Exclusive Excerpt: A Sneak Preview to the Prologue for the Upcoming "Hot Seat" Sequel
"Hot Seat" was critcally acclaimed for its inside look at real life pressures of big-time college football. Drawing on over two decades of coaching I created fictional Ohio State Head Coach Ed Hart. After season-ending losses to Michigan and in a bowl game he's told he has one-year to win or be fired. The challenges and decisions he makes define not only a season, but also test his integrity and morality.
Now as a member of Penn State's Board of Trustees and as an athletics consultant with a national firm, I've seen the new college football reality of rapidly changing rules and a tsunami of outside influence, money and power. I decided to write to write the Hot Seat sequel to reflect Ed Hart's life in this new world.
Below is exclusive excerpt of the Prologue of the new novel which will arrive this summer on Amazon, in bookstores and on our website.
And because what's past is prologue, now is the time to read Hot Seat. But don't take our word for it, a lot of other people have shared their thoughts. With the Holiday Season upon us, it is the perfect time to get your copy of Hot Seat or the Amazon best-seller non-fiction book "Paterno Legacy: Enduring Lessons from the Life and Death of My Father." The reviews and link to buy these books for the college football fan on your list can be found HERE.
And without further delay here is the Prologue for the new sequel.
Turning to walk into the wind, I pulled up my scarf and the collar of my black cashmere overcoat to block January’s icy sting. From the hill looking towards what remains of Youngstown’s downtown, the cloudy sky cast a gray pall. Winters here are hard as iron.
It’s difficult now to imagine what this city must have been like at the height of its industrial apex. The old-timers still talk about the bars and neighborhood diners packed with union workers making steel, or cars at factories now gone. Some of their rusted, haunting skeletons remain as ghosts of a time when three shifts a day forged the industrial might of the nation.
These were proud people, whose toughness in backbreaking industrial labor made a better life for their children. Powerful unions guaranteed good pay and benefits for those who followed their parents into the factories. At a time when tuition was still affordable, other children went to college. Some returned to run banks or be lawyers or doctors in their hometown. Some moved to bigger cities like Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago or beyond.
The American Dream here all ended at the hands of faceless men in far-flung corporate boardrooms. The frustration of inexplicable loss burned just under the surface. It’s tragic to witness the broken spirit of a proud man, a man denied the ability to do what he was put on this earth to do. I’d just seen the consequences of loss.
I’d just left the funeral for an old friend in coaching Sid Dandrea. We’d worked together years ago when we were just starting out. We were so cocksure that we had all the answers and nothing but glory-filled days ahead of us. Our careers split us up following different paths to head coaching jobs. He’d been the head coach at Missouri, while I climbed all the way to Ohio State.
Coaching can build you up, chew you up and then send you on a downward spiral. If anyone ever warned us that pride comes before the fall, we sure as hell never listened. Every coach is convinced that they are different. But you’re not. All of this is temporary and even as the fall starts, you’re the last to see it.
After Sid was fired at Missouri a rapid descent began. As a head coach moves down, the arrogance of having called all the shots is hard to shed. Sid became an offensive coordinator, got fired from that and then bounced around as an assistant coach moving downward almost every year. His wife Eleanor quickly tired of the nomadic life and moved back to their home in Missouri with the kids. He kept chasing the next big job that never came.
In coaching, the time apart for spouses is never good. And four months ago, Eleanor called him at his rented apartment in Las Cruces, New Mexico to drop bad news on him. He was an analyst at New Mexico State trying to hang on in coaching. I’ve never been to New Mexico State so I shouldn’t be critical, but the drop from being an SEC Head Coach to an analyst at NMSU would be widely seen as a precipitous fall from grace.
She called him to unburden her guilt of having an affair for months. Calling a week before the season started, she cut him loose when he knew he couldn’t fly back to try and reconcile.
His job performance suffered. And in this business no one gives two shits about coaches’ mental health. In coaching, it’s always winter with the wolves in pursuit. Anything that slows or weakens you makes you the first to go.
Sid began drinking and his job performance suffered which led to his inevitable firing about three weeks ago. I’d gotten a voice mail from him that I never listened to.
But that lost contact was shattered when the news of his suicide hit home. He’d driven to his home in Missouri, pulled into the garage, shut the door and never turned off the car engine. Eleanor found him.
