I love this article about Big Time “Celebrity Coaches'” first jobs in coaching …. very humble beginnings. Shows what perseverance and hard work can do over 20-30 years.
Nick Saban drove a Coke Truck to make ends meet.
Bret Bielema, a Buick Skylark and a steak dinner: 8 coaches discuss their first jobs
College coaches, they’re just like us! Before the million-dollar contracts, the most famous names in the game were low-paid assistants, often working side jobs to make ends meet. Here, in the coaches’ own words, are some of our favorite origin stories:
Bill Snyder as high school Spanish teacher
“Well, my first position as an assistant coach was in Gallatin, Missouri. This was a high school position. I was an assistant football coach and assistant basketball coach and assistant women’s basketball coach, assistant track coach, drove the school bus, taught four units of Spanish — which I knew nothing about — and I made $6,000 a year. And I thought I’d died and gone to heaven, in all honesty, because I’d never had a paycheck worth very much prior to that.”
Bret Bielema, a Buick Skylark and a steak at Lone Star
“That was my first semester. My second semester, then I became a full-time GA (graduate assistant), made $6,000 a year, and did that for two years before I became — I was very fortunate, I was only a GA for two years before I became the linebackers coach at the University of Iowa.
“I remember [Iowa coach Hayden Fry] came in and said ‘I got some good news and bad news.’ I’m like ‘what’s the bad news?’ He goes, ‘Well, the only car we can give you is a Buick Skylark.’ I’m like, ‘Have you seen what I’m driving, man?’ So I got a brand-new Buick Skylark. The good news, he goes, ‘I can give you $60,000.’ I was making $6,000. I thought like I was a millionaire. I went to Lone Star and ordered a steak. I thought I was pretty big-time.”
Nick Saban and a ‘big-ass’ Coke truck
“I was a GA at Kent State [in 1973 and 1974] under Don James. They paid for my school, so I got room, board and tuition while working on my master’s degree. Then my first paying job, when Don James left and went to Washington [after the 1974 season], I got hired to coach linebackers at Kent State and made $8,000. James took some of the coaches to Washington, and the defensive coordinator [Dennis Fitzgerald] got the head job at Kent State and hired me as linebackers coach. The next year, I made $10,000. And the next year, I went to Syracuse [in 1977].
“When I was a GA, I also had a job driving a Coke truck, the same when I was a junior and senior. It’s hilly in the Akron area, and I’d burn up a clutch every summer. The third summer I was there, my boss said, ‘This damn thing ain’t a footrest.’ But you’re on a hill in this big-ass truck, and it starts to roll back, and you’re riding that clutch as hard as you can.”
Mike Leach’s wife: ‘$3,000 a month?’ Mike Leach: ‘No, a year’
“I was at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo and I was the assistant offensive line coach and couldn’t have been more excited. I just got out of law school and working on a master’s. Had a wife and my first daughter. We lived in an off-campus dorm across the railroad tracks from the stadium, and I worked 16 hours a day and had a good time doing it. The most important thing was just learning your skills and all that stuff.
“Three thousand dollars for the year. I was getting my master’s and trying to get a job in coaching because I wanted to coach. I figured two years and I’d go back and practice law. I called up my wife and said, ‘I got a job.’ She says, ‘Oh, really? That’s excellent. How much are you getting paid?’ I said, ‘$3,000,’ and she says, ‘$3,000 a month? That’s …” and I had to say, ‘No, a year.’ Then I substitute-taught in the offseason.”
The origin of Steve Spurrier’s offense
“Actually, my first year and my second year [at Georgia Tech], the head coach allowed me to basically, about the middle of the year, be the offensive coordinator — call plays, put the offense in. My third year — by the way, we got fired at Georgia Tech — I went to Duke my third year. The head coach said, ‘You can make up the offense.’ I said, ‘Really?’ He didn’t have a terminology, a numbering system, so me and the line coach made up the offense.
“I’m still making them up [today], still the same numbers as 1980, 35 years ago.”
Butch Jones as a ‘glorified van driver’
“My first full-time job was the offensive coordinator at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and my other duties were the intramural director and the head men’s tennis coach. And I’ve never played one tennis match, I couldn’t tell you one thing about tennis, and God bless the individuals on the team. I was basically a glorified van driver to matches. But again, it was a way to get in the profession and continue to move up.”
Paul Johnson, hitchhiking and caddying
“First job I ever had was caddying at a country club back in North Carolina, Grandfather Golf and Country Club [in Linville]. We actually have a house back there now, which is pretty cool. When I was 11 or 12 years old, we’d hitchhike over and caddie. We made $6 a bag. So if you carried double, the fee was $12 and you usually got $15 or $20.”
Dave Clawson does the dirty work
“I worked at a landfill in Lewiston, New York, for Modern Disposal. That was my summer job, every summer from eighth grade all the way through college. It helped pay for my college. I played Division III football and went to a good private school, which for our family at the time was expensive. When the decision was made to go there, it was a family decision to finance it. Every summer, I’d work in the landfill 60 or 70 hours a week. I was a garbageman and painted garbage containers. One time, I had the job of going to a restaurant and had to clean out the inside of their garbage container. If there’s anything that motivates you to get a college degree and do something else, that two hours probably was it.”
As told to Kyle Bonagura, Chris Low and Greg Ostendorf