Career Transition Happens Fast, And Every Day

Maybe you’ve heard I had a dramatic change in my employment status recently. It can be quite a shock if you’re not prepared, but you make of it what you want. No matter what career you have, you’re always looking forward to the next thing, the next accomplishment. When you’re suddenly not in it any longer, it changes your routine, tightens your social circle and, despite it being a cliche, you learn who your real friends are very quickly.

So it got me thinking about how quickly a professional athlete goes from celebrity stardom, fame and in some cases fortune, to displaced back into “civilian” life. It can be a harsh reality for those guys who have played sports their entire career. If you made it to the professional level, regardless of the sport, your athletic talent made you something special starting in elementary school. You’ve been celebrated and in some cases coddled to maximize your performance most of your life.

Then all of the sudden, it’s gone.

Whether they had it taken from them or they gave it up on their own, the reaction has been the same: They didn’t want it to end.

So what happens when somebody comes by your locker, (in the NFL he’s called “The Turk”) and says, “Coach wants to see you. And bring your playbook.”

“It’s a combination of shock, disbelief and fear,” former Georgia, NFL and USFL quarterback Matt Robinson said. “What does my future hold? Why does he think I’m not good enough for this job? What have I done differently than when I made teams?”

Broncos Head Coach Red Miller made a blockbuster trade with the Jets to acquire Robinson giving up a first and second round pick and another quarterback, Craig Penrose to get Matt as his starter. A year and a half later, a new Head Coach, Dan Reeves called Matt in the office and said, “I’ve never seen a guy so good one day and so bad the next. So I’m going in a different direction.”

Robinson laughed telling me that story saying, “Although it’s the truth it doesn’t make it any less painful this many years later.”

“Sometimes it’s a personality conflict with a coach or a teammate who has more value to the organization. It’s not always about how good you are. Sometimes it’s about money. I was anxious to get into the business world so the transition wasn’t traumatic for me. I had a longer career than I expected.”

Robinson is active in the NFL Players Association; helping recently “retired” players with their move out of the game. The NFLPA and the NFL through their Legends community recognized the need for a real transition plan for most players.

“I don’t think anybody believes it the first time they’re cut,” Robinson added. “It takes three or four times early in a career to come to that reality. Veterans around eight or nine years in the league start to look for “The Turk,” knowing their day is coming soon.”

It’s coming, no matter what. It’s just a matter of time. If he’s smart with his money, a player could be set for life. The reality is a Sports Illustrated study showed 78% of all players in the NFL are bankrupt or in financial distress within two years of leaving the league. NFL Legends is trying to change that statistic, creating programs for continuing education, preparing players for jobs and life after football. Players have been part of a community in the locker room their whole lives, and suddenly they’re out of it.

“This ends,” I told former Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell in the late ’90’s once in the locker room when he was a player here. I thought he “big timed” me and blew me off during an interview early in his career. He kind of rolled his eyes and walked off. Years later when his playing career ended, we ended up working together on several projects and laughed about that conversation.

“You’re right. It does end. And quickly,” he said with a chuckle.

Brunell played 19 years in the NFL but still wasn’t ready for it to be over. He kept himself in shape, ran, threw and did whatever that summer, waiting for the call for his 20th year.

It never came.

“It takes a while to realize that it’s over,” he told me. Brunell has stayed close to the game through his work with NFL Legends, and as the Head Coach at Episcopal. “I’ve been benched, traded and cut,” he said. “I’ll be alright.”

Other guys don’t adapt as well. Michelle McManamon is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Jacksonville based “Operation New Uniform.” They mostly work with veterans transitioning out of military service into the civilian world. Recently though they’ve included athletes whose careers have ended and are looking to reconnect with reality.

“Whether it’s voluntary or involuntary, when transitioning out of the military, professional sport, or a business, our roles sometimes get confused with our identity. McManamon explained. “The quicker we understand that our roles don’t identify who we are and that it is our identity; self-image, self-esteem, self-concept, and self-worth that make up our being, the smoother the transition will be.”

Athletes are accustomed to an interview being somewhere on the field, usually starting with a 40-yard dash. Stepping into the real world requires some adjustment and new skills.

“We teach our clients the importance of asking high impact questions in interviews,” McManamon added. “This gives the interviewee the ability to maintain control and gain confidence throughout the interview process.”