It was only after I’d heard about his suicide that I listened to his voicemail asking if there was anything he could do for us at Ohio State. He was grasping for anything from a guy he’d known from the start. I never returned his call and now he was dead. I’m sure other guys didn‘t return his call. But I felt guilty because my lack of a response must have seemed a betrayal to Sid.
Sid grew up here in Youngstown, in nearby Struthers. He loved this place. It is fitting that it all ended here for him in a final resting place next to his parents.
Walking across the campus of Youngstown State, I heard and felt the crunch of sidewalk salt on the icy walkways. The white stain of salt was already on my black leather shoes. With each exhale the cloud of my warm breath cut through the bitter air.
This was all so surreal. Now, after his suicide we’d found out that Sid knew he had cancer with no job and no health care. His last job cut off his benefits right away. The life Sid loved was gone and he knew that saving his existence to an empty life was not worth the cost.
Up on the hill by Stambaugh Stadium I could see across downtown. In the north end of the stadium a large American flag flapped in the wind and just below it was the familiar red, white and blue swallowtail flag of Ohio. In Youngstown, pride marked by loss remains in a nostalgic yearning for what was and what will never be again.
Sid must have felt that loss in his own life. And when he reached out to an old friend, I ignored the call. Only after I heard he’d died I listened to his message. His voice was a ghostly call for help from a man I might have saved. How could I be so self-absorbed in my own career to return a call, to offer some hope?
I wanted to go somewhere and drink my way through this. The memories of lowering my own father into the ground on a winter’s day hung over me. He too took the final desperate act of a broken man. For my father it was the looming collapse of his car dealership when the industry tanked. His business was just too leveraged to weather the storm.
But with the cash from his personal holdings passed through inheritance, my father knew that my older brother could salvage the business for my mom. But my brother wasn’t the one who found him in his home office. I walked in to find his limp body slumped, blood and brain splattered on the wall behind his chair. On the floor was his grandfather’s heirloom shotgun, a poignant reminder of his failure to measure up to those before him.
Over the years I’ve chosen denial and suppression over acceptance. My laser focus was always on what was next to try to outrun that past. The story never caught up with me, and the people in my hometown respected that part of my privacy. Even my current wife Candace, who’d never met my father, believed he’d died in a hunting accident.
You can only run so far, so fast from the demons that lurk in your past. Seeing Sid make the same choice dredged up all that from the past. Now it came roaring back and haunted me all over again. I’ll give Sid his due in this regard, at least he chose a way out that was a lot cleaner and neater for his wife who’d found him.
“She got off light.” I told myself in a moment of self-centered self-pity.
Boy I needed to get a few drinks to blunt the edge of that trauma that had exploded again in my brain. But as the head coach at Ohio State coming off a Rose Bowl win in the football-mad town of Youngstown day drinking in public would not go unnoticed.
Nowhere was that more so that Cassese’s MVR, a family Italian place that’s been there for damn near a century. The coaching legends meet you right inside the front door. From Jim Tressel to Joe Paterno to Bob Stoops the signed pictures frozen in time mark a moment when greatness walked through their front door.
How I wish I could go there and be alone. But these days I may be physically by myself but I’m never alone anywhere I go in the Buckeye state. The burdens of my job had all changed radically in a short time.
The foundations of college football stand on shifting sands. Players transfer at will, often looking to get paid for their name, image and likeness. It’s like an unrestricted free agency with no salary cap. Guys move without warning to the highest bidder. It’s no surprise so many coaches and athletic directors are getting out.
Sid would’ve gladly taken on the burden. He made it clear he’d rather be dead than be on the outside of this profession looking in. I should stop being such a God-damned whiner. I could’ve thrown him a lifeline with almost no effort.
Sid lost his wife, his health, his coaching life and he’d found rock bottom. A guy he believed would help ignored him. Just an hour ago in a quiet cemetery he was lowered into the hard cold winter ground.
I turned back to my car to drive to the life that I’d dreamt about. But today was a reminder of how tenuous that hold can be in a profession that drives proud men to desperation. In the car for three hours, I called no one and just drove in the quiet of my own thoughts.
A warning from my own father came to me. He loved old films, and one of his favorites was "The Lion in Winter." I can still hear my father quoting the film: “When the fall is all that’s left, it matters a great deal.”
The fall is never far away in coaching. And when you’re the head coach at THE Ohio State University the pressures in this new reality of money and power and rapid change are certain to hasten the fall. The wolves are always lurking to run you down at the first sign of weakness.
Would I even see them coming?