Every once in a while, there comes a moment in life when you find yourself wishing you were born in a different place and time. That happened to me on Tuesday morning.
Sitting in the in a Gaylord Opryland ballroom, I found myself cursing the powers that be that I didn’t have the fortune to arrive in this world at a time and place that would allow me to play football for Glenn Caruso at the University of St. Thomas.
Caruso took over a St. Thomas program in 2008 that had gone 2-8 in the year before his arrival and produced a 7-3 season immediately upon his arrival. Since then, the Tommies have never won less than 11 games and recently capped off a 14-1 campaign in which they reached the Stagg Bowl, the Division III national championship.
In building his 43-7 record over five seasons, Caruso says it all starts with honesty to his players. Brutal honesty. “I want a kid to know what the expectations are on the front end, so if you get him he’s all in.”
That honesty begins before a player even enrolls at St. Thomas. “When I go visit a quarterback and the parents start asking me how many passes their son’s going to throw, I give them the number of our competitors and say ‘Good luck,’ “, said Caruso. “It’s not the kids you lose that beat you, its the ones you bend to get. If there’s a question in your heart, you know.”
His program’s methodology starts with a core belief of what he calls “non-negotiables”. Explaining that those non-negotiables may be different for every program and every coach, Caruso said it was imperative to define what is crucially important to your program.
“I may never sign a $2 million contract or run into an 80,000-seat stadium and I’m fine with that, but I can lay my head on my pillow at night knowing I never compromised my integrity,” said Caruso.
Those hard-line principles stem from Caruso’s father, who raised Glenn and six siblings after their mother passed away when Glenn was eight years old. After her death, Frank Caruso, a lawyer, moved his practice inside the family home. Ever since then, family and work have been inseparable in Caruso’s life.
“I told my wife I wanted our rules at home to be the same rules I had for my football team,” Caruso explained. “We never quit, we never whine and we never get embarrassed.”
Caruso may not fear embarrassment, but he does fear three things: cancer, alligators and entitlement. “Once they get a grip on you, they never let go,” he said. “Just because you work and just because you wait doesn’t entitle you to a darn thing.”
In Caruso’s combined world of football and family, he closed his talk with a phrase used in his household, “Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.” Translated into football terms, Caurso said, “Coach the kid, not the scheme.”