have such a big impact on a kid and even on their siblings, parents, and grandparents. It’s a pretty humbling feeling.”
In his downtime, James relaxes by doing home improvement projects around his house. He also enjoys improving his golf game alongside his wife. He says that one of the reasons he enjoys golf so much is that the grass, breeze, and sunshine of the golf course remind him of being out on the football field.