“You spend every minute during the week trying to make yourself better on Friday for high school, Saturday for college or Sunday for the pros,” former Jaguars linebacker Lonnie Marts explained. “Then you don’t have that, and you’re thinking ‘OK, I’ll get back involved with my friends and family.’ Only to find out they also have lives of their own. You just didn’t notice.”

Martz has stayed close to the game as the Athletic Director and Head Coach at Harvest Community School. “Hey you need a job,” Lonnie quoted his wife saying with a laugh.

“I knew it was over when my agent called and said, “Nobody’s interested after your last workouts. It might be time to hang ’em up.”

“It’s kind of a fixed process,” Martz believes. “They want to slide the older guys out regardless of their talent. They tell you, “We don’t want you, and it’d be better if you went without a fight.”

It’s rare to see a Paul Posluzsny or Rashean Mathis walk away from their career as an athlete with some juice left.

“In my mind I was prepared mentally to stop playing,” Rashean told me. “I always told myself I was OK if I had to stop playing because of injury or whatever. I know that sounds counterproductive and not very positive but by saying that I was a little better in getting out.”

And even though he felt like he left on his own terms, the reaction of his mind and body somewhat surprised Rashean.

“Even when I stepped out, and I knew I was doing it, I was at a crossroads thinking, “What do I do next? What is my career move? Do I jump into something right away? Turn down coaching? A lot of stuff comes at you quickly and it takes time to sort it out. Your mind and your body has to figure it out at the same time.”

“I couldn’t look Telvin (Smith) or Myles (Jack) in the eye if I was a step slow and didn’t make a play,” Paul Posluzsny said at his farewell press conference. Paul knew he could still play, but he wanted something different.

“I don’t’ know,” he added when pressed. “Graduate school, something in aviation (he’s a pilot). When asked if coaching could be in his future he paused and said, “It’s something I wouldn’t not rule out.”

Former Major League Catcher Rick Wilkens said somewhat tongue-in-cheek, “It happened more often than I’d like to remember,” about being told he wasn’t in a team’s plans. “It bothers you a little less the older you get. I’m an old fashioned guy, being an organizational player. So when it first happened with the Cubs it was a shock. I had invested a lot in the community and the people there.”

Wilkens spent time with eight different teams during an 11-year Major League career. As a left-handed hitting catcher, he was a pretty valuable commodity. At one point Rick was one of only six catchers in MLB history to hit .300 and 30 home runs in the same season. He did that with the Cubs early in his career so being traded from Chicago had his head spinning.

“Nobody wants to hear ‘We’ve traded you to the Houston Astros'” Wilkens said. “Nothing against the Astros but you go through the whole spectrum of emotions. I got pulled off the field during a game and the manger Jim Riggleman said, “Rick, I don’t know what’s going on but I’ve been told to take you off the field. Go in the clubhouse.”

“I was surprised, shocked, in denial and then you get mad. I was trying to play hurt, so I was pretty agitated. But it’s part of the game. As you get older you get a little smarter and your understanding gets a little deeper.”

And despite the wisdom that veteran status gives players, and his deeper understanding of the game, Wilkens wasn’t ready to end his career when he stopped playing.

“My last full season (w/ San Diego) I felt like I still had a lot to offer the game. I was brought up that if you put up good numbers and caught and played the game how you’re supposed to play it you’d be able to stay in the game. I played independent league ball thinking I might get picked up but it didn’t happen and I saw the writing on the wall.” The evolution of the game kind of forced me out.”

Even success on the field didn’t soften the blow for Brett Myers. While they didn’t yank him off the field, after the 2009 World Series with the Phillies, they called Myers into the clubhouse office while he was cleaning out his locker to tell him they weren’t brining him back next year.

“I felt like I was slapped in the face,” Myers recalled. “I busted my butt since I was 18 years old for you, so 12 years’ later you just said ‘beat it?’ You’d think they’d have some loyalty, but it is a business. I told them when I left, ‘You’ll never win a World Series without me.’ I was more bitter than thinking it through, but they haven’t. I wanted to finish my career in Philly. These days a lot of front office execs are basically running fantasy baseball with guys careers.”

A 12-year career with four teams ended in Cleveland for Myers. The Indians signed him and kept Corey Kluber in the minors. When Myers got hurt mid-year, they brought Kluber up and he flourished. Brett talked with him at the end of the season in Cleveland (they both lived in Jacksonville in the off-season) and explained to him how good he was. Kluber won the Cy Young the next year.

