NCAA Sports: It's a business
Adam is the Team Captain of Team On 3, the Athlete Influencer Network and advocates for athetes' rights on the field and in the classroom.
I was lucky enough to play for three head coaches during my five-year tenure at the University of Idaho. I was lucky because I was able to learn different cultures, procedures, and values from each one of those coaching staffs along with the sports business. As an 18-22 year old student-athlete, it is devastating when a coach, role-model, and for some, a father-figure but you quickly learn “it’s just a business.” I’m not going to get into coaches leaving because over the years I quickly learned about how hard those decisions are to make and the reasons why they’re made. I’m going to talk about what happens after, within the team.
When my first head coach left and took a job somewhere else, he called for a team meeting. That’s standard. We met on a Sunday afternoon during the off-season and he explained to us where he was going, his decision making process, and followed it up with some motivational words. You could hear a pin drop. We sat there stunned and some of the freshman had a grimacing look on their face. I’d heard the speech before. It wasn’t new to me. The coach wrapped up and left. All of the players were left in that now quiet team room when one player stood up, Luke Smith-Anderson.
Luke, or LSA as we called him, was a heavy hitter on our team. He was big, fast, and old(er). This was the second time his head coach left in college. LSA played tight end and had NFL written all over him. I remember him standing up, pressing both his hands together, and bringing his fingers slowly to his lips… We were quiet.
(This is from my memory, not verbatim, but the message is on par)
“College athletics is a business. As a team, no individual is greater than the group. We all committed to play for the University of Idaho, not that particular coach. We are here to play with our brothers against every team here. It doesn’t matter who the coach is, all that matters is that we stick together and remember what we’re really here for. To win games. Someone will get hurt, its okay the rest of us will rally around him and play better. Someone will transfer, its okay, someone else will take his spot. Idaho Athletics department is going to bring another coach in here and he will take over, but we all have to remember, regardless of the coach, the people here in this room are the ones who matter. We are a group of brothers and we have to stick together. Don’t let this move affect you. He made a decision that was best for him and his family. Good for him. We need to make a decisions that’s best for ours.”
Future NFL Draft pick, David Vobora, then took the stage. He was another well-respected person on the team not only because of his athletic prowess but also because of his ability to connect with every player on the team.
(Again, not verbatim, but the message is what I remember most).
“We need to continue to do the right things: go to class, do your homework, and make sure that you use this as motivation to work harder on the field and in the weight room. We are a team and no individual is greater than the whole. When the new coach comes in, we’re going to show him our culture and he is going to adapt off of that. We’re hard workers and need to be intrinsically motivated, but we need to stick together.”
I remember leaving that meeting, as an 18-year-old, still processing what had happened. Having mini-talks with your teammates about who was going to transfer where, what they were thinking about the situation, but ultimately, nearly all of us stayed. We got wiser because of it. We understood the business side of sports. We understood what it was like to sign your name on a dotted line, thinking you were going in there playing for a particular coach but after time having them leave. We learned to refocus, regroup, and redirect that energy in to positive actions and relationships. We learned more from having that situation occur. It got us prepared for the next time our head coach left us. We learned to be intrinsically motivated and base success not off externalities but personal goals. But most importantly, we learned how to come together as a team.