Getting my opportunity
Sometimes you just feel like you deserve something. And after the wait, I definitely felt deserving. The truth is I was thankful for my time at home and it would always stand as an example for me. It is always an option to move back home for the family. When I finally got my opportunity to interview for my first Division one coaching gig I was elated.
By no means did I get there myself. I was advocated. I had people on my side working for me daily. One, in particular, was my head coach at the time, Patrick Harrington (better known as Hap). Patrick was on the phone for me at 9 am every morning because he knew that’s when the head coaches were available. If someone wanted to recruit one of our players, he asked him if they knew anyone who needed an assistant. I physically saw him do this on my behalf. He reviewed my resume, told me the ropes and took me on recruiting trips throughout the year. I am forever indebted to Patrick for his happy heart, caring demeanor. Without him advocating for me, there would be no opportunity.
The knowledge I gleaned from Patrick and his wife Lori that year was for so many other seasons of my life. Their openness as a family, their love for their children, and their love for their friends was unrivaled. It prepared me for so much.
On the court, Patrick was a character too. At the beginning of the school year we all predicted we would win about five games on the season, but it was one of the most successful seasons the Lady Raiders ever had. The were several things Patrick did as a head coach that I despised (as in, I hated them with a passion) but he knew a lot more than his assistants. I have never been a part of a team that has enjoyed their head coach more than that season. Our young ladies may not have been the most talented, but they played their hearts out for our coach.
This is probably one of the most difficult chapters in this book to write because Patrick passed after a car accident when I was 28. I struggle here…I’m not sure I have dealt with his passing fully, my throat still knots up and my eyes swell.
If there is anyone who exemplified what it means to live life, not for yourself but for others it was Patrick. His dedication to family, friends, and fun, and basketball is what he was about. He did what he was supposed to do, not just the things he liked to do. He made mistakes, but he owned up to them. He understood what it meant to be a good teammate. My opportunity was simply Patrick passing the rock.
When I started at Saint Francis it was quite the culture shock. You would expect nothing less having moved from sunny Florida to central Pennsylvania. Life outside of campus was great! I lived in a small town about 5 miles away called Ebensburg, shopped at the farmers market on the weekends, and drove to Pittsburgh when it got REALLY boring. Fortunately, I was a division one basketball coach so I could probably count those ‘get away’ trips on two hands. Life on campus is where the shock set in. I first realized I would need to learn about Catholicism since it was a Franciscan Catholic institution. Secondly, I needed to learn how to navigate the Division one women’s basketball calendar. Most importantly, I needed to learn how to navigate our players.
When I was in high school I visited a lot of colleges before deciding to take the basketball route. If I had visited Saint Francis, I would have never gone back. The kids that chose to attend St. Francis, I just did not relate to. Most of the non-basketball student-athletes on campus were not on full scholarship and chose to be there. The student-athlete GPA average at Saint Francis is currently still above a 3.0 for like 38 semesters running! When our players were in trouble it was NOT about skipping class. It took me a ridiculously long time to find points to relate with my players that weren’t about basketball, and this took a lot away from my coaching.
For how much I thought I deserved to be a division one coach, I still came in green. I had plenty to learn. I thought one of my major strengths as an assistant coach came from knowing what my head coach would need, but I frequently came up short in this department. Luckily, Patrick set me up with someone he trusted named Susan, and Susan was great. Opportunity is nothing without a learning lesson, and Susan was a great example and teacher. She had already had a great run at Saint Francis and built a very strong organizational atmosphere around the women’s program. When she decided to take a new job at the end of the season the AD had nothing to worry about, Susan’s foundation would run the team for at least another two years.
After Patrick’s funeral, I ended up interviewing for a new job of which they requested an extra reference from my college coaching experience. It had been a while since Susan and I last spoke but I reached out and we caught up over the phone. It was crazy how much it was like yesterday. We talked about what had been going on with my life in Denmark and her life in Rhode Island, we talked about every player on our roster while I was at Saint Francis, and we talked about Patrick. Susan had attended his funeral procession in Boston. While it’s still tough, Patrick was called ‘Happy’ for a reason, we shared a couple of stories about our basketball teams with him and laughed. Before I knew it we were on the phone for almost two hours. I got the second job. Thanks, Patrick.
I think it’s important to note the people I mentioned in this chapter and not the story. We will all be given opportunities in our lifetime, but you must also be a person who gives opportunities. If you never give someone a chance at something, you are doing yourself a disservice. If you never acknowledge your actions with others as improving their opportunity or deflating it, you are missing the big picture. Everyone isn’t just passing by in the night. We are all here for a purpose, plan, and vision. This is just one of a handful of powerful examples in my life about distributing opportunity.