He's served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Haiti. Now Brian Haack just wants to coach.
Brian Haack uses a five-word phrase to describe his station in life: a combination of unlikely factors. How else do you explain a kid told by his high school guidance counselor that he wasn't college material turning into a man who earned bachelor's and master's degrees in his spare time and is now working on his doctorate. And how else do you describe someone who never played a down of college football, who spent his entire adult life in the military that is determined on finally achieving his true passion, coaching college football.
If only someone would hire him.
Haack's journey began in 1983, when he joined the Navy at 17 after a mediocre high school football career. He began as a medic, training under the guidance of physicians by day and earning bachelor's and master's degrees in his spare time. While also serving as a commissioned officer in health-care management and military operations, earning 41 military decorations along the way, he looked for any avenue possible to pursue his passion.
"I told little league coaches that if all they wanted me to do was hold dummies, I'd do that. I just wanted to be around football," he said.
In his climb up the military ladder, Haack got a break, if you want to call it that, coaching a junior varsity football team in Groton, Conn., with his old high coach Gregg Shultz. This led to coach at his old high school under Mike Emery in 1994.
"We ended up finishing second place in our league with a bunch of players who had never played football before," he explained. "That attracted the attention of the high school coaches, and I got invited to come up and coach at the high school."
As the military tends to do, Haack was shipped to Puerto Rico in 1997. He continued coaching, leading the Fajardo Giants to back-to-back amateur championships. His players ranged in age from 18 to quite a bit older than 18. "Our center was 44 years old," Haack said. "He was a beast."
With the experience leading the Giants under his belt, Haack was certain he knew what he wanted to do with the rest of the life, and it didn't involve the Navy. "It kind of cemented my goal that I wanted to coach football in my next career, but I was too far along in the military to give up my military career," said Haack.
In 2004, Haack was now a commissioned officer and sent to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. Impressed by nearby Trinity University's run to the Division III championship game, he gave head coach Steve Moore a call. Moore took Haack on as an unpaid intern working with the offensive line. A year later, he was promoted to running backs coach. Shuttling from base to campus for practice each afternoon and using his vacation days to travel for away games, Haack received a crash course in coaching from Moore and the Trinity staff.
"I learned the college spread, the zone read and all those offensive systems," he said. "I learned to really understand defenses much better because of the great coaching staff that I learned from there. The staff was just wonderful. Every single one of them took an interest in my success."
Then, real life happened.
Haack was called to serve as a Plans Operations and Medical Intelligence Officer for tours of duty in with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, supporting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2009, Haack's unit was pulled to combat Somali pirates on the Horn of Africa.
Returning stateside in December 2009, Haack planned to leave the Navy and finally get into coaching full-time.
"It was a very wonderful homecoming," he said. "I knew that was going to be my last deployment. You couldn't have asked for better timing. For a football coach to be back on the job market in December, I had very high hopes of going back into college coaching right away. I even had enough leave saved up that I could have finished my career on vacation while working for someone else."
While Haack made his plans, God laughed. Thirty-seven days after returning to friendly shores, Haack's unit was deployed again, this time to do disaster relief in Haiti after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the Caribbean nation.
"We were like a very well run football team. We knew each other's movements, we knew how to work together," Haack explained. "Since we were still congruent as a team, the general in charge decided we were the best command to send to Haiti because we had all the players still in place."
He returned again to the United States in April, and by the time Haack had fully satisfied the dotting of i's and crossing of t's the Navy requires when a 27-year serviceman retires, it was June and all the once available jobs were filled.
Haack took a position as a curriculum developer, operational medicine instructor and management analyst for the Marine Corps in what he thought would be a temporary role before he could jump back into coaching again that off-season.
Then, real life happened again.
"About a year later my son, who was born during deployment, was diagnosed with autism," said Haack. "I resigned myself that, 'Well I'm going to stay in this job now, while it's not my calling, it's not my dream job, it offers me a fair salary and I can spend a lot of time at home helping my son with his development.'"
Haack immediately thought his time in football was gone forever.
"I did not necessarily mourn the loss of my dreams to be a football coach," he continued. "I thought instead that, 'How many fathers get the opportunity to show their sons how much they're really loved?' Immediately I thought, 'Well I'm going to miss coaching, but my son will grow to know how much I really, really love coaching football and he'll know that I gave it up because I loved him more.'"
But his son, Jeremiah, progressed. Then he progressed some more. The Haacks believe Jeremiah's autism will be undetectable by the time he reaches adulthood. Now four years old, Jeremiah has progressed so much that his dad believes he can now get back into coaching without subtracting from his son's development.
And then, real life struck yet again.
"The federal budget crisis being what it is, the fiscal cliff and a combination of unlikely factors, the command that I now serve has moved out to the high desert in California where they did not budget to move civilian employees," he explained. "They've very recently let me know that my position here is going to be eliminated. I've loved working here but they've advised me to start looking for other opportunities."
Now out of the game for half a decade save for a nine-month stint as coaching the Marine Corps' East Coast football team, Haack knows the odds are only becoming longer, but he hopes "other opportunities" means coaching college football.
"I have to be a realist. I'm 47 years old and I'm talking about competing for a job that most guys go far as they're newly graduated from college," Haack explained. "While I would love to say that I'm going to be a Football Bowl Subdivision head football coach someday, that's probably not a very realistic goal for me. If I could get on as an offensive staff assistant at a Division II college where I might also serve as a faculty lecturer because I'm also getting my doctorate in education, that would be ideal for me."
While it's kept him away from the game, Haack thinks his military success translates into football programs in coaching and administration, applying for multiple football operations jobs.
"I've spent 27 years in operations," he said. "My job was never to kick in the doors of the Taliban to take them down in their homes. My job was to make sure those guys got where they were going, that they were healthy and, if they ended up injured in the line of duty, I took care of them and returned them safe and well to their families. That's exactly what football operations is. You use different terms, the goals are slightly different, but the practice of your craft is nearly identical."
But he also knows the time spent acquiring that experience puts him at a disadvantage when competing for jobs against 22-year-olds that have the luxury of being able to work for nothing.
"I have a wife, I have two kids, I also take care of my wife's mother," Haack said. "They're all depending on me to provide. And if that means I have to sacrifice some dream that I've carried my whole life to do it, my family's worth that. I consider their needs more important than anything I have on the table. Football's my preference. If it doesn't work out, there are other things I can do and I'll have to do one of them. Not providing for my family because my ego wants to coach football, that's not an acceptable trade-off."
In a life full of combinations of unlikely factors, Haack hopes there's one more out there somewhere.
"I'm a man of faith. I always say, 'If God wants to show you an open door by having you thrown out a window, He can do that.' The main thing that's doing to determine your success is not whether you have this job or another one, it's going to be how you handle the transition. I'm determined to handle my transition gracefully, and I hope it leads me back to football."
Haack returns to U.S. soil.
Haack greets his daughter, Raquelle, and wife, Carolina.
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