What was your best sport growing up? For some people it might not have been football.
“As kids, we played football, basketball and baseball. We weren’t inside the house much of the time. Back then, they didn’t have computers and some of those things. If I had to pick a sport, I would have to say basketball. I tried to be an all-around guy. I was decent in all the aspects, shooting, passing, rebounding, playing defense. I tried to be good in all the areas. I wanted to be the total player. I really liked the team concept of competition. That was a fun thing through the years. There is no question that the successful players understand the team concept.”
Who was the first true football influence you ever had?
“My first true influence was my freshman coach in high school, Joe McNeil. Coach McNeil was a good coach. I attended New London (Connecticut) High School. He also was a junior high school physical education teacher. He was a great person. He commanded respect. You called him ‘coach’ or ‘Mr. McNeil.’ You didn’t address him any other way. It was the way he went about things that earned your respect. He also coached junior high basketball in addition to being the freshman football coach and a varsity assistant. He was a great guy and a great influence. You hope all players have that key figure when they start out. It makes a difference.”
Was there ever a person who tried to talk you out of playing football?
“There never was anyone who tried to talk me out of playing. It was always something I wanted to do. I wanted to be an athlete, and there never was a time I didn’t want to play sports. When we were kids, you didn’t stay in the house. There was no computer, no Madden video games. When you got a chance to go outside, you wanted to go out and play. I know with technology, you have to understand it and keep up with it to survive in the world, but it would be nice if everyone went outside and played rather than texting, or getting on a computer and not playing. Physical activity is very beneficial. We played all the sports. We played football in the morning, basketball in the afternoon and baseball in the evening. You played all three things, particularly in the summertime when you had time off and your friends around. You made up neighborhood games and stayed active.”
Talk about yourself as a player. How would you characterize yourself?
“I played offensive line. I was an offensive guard when I got to the college level. I would say I was undersized, but I played with quickness and technique.”
Why did you choose the college you chose?
“I really wasn’t a highly-recruited guy. I didn’t have any scholarship offers, or anything like that. I went where there was a good fit. I went to a community college first and when I was between schools, there was a guy named Tommie Major who had a friend at Plymouth State. He told me I could go there, have a good time and play ball. That’s where I ended up going. I had no problems going to school away from home, none whatsoever. When you grow up, you always try to get away from home because you want to be on your own. I had mom and dad at home and a good family and life, but you always wanted to be on your own.”
Do you think it is important to be independent like that? For some, that is not an easy thing to be.
“I think it’s critical, particularly if you’re going to be involved in athletics. I think it’s critical whatever you’re going to do, in general. Home is always going to be home, but you’re now getting some life experiences. That’s what it is all about, as long as you don’t forget your foundation. If you have a good foundation, a strong family and a strong support system, it’s always going to be there. It’s always going to last you when you get in different situations. In being exposed to different geographic areas, you find people really are the same. I’ve been fortunate enough through my coaching background and career to this point to have been in a number of different places, from the Northeast to the West Coast, the Midwest and all over the country. There are great people everywhere. There have been some great experiences and great living situations.”
What was your best collegiate experience?
“My best experience was the day I graduated and got my degree. I was the first in my family to get a college degree. That probably was my best experience as a college student. I started something, and I finished something. I had a bachelor’s degree, and I graduated.”
Were your parents happier for you, or were you happier for them?
“I think it was a little bit of both. The happiness was all-around with my parents, family and friends. Everybody from where you came from was proud of you. You accomplished a goal of being a college graduate. A lot of people start things, but they may not finish them.”
When did you first think about a career in football after your playing days?
“I started thinking about a career in football while I was playing. I thought if I weren’t good enough as a player to stay in football, then maybe the next-best thing to do was coaching. I wanted to stay involved in the sport that meant so much to me. It also was a chance to help young people. Sports helped provide a direction for me, and I thought I might be able to have the same impact on others.”
What is your favorite quote on football, leadership, etc. that has shaped your career the most? Explain how/why/when you found it and how you have applied it.
“My favorite quote came from when I was at Westchester Community College in New York. We had a very good program and one of the coaches always would say, ‘Do what must be done.’ I use that saying frequently and regularly. I try to live my life that way. When obstacles come up, or when things don’t go the way you want them to go, or when adversity comes you, you do what you have to do to keep moving forward. All the time, things don’t work out the way you have them planned or scripted. It’s the same thing in a game. Something may set you back a little bit, but you have to do what you need to do to make it right. You do what you have to do to be successful. It is a truism in sports and in life.”
There are strengths in other people’s words, but there are strengths in your own actions, right?
“Absolutely. Your actions speak louder than words, but I use those words, ‘Do what must be done,’ all the time. If you carry that throughout your life, you will be successful. If you have to provide for your family and you find a certain door is closed, you find a way to get another door open so you can continue to provide for them and yourself.”
How much of coaching is coaching the sport and how much of it is teaching young men?
“I think they go hand-in-hand. That is my philosophy. I can’t speak for anyone else. As a coach, you’re a teacher. You just happen to be teaching a sport. You also are teaching life lessons to young people or young adults. You are teaching lessons on how to handle adversity. You also are teaching people how to handle success. How you handle success is important, too, because some people don’t handle it very well. Some teams don’t handle that well. Some people don’t handle adversity well in life or sports, either. Coaching is teaching, and teaching is coaching.”
Players are guided by their high school and college coaches, but do they still need it at this level?
“I think they do. All the players are the same. You’re dealing with guys who have been instructed or required to do things their entire career. Why would they not need it now? Just because a guy is in the NFL doesn’t mean he knows everything. Once you get to the point where you feel you can’t learn anymore, you should not be doing what you’re doing. At that point, you’re an expert. There’s no such thing as an expert. There is no such thing as being perfect. You strive for those things, but you can’t attain them. I think as long as you can help these guys get better, they’ll listen and respond to what you say. You’re always leading men, and how you go about your personal business will impact how the guys respond. As a leader, a coach or a teacher if you walk in your classroom and you’re not prepared, it sends a bad message to your pupils or athletes.”