Tis the season…for football coach firings.
Unless you have been exposed to the wild and crazy business of coaching, it’s easy to graze over the roller coaster ride many coaches and their families experience this time of year. At the collegiate or professional level, most coaches invest a minimum baseline of 80 hours a week (or more) into the game and profession they are so passionate about. Job security is non-existent as progress and success are defined by one thing—winning—and just a few bad bounces, often outside of the coach’s control, can lead to being fired. And being fired means the uncertainty of scrambling for a new position in a job market where a limited number of vacancies exist, while helping family navigate time apart, moving, and a new scene with new friends.
This holiday season I’ve reflected on this wild ride more than ever as I’ve watched it affect many of my friends in the coaching profession, as well as many men I played for during my career. One of those men is Scott Shafer, who made a meaningful investment in my life during his time at Western Michigan University. Coach “Shafe” is a quality man who coaches for the right reason—to take teenage boys and use a physically and mentally demanding game to build them into men ready for life. His Syracuse program finished 4-8 this year, losing to #8 LSU by only 10 points, losing a 3OT heartbreaker at Virginia, losing on a last second field goal to Pitt, and dropping a game to the #1 team in the country, Clemson, also by just 10 points. A different bounce of the ball in any 2 of those games and Coach “Shafe” is preparing for a bowl game right now. But despite his meaningful mission, “Shafe” was dismissed from his position and coached his final game at Syracuse just a couple weeks ago. True to form, he left with gratitude and class, as evidenced by an emotional and inspiring letter to his players.
At a personal level, I can relate to this rejection as I experienced the door closing on my dream of playing professional football over and over and over again. I had no plan B. In my mind, I was going to spend at least a few years in the NFL doing what I loved. The road had been long and challenging, filled with injuries and surgeries, but unless I was physically unable, nothing was going to stop me from achieving my goal. Or so I thought. I had to learn the hard way—despite my best efforts, there was a different and better plan for my life and career path.
But you don’t have to be an athlete or coach to experience these type of painful transitions. All human beings experience these life changes in some form. Whether it is job loss, retiring, a medical diagnosis, being denied entry to school, getting cut from the team, experiencing foreclosure and financial uncertainty, or something else unmentioned, we will all face these type of circumstances at some point during our lifetimes.
The harsh reality is this: on our temporary planet and in our fleeting lives, there is NOTHING this side of heaven we can do or have forever. Absolutely nothing.
So what do we do when something we love ends?