Home News Speeches The Role of a Coach
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  • Robert S. Mueller, III
  • Director
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • American Football Coaches Association
  • Nashville, Tennessee
  • January 08, 2013

Remarks prepared for delivery.

Good evening.

It is a privilege to be here tonight and to receive the Tuss McLaughry award. It is also an honor to be recognized amid such a long list of notable citizens.

I never thought I would be part of a group that included General MacArthur, Bob Hope, Billy Graham, Dwight Eisenhower, and especially John Wayne.

But of course, behind every good coach is a great team, and I accept this award on behalf of the men and women of the FBI.

At the outset, I confess that I only played football for one year. It was not for me. The idea of throwing my body against someone else with no immediate payoff did not necessarily appeal to me.

Instead, I gravitated toward a game with fewer body slams and more deep thinkers—hockey.

But I will say that football is the one sport where every member of the team has to act together to be effective. Football is the only sport that is synchronized in that way. Well, apart, of course, from synchronized swimming.

In football, everyone has a role to play; the team cannot win absent even one player. In terms of working in an organizational structure to accomplish a goal—whatever that goal may be—football is a metaphor for life.

Tonight I would like to focus on the important role that coaches play. Tuss McLaughry knew that a coach does not just teach a player how to block and to tackle. Coaches are parental figures. They reinforce the importance of hard work and dedication; of selflessness and fair play; and of character, humility, and leadership.

Your own Grant Teaff is that kind of coach. Some 30 years ago, Coach Teaff was the head coach at Baylor when Kevin Perkins—who holds one of the top three positions in the FBI—was a member of the school’s practice squad.

For one season, Kevin served as a tackling dummy for future NFL greats Mike Singletary and Walter Abercrombie. He remembers having a permanent mark on his forehead from repeatedly slamming his head against the inside of his helmet. His knuckles and elbows were raw from scraping his body along the Astroturf.

Kevin was six feet tall and 190 pounds. He was not fast enough to be a running back, and he was too small to play defense. He was getting beat up week after week, while trying to maintain his grades and hold down a job.

Kevin—as I have come to find out—is no quitter. And he loved football. But he knew he had to leave the team. He talked to the practice squad coach, who told him that before leaving the team, he had to talk to Coach Teaff.

To Kevin’s surprise, Coach Teaff knew him by name, even though he had 130 young men on his team, and Kevin was, at best, fourth string. Coach Teaff sat and talked with Kevin—about life, about community, about church, and about giving back. And in just that one hour, Kevin went from being a brokenhearted kid giving up his beloved game to being a young man who realized he had his whole life and his career in front of him.

To this day, Kevin considers Coach Teaff one of the most influential people in his life.

Coach Teaff, I must say, I have spent the last 12 years with Kevin and I have not had nearly the same impact on him as you had in that one hour you spent with him.

You as coaches do everything you can to shape your players’ lives. You build courage. You develop strong character. And you instill a sense of community in each and every player.

When I think of courage, I am reminded of a fellow Marine, Lt. Gen. John Kelly. He spoke at a Veteran’s Day event two years ago, just days after losing his son—who was also a Marine—in combat in Afghanistan.

General Kelly told a story of two young Marines who were standing watch at the entrance gate of an outpost in Iraq—an outpost that housed dozens of Marines and Iraqi police. The two Marines had known each other for mere minutes. One was headed home in a few days. The other had just arrived in Iraq.

Shortly after sunrise, a large truck turned down the alley toward the gate, weaving around concrete barriers and gaining speed. As others ran for their lives, the two Marines pulled out their weapons and began firing. The truck was stopped just short of the gate and exploded. Unfortunately, the two men were killed in the blast.

One of the outpost security cameras recorded the attack. In the six seconds it took that truck to reach the gate, those two young men exhibited unparalleled courage. They never stepped back; they never even shifted their weight. Instead, they stood strong in the face of danger to protect their fellow soldiers. That is what Marines do. It is what Marines always have done.

Though the risk factors are very different, football players show that same kind of courage. Much like Marines, football players run toward the inevitable confrontation. They lean forward, ready to take the hit. It is that kind of courage that is instilled by coaches—whether on the football field or the battleground. It is through that courage that young men and women develop discipline, dedication, and devotion to team over self.

Let me turn for a moment to a coach’s role in character development. Recently I read a story about a high school freshman player in Ohio by the name of Logan Thompson. Logan was a benchwarmer. He never missed a practice or a game. His father was always in the stands, even though Logan never saw any action on the field.

Last October, Logan’s father died unexpectedly. But Logan was determined to be in uniform and ready to play, just two days after his father’s death. He believed that was what his father would have wanted.

At the game, Logan sat on the bench as usual. His team had a comfortable lead when the team’s star running back, Michael Ferns, broke free on a long run. But instead of scoring a sure touchdown, the back stepped out of bounds on the one-yard line. While the fans wondered what in the world was going on, the head coach called for Logan. He told Logan that he was going in as a running back, and to run the “26” power play. Logan stared blankly at him, and the coach said, “It’s easy. Just follow Ferns into the end zone.” Logan scored his first touchdown on that next play.

Now, Michael Ferns could have added that touchdown to his own statistics. Instead, he put his own interests aside to help a teammate who had suffered a tragic loss. And that takes character. The coach put aside a sure touchdown for the sake of a young man who needed something good to hold onto. And that, too, takes character.

