I am sitting here at my desk, watching the first snowfall of the season, having just returned last evening from the 2017 USILA/IMLCA meetings. Two things came together for me on the extended rush hour drive home: I was humbled and honored to have received the Frenchy Julien Award for Service at the Nike luncheon and chuckled every time I ran in to an old friend who did a recognition double-take with my new bearded look. The last time this happened was in 1999, after that team shaved off a bushy mustache I had been sporting for the previous 25 years.
Here is how a service award and facial hair became related to a consideration of our coaching lives.
If I was giving my acceptance remarks today, I would begin with: “To all the young coaches in attendance.” The narrative would go on to recall how I always came away from these meetings so excited about the start of the season. I can easily remember being so consumed by the pursuit of winning, the championships, the gold ring… and there is nothing wrong with that. You can pursue success while still being primarily concerned with the quality of your influence. You need to remain vigilant, but it can be done. Fair or not, however, winning enriches the relationships among the participants while remaining a professional requirement. To have a fulfilling career in college coaching, you need to find a formula for success.
Let me also tell you that winning the national championship is not as unceasingly satisfying as people might imagine. It is a relief, first and foremost, for the coaches and programs that enter the season with that as an expectation. The very next day after we won our first championship in ’99 — Virginia’s first in 27 years — I drove eight hours to get to the New York state sectional high school playoffs at Coyne Field in Syracuse. It was walking into that stadium that I ran into acquaintances who did not initially recognize me without the mustache. It felt good to know we had won the day before, but it occurred to me that we were slightly behind in the recruiting and I was struck by the irony of it all.
I coached at the college level for 42 years and have had these past 18 months to consider closely that time spent. I am here to confirm for you that the existential joy in our lives comes from helping others. That may happen for you through your experience at work. When a player on Jon Torpey’s High Point team asked me to quantify the successes in my career, I told him frankly that Zed Williams’ graduation from Virginia sits beside anything we accomplished on the field. We all have those stories in our lives, and our true mission is to create a setting where we can be inspired by these young men every day.
I am also suggesting to you that you have more time than you think. The old adage “if you want something done, give it to a busy man” applies to college coaches as well as to any group. Look for opportunities to reach out. I mean more than simply fulfilling your institutional community service obligation. Being a college coach gives you a platform — people will listen, you can help people, you can affect change in their lives. When I asked Charley Toomey and Ryan Polley to serve on regional advisory boards for Harlem Lacrosse, I understood their hesitation. Would it get in the way of what they were trying to accomplish at Loyola and Boston U? They have already contributed so much more to the organization than they likely imagined and I would hope that their lives are richer for the effort. They have made a meaningful difference in their urban communities.
I am old enough to have known Frenchy Julien, proud to receive this service award in his name and encourage all of you, during this holiday season, to look for opportunities to serve the greater good. You will win even more in your life than the scoreboard proclaims.