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Call an Audible: Let My Pivot from Harvard Law to NFL Coach Inspire Your Transition

Call an Audible: Let My Pivot from Harvard Law to NFL Coach Inspire Your Transition

by Daron K. Roberts
Call an Audible: Let My Pivot from Harvard Law to NFL Coach Inspire Your Transition

Call an Audible: Let My Pivot from Harvard Law to NFL Coach Inspire Your Transition

by Daron K. Roberts

Paperback(New Edition)

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In the summer of 2006, author Daron K. Roberts was just one year away from earning a law degree from his dream school: Harvard. But that summer, in the throes of a clerkship at a Texas law firm, Roberts had a revelation—he wanted something different. Very different. Daron Roberts wanted to be an NFL football coach.

After making the transition from Harvard Law student to NFL newbie, Roberts worked as a coach for the Kansas City Chiefs, Detroit Lions, West Virginia Mountaineers, and the Cleveland Browns. But he’s not forgotten how hard it was to take that first step in a new direction. In Call an Audible, Roberts shares his inspiring journey and reveals his playbook to help guide your next transition.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781632991065
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group, LLC
Publication date: 12/16/2016
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 226
Sales rank: 1,164,120
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.52(d)

Read an Excerpt

Call an Audible

Let My Pivot from Harvard Law to NFL Coach Inspire your Transition

By Daron K. Roberts

River Grove Books

Copyright © 2016 Daron K. Roberts
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-63299-106-5



* * *

As I prepared for my journey from Mount Pleasant, Texas, to Kansas City, Missouri, for training camp, I was transported back seven months to standing on the deck of the Lyubov Orlova as she disembarked from Tierra del Fuego, en route to Antarctica. Named after the godmother of Russian cinema, the thirty-year-old ship wore her age well. We lurched southward into the outer stretches of Chilean waters, headed to Antarctica, the sixth continent on my bucket list of visiting all seven before turning thirty. School was in session, but I had strategically chosen classes that called for a research paper in lieu of a final exam. So, instead of sitting in a sterile classroom listening to a professor drone on about bankruptcy law, I decided it was time for me to cross off bucket list item number six. I was twenty-eight — the thirtieth year of my existence on earth was approaching more quickly than I wanted to accept.

Standing on that Russian ship and heading for islands of ice, my heart was beating to the tempo of a Motown groove. I was giddy. The hairs on my neck stood at attention. I was short of breath. These symptoms were less a result of the crisp air and more a byproduct of anticipation. That feeling — the irrepressible sucker punch of plunging into the unknown without a British-accented GPS voice calling the shots or a sanitized "Let's Go" guidebook planning my itinerary — was palpable. I could taste it. It reminded me of my first swig of whiskey. The initial bite, the cascade of tingles, and the eventual warming of the chest were real to me. On the contrary, sitting in a civil procedure class was a bitter pill. There was no warming of the chest.

My impending departure for NFL training camp brought back all of those gut-tightening and sweetly anxious feelings. After kissing my mother goodbye and hugging my dad, I pointed my road-worn Tahoe to the northeast up Highway 271 into Oklahoma. The butterflies had returned. I was excited for the next step.


I zipped through the Sooner State, at times clocking over eighty miles per hour down the Indian Nation Turnpike, eating up the miles to Kansas City. Crossing the Missouri state line provided the prick to my psyche that I needed for the final push.

Lamonte Winston, executive director of player development for the Kansas City Chiefs, met me upon my arrival. He is one of the founding fathers of NFL player development. Player development involves cultivating and honing players' skills to ensure success long after the last touchdown. His passion for the game was evident in his words, but what was even more tangible was his desire to guide men from helmets to healthy lifestyles. Lamonte was concerned with ensuring that players would transition into a rewarding life once their football value had been reduced to zero. In a league where the average tenure was 3.5 years, many players had spent at least twenty years preparing for a profession that would last for only three. The shock of returning to society without a ball in hand — similar to the post-traumatic stress disorder experienced by our service members after returning from battle — could be debilitating. Lamonte was standing at the front door when a rookie landed on the doorsteps of Arrowhead Stadium and he would be the last to shake a player's hand when a player was traded or cut.

Lamonte offered his hand. "So, you're the Hahvud guy?" he asked.

"I guess you could say that," I said, shrugging. I should have known that, like it or not, I'd become known by my alma mater.

Lamonte welcomed me to the Land of the Chiefs and promptly checked me into the team hotel. The only perk of staying at the hotel, notwithstanding the free rent, was its proximity to Arrowhead Stadium. We would stay in Kansas City for a week and then head to River Falls, Wisconsin, for training camp. Upon entering my room, I met Grady Brown, who would be my roommate for the next two weeks. In the regular season, Grady was a defensive backs coach at Alabama A&M University, and he still looked as if he could throw on a pair of shoulder pads and play.

"So, where you coming from?" Grady asked.

"Mount Pleasant, Texas. Well, that's my hometown, but I've spent the past five years in Boston," I replied.

"Oh, who were you coaching with? BU or BC?"

"Well, neither," I explained. "I was in grad school and then law school."

"Law school?" he asked. "Where?"


