By Jeff Greenberg
The first Wednesday in February is one of the “holidays” in college football. It was National Signing Day. The day where recruiting for that year concludes with high school prospects signing with their chosen university. In the world of college football, recruiting is the lifeblood of every program. During this process coaches are going into the houses of recruits and speaking to them and their families. Part of their message, in many cases, will focus on the concept of family. They can come to play for that school and become part of that school’s football “family.” It’s an atmosphere that can be very appealing to both the recruit and their families. The irony in that message is that the work it takes to build and develop that football family often comes at the expense of those coaches being able to spend time with their actual families. It’s a dynamic that most coaches will tell you that you’ll never be able to understand unless you’re living that life. That’s absolutely true.
Over the next few weeks, Under The Headset will deliver a three-part series called, The Life of a Coaching Family. The series will take a firsthand look into what it’s like to be married in the world of college coaching. Then, you will get the perspective from the spouse’s point-of-view on what it’s like to be married to a coach and raise a family in that profession. In the final part you’ll find out what growing up in this life is like from the eyes of a coach’s child. The insights for this series will come from University of North Carolina head football coach, Larry Fedora, and his family.
If you’ve ever spent some time around a college football program one thing becomes abundantly clear; the coaches work extremely long hours that do not seem humanly possible to sustain. Those long hours keep the coaches at the office from the wee hours of the morning until late into the night, often well past the time of making it home in time for dinner with their families. In fact, during the season, it’s not an overstatement to say that coaches spend more time with each other and the players than they do with their own families.
One might ask, “Well, doesn’t it get easier during their offseason?” In the old days? Maybe. Now? No, it doesn’t really get any easier, particularly for assistant coaches traveling days on end on the road recruiting in the offseason. When you add in recruiting travels it’s not uncommon for a coach to spend 100+ nights away from home during the year.
Take those hours and nights away from home and then add in the unstable nature of the job itself. There’s no gray area here. In this day and age, fair or not, it’s either win or get fired; and the patience with not winning doesn’t last long. The result is the coaching carousel we all witness every season starting around Thanksgiving weekend and lasting sometimes through January.
What is forgotten during the chaos that ensues with coaching changes is the fact that with each change, there are usually nine to ten families that will be packing up their houses and moving to a new town. Picking up their lives and their children’s lives and starting over again at new schools and in new neighborhoods. Needless to say, constantly moving has to be hard on the families and their ability to maintain some level of balance and stability in their personal lives.
Long hours at the office, days away from home and frequent moves sounds like the recipe for marriage disaster. Surprisingly, this doesn’t scare many coaches away from marriage. In fact, the overwhelming majority of college football coaches are indeed, married. How do they do it? How do they become successful in their profession and successful at home? Part one of this series gives you a look into one of those marriages.
Larry Fedora and his wife, Christi, have been married for 29 years. They were married on July 2, 1988, in Dallas, Texas, at Perkins Chapel on the campus of SMU. They are the parents of Dillon, Sydney, Peyton and Hallie. There is no better way to learn about their marriage than to hear about it from them. We sat down to talk and learned quite a bit.
How did you two meet? – Christi Fedora: “We met in college at a small school called Austin College in Sherman, TX in 1984. We were in two different classes together. He could tell I was really smart and I had all my books and they were highlighted a lot. He asked if he could use my books to study. So we studied together some but didn’t start dating until near the end of that year.”
Was it love at first sight? – (Christi laughing) – Larry Fedora: “I don’t know if it was love at first sight, but it was definitely a situation where from the moment I first saw her I knew I was interested in her. And I don’t think she looked at me at that first moment and said, ‘That’s the man I’m going to marry.’ I mean, at that point in our life we were young and I don’t think we were thinking that far ahead.”
Christi interrupts: “I actually had a boyfriend at the time too.”
Larry: “True, I mean she moved there for the guy too.”
