Over the past several years, I've gotten to know college coaching veteran Bill Lund. It started with an interview he sat in on while I went after a part-time college coaching job in Chicago. A friendship was formed quickly from there, and coach Lund and I have gotten an opportunity to build on that friendship at coaches clinics and conventions over the last several years while he worked as the linebackers coach at Hope College (D-III - MI), and then most recently at Saginaw Valley State (D-II - MI), where he also had the special teams coordinator role.
Lund, a college coaching veteran, was recently faced with a difficult decision that ended up with him walking away from his coaching duties to be closer to family.
After coming to that decision, coach Lund sat down to compose his thoughts, and what he came up with was an open letter he shared with me, titled Why I Love Football. After getting the green light from him, I decided to share it.
Coach Lund's message is an important one. Life is made up of many small moments - some of them are small, while others are monumental. All of those moments have the capability to alter the course of your life, and some of those other moments end up serving as a great reminder of why we do what we do.
It's also a great story and testament to how special the coaching profession, and football coaching community, both are.
Why I Love Football
The past two weeks have been a whirlwind. I recently worked the USA Football Players Academy and Team Development Camp in Canton, Ohio which was truly an amazing experience. Players from across the country along with coaches at every level came together, built a team, united players and played a game in the matter of five days. A lot can happen in five days. During that span, I was informed that my father-in-law’s quadruple bypass surgery had gone well, but over the course of the surgery a tumor was discovered on his lung and after the biopsy, it came back as cancer, stage 4, TERMINAL.
This past year I have been living apart from my newly married wife, Maggie. As I coached in Michigan, she was working her way up the Walgreens Corporate ladder. We made it work. It was tough, but we managed. Everything changed last week with one word, TERMINAL.
In Canton, I had the privilege of working with both college and high school coaches for our Team USA Staff for the first time. We were all part of a coaching fraternity that immediately united us regardless of our backgrounds. During our week of preparation, coach Bill Volk, Head Coach at Aloha HS in Oregon, spoke to our kids about what made football great. When he spoke with the athletes, he said something that resonated in me, “If the government was like a football team we would never have a problem”. Such a simple yet poignant statement.
Reflecting on my past week with the realization that our Team Development Game I was coaching in may be last game for the next year, I thought about what constitutes a football team. We had players on all our respective teams: white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Christian, Atheist, and more. Many have parents who were immigrants, both here legally or by other means, affluent or poor, gifted or not. Some may not have any parents at all having Aunts, Uncles and Grandparents supporting them. My point is that outside of our common bond of football, many of these team members could not be more different. Even our coaches are different. We have different racial or ethnic backgrounds, are veterans or just beginning, working in college or high school, have big egos or small, or are intense or laid back. As leaders of these groups of youth, we needed to put aside our backgrounds, egos, and opinions for the greater good of the team. Our kids needed to understand regardless of where we came from, our common goal was to “Earn Your Stars”. We all enter a locker room as an individual but come out something greater, a team, unified in a common cause. Just think if government worked like that, unified like a football team in spite the differences in opinion. All great teams start with being united in the belief that the whole must be greater than the sum of its parts. Football is about being selfless, for something greater. It’s about being the best for your teammate, that man or women next to you.
The past 24 hours has been both chaotic and calming. Unfortunately for me, my “HOME” team needs me for this upcoming year and I couldn’t be the husband I needed to be 4.5 hours away, during what will be a challenging time. It was not an easy decision to make, and it was even harder to swallow. Yet in the wake of my decision, my current players and colleagues on staff, friends I’ve known, coaches I just met, and coaches I’ve met over my career reached out to me sharing thoughts and prayers. It provided me with a sense of calm, knowing that the journey is far from over and that during this halftime of my career I can use it to adjust my game plan accordingly.
The wonderful thing about being on football teams is they consistently have shown the world that everyone is capable of being on the same page for the greater good. My fellow coaches and the support they have shown prove our brotherhood is galvanized by our mutual passion of football. Great teams all face adversity and the outpouring and selflessness of so many reaffirms that this is truly the greatest profession.
As I said goodbye to my Linebackers, I couldn’t help but get choked up. One player asked what I was going to do and I told him I didn’t know and my most stoic player looks to me teary eyed and says “coach, it’s like you taught us, find a way or make one.” It is moments like this are the reason why I love football.