Everyone in this room knows that football is not just about the glory. It is not just about winning. It is building character to face life’s challenges. And as teams strive for a winning record, they should also strive for humility.

There are those who are naturally humble—individuals who are confident about their place in the world, and who do not seek to elevate their own status. My lifelong friend Lee Rawls—a college classmate who passed away two years ago—was naturally humble. He spent most of his career working on Capitol Hill. And he became, in essence, a coach to me.

When I became Director of the FBI, I asked him to join me as a close advisor. To my good fortune, he agreed. Lee knew how to cut through nonsense and get to the heart of the matter better than anyone. He could diffuse the tension with a witty aside and a wink of his eye—often, I must say, at my expense.

I remember one particularly heated meeting. Everyone was frustrated, mostly with me, and I myself may have been a wee bit ill-tempered. Lee sat silently, and then posed the following question: “What is the difference between the Director of the FBI and a 4-year-old child?” The room grew hushed, awaiting the answer. Finally, he said: “Height.”

On those days when we were under attack by the news media and being clobbered by Congress, when the attorney general—my boss—was not happy with me, I would walk down to Lee’s office, hoping for a sympathetic ear. I would ask, “How are we doing?” Lee would shake his head and say, “You’re toast. You’re dead meat. You’re history.” No words of encouragement there. He would continue, “Don’t take yourself too seriously, because no one else around here does.”

His innate sense of humility—the idea that the world does not revolve around you—was central to his character. That humility has been an important life lesson to me. A lesson the best coaches impart to their players every day.

Now I would like to turn to the coach’s role within the larger community.

I myself have been fortunate to have three families: my personal family—my wife and children; my Marine Corps family; and now my FBI family.

Coaches are fortunate in much the same way. They have their personal families, they have their players, and they have their communities. As coaches, you not only guide and protect your players; often you are the heart and soul of your communities. And your team may be the glue that holds the town together.

Given their winning record, you are probably familiar with the Clairton Bears—a team from Western Pennsylvania that was recently profiled on the national news. Clairton is a small town that has been hard-hit by the economy. The downtown is pockmarked with abandoned storefronts. And the population has dwindled.

There has been talk of shutting down the high school. But no one wants to, principally because the football team’s winning streak of 63 games is not only the best in the state, it is one of the longest winning streaks in the history of high school football. Indeed, the Bears won their fourth state championship in a row last month. As the school principal said, “Football is a way we can persevere. Everybody comes together around one common good thing we’ve got going on.”

Coach Tom Nola knows the team is not just playing for Clairton High School; they are playing for the community. And the team knows it, too.

Football is unique in its ability to bring a town together. That is why coaches have a responsibility not only to their players, but to the community as a whole. Each of you has taken this obligation to heart, both as community leaders and as members of this association.

I want to take this occasion to thank you for the support your organization has provided to the FBI. For more than a decade, we have worked together to protect the youngest and most vulnerable members of our communities. Together, we have implemented the Child ID program, which provides fingerprint identification kits to parents, enabling them to store their child’s fingerprints and DNA samples. You have helped to distribute more than 30 million Child ID Kits since the program began.

Last year, we joined forces to develop and publicize the Child ID app, which enables parents to store photos and vital information about their children on their smartphones—information that can quickly be shared with law enforcement in the event of an emergency. To date, this application has been downloaded more than 130,000 times. We are also working together to keep children safe online—safe from cyber bullying, child predators, and even identity theft.

Community outreach is a hallmark of strong coaching. And we in the FBI look forward to continuing our collective efforts to keep our children and our communities safe and strong.

I want to close by mentioning the concept of legacy in reference to coaching.

In my speech to new agents upon their graduation from the FBI Academy at Quantico, I impress upon them the legacy they are inheriting—the legacy that is now theirs to uphold and to pass on. I remind them that if they go anywhere in the world and tell someone that they work for the FBI, they will have that person’s immediate respect—because of the FBI’s legacy of more than 100 years of adherence to the ideals set forth in our motto: fidelity, bravery, and integrity.

The same is true for coaches. Coaches are instrumental in supporting and maintaining the legacies of their teams, their schools, and their communities. Coaches such as Brian Kelly and Nick Saban, both of whom led their teams to tremendous success this year. That kind of strong coaching takes dedication, commitment, and sacrifice—not only for coaches, but for their families as well. Sacrifices that include long nights, missed weekends, and extended absences.

Those in law enforcement face similar sacrifices. Although the import of the sacrifices may differ, of course, depending on your perspective. Allow me an anecdote based on our experience.

We have at our teaching facility in Quantico, Virginia, a 10-week course for state and local law enforcement called the National Academy. It is much sought after, even though it requires officers to spend 10 weeks at Quantico away from their families.

The story is told that some time after graduation, one of the officers was reminiscing at the breakfast table about the good times he had at Quantico. He said the weeks he spent at the Academy were the best 10 weeks of his life. His teenage daughter looked at him, paused, and then finally said, “Dad, to be perfectly honest, they were the best 10 weeks of my life, too!” There may always be a silver lining for someone.

Everyone remembers their favorite coach and the lessons they learned. You as coaches contribute to a legacy of sportsmanship and solidarity…of discipline and dedication…of toughness in the face of adversity. That lasting impact is every coach’s legacy, from the rarefied world of college ball to small-town Pop Warner leagues. And it is your legacy.

Thank you and God bless.

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