When did you know he could make a career for himself in coaching? – Christi: “Some close friends of ours in coaching told me they thought he’d be a head coach some day in college. I thought that was pretty cool and exciting to hear. I had no clue what that meant in terms of what it takes to pursue that goal. Sometimes when you make a move it feels like a step back in order to take a step forward in the future. I trusted his instincts and we trusted God, and things have always worked out.”
Did you have a sense of what coaching would be like from a husband and father point-of-view? – Larry: “No, I really didn’t. I had some ideas, but they were some really naïve ideas. I didn’t realize how much time and effort it would really take to do this job.”
When you were looking at your future together as a married couple and eventually as parents in this world, were there any foundational, non-negotiable principles you tried to establish for your family? – Larry: “I don’t know if we really established anything specific. We just really tried to rely on our common values and sense of what family meant to both of us.”
Christi: “Probably not because neither of us really knew what our life would be like. Every move we made and the different jobs we’ve had were different situations and different environments.”
Larry: “Plus, the first four years we were married we were coaching high school football, which is a pretty stable environment compared to when we moved into college football.”
Christi: “Exactly, because coaching high school didn’t entail recruiting and all of the events college head coaches have to manage and attend. Now the weekends were hectic but we had time together during the week then that is hard to come by in college coaching. It was a hard adjustment when he was coaching high school because I had just finished college, then we got married and then he was gone all the time. We had all of these college friends near us in Dallas so if I went out with friends I was usually by myself. Once we started having kids it changed because I had people around me at that point when he was gone at work.”
Larry: “She was a teacher then and I don’t think I ever got to meet any of her friends and colleagues. I don’t think they believed she was getting married until they came to the wedding and saw a groom standing there. I was just never around enough to meet them and hang out socially with Christi and her friends.”
When was Dillon(oldest child) born? – Christi: “He was born in 1991 when we were at Baylor when Larry was a graduate assistant(GA) there.”
What was his reaction when you told him you were pregnant? – Christi: “Well, he had just decided to go to Baylor to be a GA. We really felt like we had to jump at this opportunity. We had been trying to get pregnant, but when that offer came we decided maybe to wait. But I went to the doctor and found out I was already pregnant.”
Larry: “So then I called Grant Taeff at Baylor and told him we’re not going to be able to make the move for the job. He asked why and I said we found out we’re having our first child so I wouldn’t be able to afford being a GA. He said ‘Why not?’ I told him I don’t think we’d be able to do it on $400/month. He said, ‘The Lord will provide for you two.’ Well then I asked him if we’d be able to live in a dorm or eat in the dining hall and he said no, just trust in the Lord to provide. So we took his advice and took a leap of faith.”
Christi: “I ended up getting a job teaching and actually taught until Sydney was born. So I taught for 3 to 4 years there in Waco.”
Larry: “We were able to just slide by while we were in Waco.”
Were you excited when you first heard she was pregnant? – Larry: “Oh yeah, I was extremely excited. I mean, you’re going to be a father so I had all of the emotions that come with that. But I was also nervous because I had another mouth to feed on $400/month(both laughing). Everything changes. Your whole life changes and you feel like you have so much more responsibility on your shoulders.”
What do you remember about the time when Dillon was born? – Larry: “Dillon was born five days before I left for the Copper Bowl. I had to drive one of the coach’s cars to the bowl game in Tucson from Waco and then all of the way back because he didn’t want to drive any car but his own. Just one of the tasks you’re given as a GA. But I got to be there for the birth. That’s how I remember everything is in the context of the season. Dillon was born five days before the Copper Bowl. Sydney was born between the SMU and TCU game. Peyton was on Valentine’s Day. Hallie was on the last day of two-a-days. That birth was interesting to say the least. Christi was mowing the grass at nine months pregnant. On the last day of two-a-days you’re exhausted. So I planned on getting home, doing the hedges and raking everything up and then just getting into bed and resting. I remember a wasp stung me on the hand and then I was in the shower. When I got out of the shower Christi asked me what was wrong because I had all of these welts on me. I went to see the team doctor and he told me I was probably allergic to the wasp sting. So he asked me if I had anywhere to be and I was like, ‘No, I’m exhausted. I just want to go to bed.’ He said, ‘Ok, then I’m going to give you this shot to take care of the allergic reaction you’re having. Drive straight home and get into bed. Whatever you do, don’t try to drive anywhere tonight because it should knock you out bigtime.’ So I drive straight home and as I’m pulling into the house out comes Christi saying, ‘It’s time!’ And I’m like, ‘Time for what?’ She says, ‘The baby!’ I honestly don’t remember anything about the labor because I could barely stay awake.”
