Pigskin Perks: Annual Coaches' Trip
Being a head football coach at a big-time college football program comes with a lot of perks. Coaching contracts include lots of throw-ins like free use of cars, private airplane hours for personal use and cash and free merchandise from apparel sponsors.
For coaches whose schools are under contract with Nike there is an annual coaches’ trip in February. It gives Nike a chance to hear from the coaches about the issues of the day, and gives Nike a chance to talk about upcoming product development. And similar to corporate CEO retreats, there is also a lot of discussion among coaches. These coaches have time at the pool, on the beach or golf course to talk with each other. Topics often centered on handling different aspects of coaching from team discipline to practice organization.
The coaches who’ve gone on these trips range from the early days of Barry Switzer, Tom Osborne, Bobby Bowden and Steve Spurrier to current guys like Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops and Dabo Swinney. The trips also include the kind of fun that only comes when coaches are away from home and social media.
Imagine a party where your favorite college coach is dressed up like it is the 1920s complete with gangster-style water guns. That night the coaches plotted crashing the wedding in the next ballroom. BYU’s LaVell Edwards was hesitant to go along until another coach said “no one will know us here.” The coaches barged in with water guns drawn. No sooner had they entered the reception that Coach Edwards was recognized by most of wedding guests. It was a Mormon wedding filled with BYU fans, and the guests happily welcomed these heavily-armed crashers.
For a number of years Colorado and then Washington Head Coach Rick Neuheisel brought his guitar. Every year he was on the trip they would end talent night (and the word “talent” is used very loosely here) with a Neuheisel/Joe Paterno duet of the song “Wild Thing.” (Think Rodney Dangerfield in “Back to School”)
But maybe the most interesting Nike Trip story was told by Barry Switzer in his book Bootlegger’s Boy. A local approached Switzer on the beach to ask if he would be interested in buying some weed. Barry declined but told the local that there was a guy on the trip with him that was really looking to score. He pointed over to Joe Paterno. Barry watched as the local tried to make what he thought was a sure sale to Joe Paterno. As Joe figured out what this guy was trying to sell him and declined the offer, he looked back down the beach and saw Barry having a great laugh.
That type of fun built friendships between coaches off the field. In a highly visible and competitive business like football that isn’t always easy to do. Ultimately the trip was not just a getaway from winter, but also helped establish positive relationships that lasted long after coaches returned home.