I had the great fortune of sitting down with my college head football coach, Gary Darnell, and his lovely wife Mrs. Darnell (Sandra) this month while I was on a business trip to Austin, Texas. He’s no longer actively coaching, but is still heavily involved with college football as the Associate Executive Director of the AFCA

Coach and Mrs. D

Seeing them brought back great memories. We sat at their beautiful Austin loft, talked about the past and I gave them a rundown of several of the guys I stay in close touch with. It was obvious Coach was proud to hear about former players doing well.

Coach Darnell is one of those old school guys that takes it to heart when he assumes the responsibility of helping shape a young man’s life; and while we didn’t spend a ton of time with him on X’s and O’s while in college (because we spent most of our time with the strength coaches, trainers and position coaches), he was definitely engaged with the players on the team. He made that pretty clear when I got into a little off-the-field trouble my freshman year…hey, even good guys get into a trouble from time to time. 🙂

While talking to Coach and his better half about where my life has taken me, I mentioned my decision to go back to grad school and why I did it. Much of why I went back had to do with my desire to learn. This was a desire I didn’t have too much of during my undergrad at Western. While there, my educational goals were simple: do well in my classes so I could get good grades, stay eligible and get a great job after college. I was very successful at achieving those goals. The problem was I should have been in school to get an education and learn. Don’t get me wrong. I learned plenty at Western, but it was a byproduct of reaching my main goals. When I described this to Coach Darnell, I heard him chuckle a bit, like he knew what I was talking about, but he didn’t elaborate.

Later in the evening, after we finished some amazing Austin barbecue, I brought up the this blog and how I try to reach athletes everywhere and help them understand how the lights are going to go out someday. It was then Coach Darnell elaborated further on his earlier chuckle.

Coach had an uncanny way of coming up with sayings from time to time that stuck with me. My favorite to this point in my life had been, “It’s better to be five minutes early than one second late.” He wasn’t a fan of people being late. I’m not either. When people are late for meetings, calls or events, it’s a blatant disrespect for other people’s time…I digress. Then, he unleashed a new one I’m sure I’ll remember forever. He said, “Jake, I don’t have a lot of regrets in life, but I do have one big one. My regret is I left school with a degree, and not an education.” I didn’t even have to ask him what he meant. I knew exactly how he felt. I asked him if I could use the quote in a blog and he said, “absolutely.”

Coach Darnell has gotten a long way in life and has been extremely successful. It’s interesting to hear a man having been on some of the biggest collegiate stages in the country make the statement he did, but I wasn’t too surprised. It just helped reinforce what I already believe. Many athletes, while good students, don’t have a grasp of what the real opportunity is while in college.

I’m sure his sentiment isn’t isolated to athletes. Much of college is lost on young people due to lack of context about it’s application in the real world.  But I’m also sure it hits home with many of us that focused so much on the sport we played. Looking back now, I sometimes feel a college education should come later in life, after more experience. We spend so much money, time and energy before many of us realize how important an education really is. The good news is, we can always go back; and I couldn’t be more happy I did.

Thanks again, Coach D.

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