Christi: “He slept through most of the labor. He was lying on the couch sleeping and the nurse thought he was being a jerk(laughing).”
What kind of mother is Christi? – Larry: “She’s unbelievable. We have four children and they’re all good kids. She’s really been the one that’s raised them. I won’t even try and lie and say I’ve been there half the time to raise them because I haven’t. There just isn’t a finite 50/50 balance between my job and my time at home. She’s been the one that’s done it all. Christi is the one at all of their games and whatever activities they had going on at school. She’s been the rock.”
What kind of father is he? – Christi: “He’s a good dad. I had a girl that’s close to our family from when we lived in Oklahoma and in Hattiesburg that helped me with the kids. She said that it always amazed her how he would be able to come home from work and be able to leave everything behind at work, even if it was after a bad loss. He would come through the door and his focus and interest was immediately on everybody else and what went on in their day. He wants to make sure everybody is happy and taken care of. There were times he’d talk to us like we were his players, and I’d remind him that we weren’t(laughing).”
You’ve made 17 full moves in 28 years. What were those moving discussions with the family like? – Larry: “Early on, like when we were going to Florida they thought it was neat because they thought we were moving to Disney World.”
Christi: “When they were young moving was much easier.”
Larry: “When they’re young they’re excited because it’s something new. Then as they get older, like when Dillon was in middle school and started making good friends it became harder each time. When their friends started becoming more important in their lives as they got older those conversations got harder and harder with each move.”
Have you ever had to break a promise to any of the kids about how long you might stay in a certain job? – Larry: “No, I don’ think we’ve ever made any promises. The only time we did something like that was when we were in Mississippi and we told Sydney she would finish high school there. So when I moved here to Chapel Hill, they all stayed behind in Mississippi for a whole year for Sydney to finish high school. Dillon was headed to college, I was headed to UNC and the girls all stayed behind. That made it hard for me because I really wanted them here but I also wanted Sydney to graduate high school with her friends.”
As the kids got older was it hard for the kids to make friends because of dad’s job? – Larry: “No, they’ve always been able to meet good friends like any other kids. Peyton would tell you that some of her friends don’t even know what I do for a living. Now when things aren’t going well our kids hear about it and that is never easy. That’s something I wish we could prevent but we can’t. It’s just the nature of this job. For Christi, it’s harder on her as they’ve gotten older because of how you interact with your neighborhood when all of the kids are out playing in the street and you’re hanging out with the other parents. As they get older and then you’re moving to new neighborhoods it gets harder to meet more people.”
How do you react to folks that think moving can’t be that tough when you’re making so much money? – Larry: “I think a lot of people think that because you’re paid well you don’t have problems. But you have problems just like everybody else in the world. Regardless of the money, you’re moving your family time and time again from state to state. It’s hard on them and no amount of money can buy their happiness when they’re leaving their friends and the communities they’ve called home. It hurts to leave those relationships behind.”
Christi: “I would agree with that. Of course, early on in our lives we weren’t making the money we do now. When he was making $400 a month we didn’t have much to move with, and to be honest, he wasn’t really making this kind of money until Florida I would say. So we felt way behind financially in terms having any type of savings. Most of our friends where we went were better off financially than we were at that point in our lives. But even now, money doesn’t replace the relationships you’re leaving behind.”
That concludes the first half of Part 1 in our series. Look for the second half of Marriage and Coaching next week on www.undertheheadset.com.