“That’s part of your job late in your career, to help the young kids come up. Take them under your wing. I don’t want any credit but I just hope some of them said ‘He gave me some good advice.'”

So is Myers happy at this point how his career played out?

“Over the year’s I’m more satisfied, but I also realize when you can’t help a team anymore and you should just pack up and go home. I’m still frustrated how my career was jockeyed around and how it might have been different. I took the ball even when I was hurt. I just told them ‘Give me the ball.'”

“I was always musically inclined so I’ve always dabbled in music a bit,” he said of his post-baseball life. “That’s really helped. The adrenaline of getting on stage is like playing. And staying here was important to me. This is my home.”

So if “The Turk” shows up at your cubicle one day just know that all of these guys picked North Florida as their home after their athletic careers ended, voluntary or otherwise. And they’re all doing well.

(Author’s note: I just wanted to say thanks to everybody who wrote, emailed, texted, called and stopped me on the street to offer their support in my own “transition.” You’ve been very kind and I appreciate it.)

Bandon Dunes: A “Must Play” Golf Experience

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So I topped two off the first tee.

After weeks of anticipation and preparation for a trip to Bandon Dunes, that’s right, I topped two off the first tee in our first day of play at Bandon Trails.

That’s something I haven’t done in probably 30 years. And I hit them so bad I’m surprised they didn’t hit my left foot. I trundled down into the high grass and heather with our caddie, Cowboy, in tow in search of one or both. In the first 15 yards or so I found a half dozen balls and Jim, my playing partner said, “Just drop one out here by me.”

I walked over to where he had put his drive in the fairway and threw a ball down. Jim was 160 out and hit a nice shot to an elevated green to about ten feet. I stood over mine just trying to make contact and move it toward the green.

And I hit 7-iron in the hole.

Little did I know that 10-minute sequence would be a microcosm of my experience at Bandon Dunes. While I didn’t top two off of any other tees, Bandon Dunes can be humbling, hard, spectacular, beautiful, awe-inspiring and nearly perfect in any 10-minute stretch.

Traveling all the way to southwest Oregon, I didn’t expect to see anybody I knew. But on the massive range at the practice area, the guy taking swings just one spot away from me was a golf writer friend I’ve known for more than 35 years.

“Probably the best golf resort in the world,” he said when I said hi and he learned it was my first trip there.

And he’s probably right.

It’s a full day of travel from the east coast. We looked into flying to North Bend Airport but United only goes twice a week from Denver and San Francisco and if the flight doesn’t go, you’re stuck for a few days if you can’t make other arrangements. So we flew to Portland and rented a car for the 4-½ drive. Being from Florida, the approach to Portland featured a fly-by of Mt. Hood, something you don’t see every day, and the drive showcases some of the most spectacular scenery toward southwest Oregon.

We stopped in Eugene to take a look at the University of Oregon campus and have lunch, then drove straight to Bandon Dunes. It’s pretty remote, and it’s the only thing there. So if you like golf and want to get away, it’s the perfect spot. We drove the property to get a “lay of the land” then walked across the street for a nice snack at The Inn.

While the resort is remote, it doesn’t lack anything you’d want on a golf trip. Great courses, several nice restaurants, a spot for a cocktail and cigar to watch the sunset, a massage center and a whirlpool (co-ed) for sore (walking) muscles.

We played the four golf courses from south to north, in order, starting with Bandon Trails, a Coor/Crenshaw design cut into the hillside.

Spectacular holes seemed stacked one after another. Each more beautiful than the next. It’s not contrived at all, rather it looks like they cleared a few trees where the golf holes were already laid out. Soaring pines with rugged, rough edges that frame each hole.

Jim called it “a mature adult” adding Bandon Trails just says “Here I am, let’s see how you do.” Like every other course at the resort, “The Trails” shares some similar characteristics with the other three courses.

The holes change with the weather. Whichever way the wind is blowing, that effects how the hole plays. “No two steps are the same,” is how one guest described walking 72 holes along the Pacific Coast. Save for a couple of forced carries, you can play most along the ground. “It’s as good for a 22 handicap as it is for a two,” a friend explained.