"Harvard? What in the hell are you doing here? You trying to be a GM?"

"Nope, I want to be a coach. I want to coach defensive backs."

"Man, that's nuts! I definitely was not ready for that." Grady laughed. "Well, you teach me a little law, and I will teach you a little ball, deal?"

"No doubt, let's do it."

We instantly became friends.

Over the course of the next few days, I had that same exchange many times. My first encounters at Arrowhead consisted of quizzical looks from the staff — everyone from equipment managers to the defensive coordinator. I was the "Hahvud guy" and people took great pleasure in practicing their Southie accents on me.

But my badge of honor quickly became a scarlet letter. It would be an understatement to say that skepticism was the general consensus among my compatriots. I realized that I would have to combat the perception that I was a disgruntled attorney who was looking for a coaching job as an escape from the corporate world. My approach was simple: I would diplomatically stalk the coaches and demonstrate through my actions that I was serious about my future in the League. This was not a summer escapade. I was playing the long game.

The one activity that consumed the majority of a coach's time was watching film. During training camp, a coach was looking at the tape of opponents the team would play in the fall. During the season, a coach was looking at the film from the most recent game as well as film of the upcoming opponent. During the offseason, the coach was looking at the college tapes of players entering the NFL Draft. The process never ended. As I walked the halls I could easily recognize when a coach was looking at tape. The room would seem dark at first glance from the hallway but, on closer inspection, I could see the faint glow of the projector. I would just walk into the office and sit down in the back. If two or more coaches were together, I would never intrude, just in case they were discussing trade secrets. But if the coach was solo, I was going to quietly take advantage of the learning opportunity.

My tape-stalking mission was a two-pronged approach. First, it would show the coaches that I was interested in their work. Second, I would learn how to analyze film — arguably the primary activity of football coaches.

I learned a lot from observing the film-watching technique of one particular coach — Tim Krumrie, our defensive line coach. From my research on "Krummie," I learned he was considered to be a true tough guy. He played for twelve seasons as a defensive lineman for the Cincinnati Bengals. When the Bengals played the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIII, Krumrie broke his leg so severely that the medics had to use an inflatable splint to stabilize it on the field. Most players — even tough players — would have acquiesced to leaving the field for a trip to the emergency room after snapping their leg in two. But he refused to leave the stadium, and he sat in agony watching the game from the Bengals locker room. The Bengals eventually lost, but his story became the type of legend the NFL is built on.

Given Krummie's history as a player and reputation for being a defensive line tactician, I knew I could learn a lot from him. He would zoom in on the moment that a defensive end turned the edge on his way to sacking the quarterback. Over and over, he would press the rewind button. As he watched and rewatched, he would grunt in various tones that would communicate his evaluation of the technique on display. A flat grunt meant the player had taken an easy approach and was missing an opportunity to outmaneuver the less athletic offensive lineman who stood between him and a sack. A highpitched grunt meant there was something Krumrie liked — that he had noticed some nearly imperceptible aspect of physics combined with geometry and mixed with a tinge of relentlessness that piqued his interest. As I learned to match the subtleties of his vocalizations with what I saw on the film, I began to develop my own philosophy of what worked for a defensive lineman. I spent that week leading up to our departure on a "soak in" mission, to blend into the artwork and digest all of the information that I could wrap my eyes and ears around. I filled two notebooks in seven days with observations and first impressions.

During the week leading up to our departure for training camp, I made it my mission to learn everyone's names. Armed with flash cards that I had made by printing profile pictures from the team's website, I would camp out in the hotel bathroom and work through the names and faces of everyone from the assistant general manager to the communications director. Why the bathroom? Because it offered refuge from Grady's curious gaze. Fearful of being viewed as a complete putz, I commandeered the toilet seat as my study hall. By the first day of training camp, I had memorized thirty-eight names.

In addition to learning everyone's names, I made a list of five personal goals to ensure that my debut did not end up as a finale.

1 Find three champions.

2 Keep a notepad in my pocket at all times.

3 Carry two pens, two pencils, and two Sharpies (one red and one black) at all times.

4 Get to the gym every morning by 4:45 a.m.

5 Talk to Herm at least once a day.

In the moment, I thought my five goals were things that a would-be coach had to do in order to stay in the building. Looking back, however, I see that my goals could fit into the pursuit of any dream job. If you're trying to break into a new career, your main objective must be to "stick." You want the sum of your personality and work ethic to make it difficult for an organization to let you go.


I have always bristled at the notion of having a "circle" of friends. A circle feels too big to manage. I prefer to convert the circle into a triangle. With three key people in my corner, I would have enough support to guide me through the labyrinth of the Chiefs organization and help me to secure the full-time gig that would keep me in the NFL.

Finding influencers in an organization can be a challenging task. And it's important to remember that an influencer is not someone who simply offers encouragement — it is someone who can make things happen. Very seldom does an accurate map of the influencers in an organization overlap with the organizational chart, so it's critical to listen to and watch who is making decisions to uncover who has real leverage in an organization.


Leading up to my departure for Kansas City, I initiated a reconnaissance mission. I read every book on coaching that I could find. I consumed Jon Gruden's Do You Love Football?!, Bill Walsh's The Score Takes Care of Itself, and Neil Hayes'sWhen the Game Stands Tall, all within a week. From there, I moved on to John Wooden's Wooden on Leadership, Bob Lamonte's Winning the NFL Way, and David Maraniss's When Pride Still Mattered the next week. I wanted to accumulate as much insider information as I could before starting my internship. The one takeaway that kept surfacing from my reading was the need to have a constant form of taking notes. With the potential embarrassment of a cell phone ringing during a meeting too likely, I embraced the pocket-size spiral notepad.


Unlike the notebook, the pens weren't for me — they were for the coaches around me. I was certain that someone was going to need a pen, and I was going to be the person to offer one.

I seldom used a pen. I wanted the ability to erase because I knew my error quotient would be relatively high in my coaching start-up phase. The pencil was my best friend. I wrote down everything I saw, heard, and felt. Did a prepractice speech go over well? Was Troy picking up the defense quickly enough? How many cones did Krummie need for defensive line drills? I wrote at angles. I used shorthand. I wrote in verse. I circled, starred, and underlined like a man with a publisher's deadline. Each night, I would transcribe my scribblings into well-defined notes organized into buckets (Defensive Strategy, Scheduling, Crisis Management, Injury Protocol, Handling the Media, and Leadership). I was building a library of notes that I could reference as I built my coaching career.

In the coaching universe, the Sharpie is an essential tool of the trade. In the late nights before a practice, coaches would spend long hours drawing "practice cards," diagrams of offensive and defensive plays that would be executed during the following day's practice. Passing routes, running lanes, and blocking assignments would collide on an 8.5 × 11 sheet of card stock. Invariably, during a practice session, a coach would have to make an adjustment to his cards. I wanted to be the go-to guy for anyone needing a Sharpie.

My pen preparation made me the Steve Urkel of the coaching world. I wore one pencil clipped to my collar. Two Sharpies were clipped on the left pocket of my shorts, and on the right pocket were two Pilot Precise V5 pens and the remaining pencil. I was armed for battle. Our equipment manager would always tease, "Are you some starving artist?" I shrugged it off, though. I knew he'd ask me for a pen before the camp was over.


I have always had difficulty sleeping, seldom getting more than five hours of rest a night. After spending fifteen years trying every sleeping pill and every concoction that I could find online, I decided to just give in and make my early mornings productive. Thus, each morning, I crept out of my dorm room in Grimm Hall and made the trek across the River Falls campus to work out at 4:45 a.m. Based on my research on Herm, I knew that he also adhered to a strict workout regimen and that I would likely find him at the gym. Remember, Herm was a critical point on my triangle of support. Running into Herm at the gym killed three birds with one stone: talking to Herm, working out, and cultivating a major point in my triangle of influencers.


Camp was grueling and chaotic, but I was determined to rise to the challenge. One coach, Mike Priefer, immediately noticed me hanging around during practice. He couldn't avoid it — I was always asking if there was anything that I could do to help. After a couple of days of "no," he finally relented and rattled off a few directives on where to place a series of orange cones. I scribbled the notes in my notebook and ran off to fulfill my orders.

Prief was not pleased. He promptly started moving cones and coaching me on my errors. I scribbled more notes. By day six, I had become a professional cone layer. Building on that success, I began to pick up additional tasks like catching the practice snaps of our long snapper, Jean-Philippe Darche, who would rifle snaps from fifteen yards. It took a few days for me to get accustomed to the force of the snapper's darts, but I finally got the hang of it.

As a roving jack-of-all-tasks eager to become indispensable, I pestered as many people as I possibly could. For example, if I saw the offensive line coach putting practice bags out, I'd ask if he needed a hand. The first plea would always elicit the same response: "No." But after a few days, I'd get the telltale shrug from a coach — indicating that my persistence had paid off — and then I'd be put to work holding bags, retrieving footballs, acting as a tackling dummy. You name it, I did it. I wasn't so much a human as I was another piece of practice equipment. And in reality, that's exactly what I wanted. I needed to blend in and become an indispensable part of the operation.

* * *

Herm made it clear to me that after the second preseason game, my internship would be officially over. Because the sheer demand for coaching positions could not keep up with the relatively low turnover, Herm wanted to manage my expectations. Always looking for clues in the team paperwork (I was also the copier jockey), I saw a flight reservation that had my name on it. But I couldn't accept my dismissal. I had absolutely nothing to return to. Of course, my parents would have allowed me to play the "recent-grad-trying-to-figure-it-out" card for a few months and to camp out in my childhood bedroom, but I had too much pride to play that hand.

I had one toe inside the building and I had no intention of leaving. Camp was coming to an end and there were three days left until we were slated to return to Kansas City. I decided that I had only one chance at getting retained for the season. I needed to go to the top — every day — and convince Herm that he needed me.


Excerpted from Call an Audible by Daron K. Roberts. Copyright © 2016 Daron K. Roberts. Excerpted by permission of River Grove Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Chapter 6 HUG A TREE,
Chapter 10 ON THE PAYROLL,

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