“OK, get ready” Cowboy said as we walked off the 14th green. What we didn’t know was turning back toward the clubhouse, 15, 16, 17 and 18 played directly into about a 25 mph wind. Sixteen is a par 5, straight up a hill, a tough hole in any conditions. I hit driver, 5 iron, rescue, gap wedge and made a 15 footer downhill, downwind, left to right I had no business making for one of the best bogey sixes ever. During that stretch I had two putts blown off line. If you’ve never experienced that I had to lean into the wind and it absolutely changes your golf swing. As hard as it was, it was equally interesting. Apparently the wind blows there for most of the summer but starts to lay down in September. It wasn’t like that for the rest of our trip, although wind did play a factor on every shot, on every course, on every day.

Bring your walking shoes to Bandon Dunes and I’d suggest walking three or four miles a day before you get there.Trails is the toughest walk of the four, meandering up the mountain and then over it at 14. You go back down into it the valley and then straight back up and into the wind.

I’m wondering if as the golfing population gets older if carts won’t be a part of the experience at some point.

We played Bandon Dunes, the original course on our second day. The wind was still up but not quite as fierce. This course feels big and has some of the most beautiful vistas anywhere. The 4th hole goes out to the Pacific and is considered one of the most beautiful golf holes in the world.

Because it is.

As you play the holes along the ocean they are so spectacular, it’s hard to remember to concentrate and play golf. Wind is always a factor and the design and set up try to match that.

Our third day we made our way to Pacific Dunes. It’s big and beautiful and every hole has it’s own character. As the wind comes off the Pacific there are some natural edges that frame the course. But good shots are rewarded at Pacific Dunes. If you’re hitting it straight, you’ve got no problem. It features several holes along the ocean, some north/south, some south/north so depending on the season the wind will be either in your face or at your back.

I haven’t played everywhere but I have been a few places and it’s not hard to say eleven at Pacific Dunes is one of the most beautiful holes in the world. The back nine starts with two par three’s at and on the Pacific. Like the other courses at the resort, 17 and 18 are two very tough finishing holes.

On our last day we played the newest course, the links called Old Macdonald

Standing on the first tee it feels like you’re in Scotland. Absolutely authentic. That was the intent when Tom Doak designed the course, paying homage to features used by C.B. Macdonald in the past. Several holes have design features that look like they were transported to the Oregon coast from Scotland. You need to play the ball on the ground more often than you think. I probably hit five different shots that could be described as “bump and run” and I probably should have played a couple more. This would be a good course to play first if you’re planning a trip to get adjusted to the elements, tight lies, and green speeds. Like every other course at Bandon Dunes, it has some beautiful vistas.

And again, 18 is a tough finishing hole.

Going to Bandon Dunes to play all four courses should be planned as a “big” golf trip. Take your time getting there and getting home. Enjoy the scenery and make the travel part of the adventure. You don’t have to leave the resort, but if you must, a little six mile drive down the coast to Bandon-by-the-Sea is a nice diversion. We had dinner at Edgewaters and the food was great. Much like everywhere we went, the staff was very friendly. It’s also in a pretty interesting building that has a great history behind it. And has one of the best sunsets you’ll ever see if the clouds have lifted. Even the locals stop to take a picture.

Accommodations are set up generally for two players to share a room. Two nice queen beds, big rooms, two vanities, good size shower. My room looked like it needed some sprucing up, and perhaps it’s on the list for renovation. Nonetheless, a deer and fawn walked by the sliding glass door one morning, apparently just taking a stroll.

All of the things I’d heard about Bandon Dunes were true. If you’re interested in golf, it’s a “must play.”

No TO, We Don’t Care

It’s rare to sit down and write an article you don’t want to write. I didn’t want to write this article about Terrell Owens snubbing the Pro Football Hall of Fame because it only feeds his problematic (maybe clinical) need for attention. But not going to the HOF induction is unprecedented, and fans, the Hall and even Owen’s supporters deserve better.

Upon being notified by Owens, the Hall took the high road.

“We are disappointed but will respect Terrell’s decision not to participate in the Enshrinement,” Hall-of-Fame president and CEO David Baker said in a prepared statement. “While unprecedented, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the nearly 5,000 volunteers and the entire community are committed to celebrating the excellence of the Class of 2018 that will kick off the NFL’s 100th season.”

No real reason was given by Owens as to why he’s not going to his own induction. He didn’t show up with the rest of the Class of 2018 at the Super Bowl this year, so you figured something was up. He was vocal about the process of selection, calling it “a joke” when he wasn’t selected in his first or second year of eligibility.

For some context, you know the names, John Mackey, Mike Ditka, Carl Eller, Jack Youngblood, Jerry Kramer and Kevin Greene? All are Hall of Famers, all waited at least 12 years before they were selected and inducted into the Hall.

From a statistical standpoint, Owens is number two in almost every receiving category and made enough great plays to merit consideration and eventually selection to the Hall. But as I’ve said many times, if we call football “the ultimate team game” doesn’t what kind of teammate you are count?

But here’s the thing: He’s in the Hall.

Once that announcement is made on the Saturday night before the Super Bowl, that process is over. As selectors, we don’t find out who gets in the Hall in each class until everybody else does. When the announcement is made, that’s when we find out.

There’s a big push these days for players to be “first ballot” selectees. That might be a thing in baseball with many more ballots and a very different process. Nobody ever asks guys in the Hall of Fame if you were a “first-ballot” or second or third or whatever.

You’re a Hall of Famer. Period.

And once that year’s class is named, I can tell you as a member of the Selection Committee, it’s over. The Committee moves on. The process is very serious and very difficult. One thing it is not is “a joke.”

So I’m not sure what Terrell Owens is trying to accomplish by not attending the ceremony in Canton. If he thinks it’s a snub that will somehow “show up’ the Hall and the selectors for not honoring him sooner he’s sorely mistaken.

We don’t care.

Hopefully my friends who have been Owens apologists over the years will stop telling me what a great guy he is.

He’s not. It’s that simple. Not anybody I want to be associated with anyway.

He says he’ll have his own celebration somewhere else at a different time.


Don’t invite me.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Marrone’s Jaguars Year 2 Motivation

As the Jaguars enter their final week of OTA’s (scheduled Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday) we’ve seen that they’re noticeably faster, they’re quarterback play is better than expected and they have high expectations of themselves.

“We achieved a lot but didn’t check all of the boxes of our goals. How great do we want to be?” Telvin Smith explained of the Jaguars motivation this year.

You don’t learn much in terms of actual football talent when it comes to OTA’s. “Everybody’s All-Airport” now retired NFL writer Vic Ketchman used to say. “Everybody looks like they’re going to the Pro Bowl when they’re walking through the airport.”

It doesn’t turn anybody’s eye when good things happen in “pajamas” as Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone calls the shorts and t-shirts practices.

“You can really get down on a guy in these situations,” Marrone explained. “You know, gee, he doesn’t run as well as I thought. And then when you put the pads on and start hitting you’re like, ‘Oh wait, he’s making all the plays.”

So as usual, you can’t make the tam in May or June, but you can get cut.

“We keep challenging the players with the discipline of mental errors at this time of year,” Marrone said. “One of the things that is important at this time of the year is making sure you have a true understanding.”

Honesty is one of the hallmarks of Marrone’s coaching philosophy. You can either do it or you can’t in his mind. And he’s developed his own way of evaluating players through mistakes he’s made.

As the Head Coach in Buffalo, Marrone admitted to making some mistakes in how he looked at who could play and who couldn’t. In his first year, he had a very simple way of seeing what was happening.

“It just went by what you saw on the film and how they did on the field,” he explained. “It was a very competitive environment. People rise to the occasion and thrive in that type of environment.”

But after he got to know the players, he started hedging on guys who he thought could play.

“I started to say he didn’t have a great day, but he has done this before. Putting those marbles in the bank based off of performance. I said to myself he will be fine. All last year he did this well. He will get this. He just had a bad day. The next day he had two bad days. Then all of a sudden you start coaching a little bit differently because of that experience you have had with that player.”

And he’s trying to avoid repeating that as the Jaguars head coach in year two.

“That experience has been in the past. You have to look what is going on right now and focus on the moment right now. That is why every day, myself included, if I just did everything exactly the same that I did last year then I am not helping this football team. I have to prove every day when I come in here that I am doing everything I can for us to win.”

It’s an old saying because it’s true in the NFL. You’re never staying the same. You’re either getting better or getting worse. Over the first two week’s of OTA’s the Jaguars are reminded of that every day.