If there ever was a perfect job for Derek it would be the University of Missouri. The college was located halfway between St. Louis and Kansas City – two hot beds of talent and two areas Derek was very familiar with. They had just hired a new head coach and Derek was on his radar to be a possible assistant. The first thing the new coach said he wanted to do was to keep the talent in Missouri. He wanted to strongly recruit local kids and keep them from going off to colleges outside of the state. Derek played college ball in St. Louis, he coached for the best AAU program in St. Louis, and he coached for a high school in St. Louis. There was no one else out there that had more ties to St. Louis than Derek. In addition, he grew up in Kansas City, which is another hot bed of talent inside the state of Missouri, and he had a lot of connections there as well.
So, the “jumping through hoops” games began again. Derek called the coach to voice his interest. Then, Derek had everyone he knew with connections, especially St. Louis connections, call the head coach to recommend him. Derek was getting great feedback from people who had talked to coach on his behalf. The exciting part was that the head coach was actually calling Derek back! Usually we are on the outside looking in. It is usually the other guy that is getting the call backs and we are just being strung along in case the first choice decides not to take the job. But, it seems in this case that Derek could actually be the number one candidate. Derek knew some of the other candidates who said they hadn’t even talked with the head coach at all. We were hearing from mutual contacts about how impressed the coach was with Derek and what a perfect fit he was to what he was looking for.
Everything seemed to be going in our favor. Coaches were even calling Derek and telling him that they had talked to the coach and he was going to offer him the job. But with our job history we knew better than to listen to the rumors. Of course, we were getting really excited because we never had anything go this much in our favor in a long time. We just had to wait. Waiting is the hardest part and for some reason this profession is more secretive than the CIA. Everything is top secret. No coach wants the administration or any other coach to know what they are doing. It is like a game of chess. So, while you sit back and wait for every move you start to hear the rumors. Then you start to question yourself because if you are perfect for the job why hasn’t he pulled the trigger yet. What is keeping him from making that call to offer Derek the job?
There were three full time assistant spots open on his staff. We knew, from previous experiences, that he would be bringing some of his buddies with him – guys that he worked with before, guys that were in the “family”. On April 11th, the coach calls Derek and tells him that he wants to fly him in for an interview. It has come down to two men. Coincidentally, Derek was very familiar with the other candidate. He was an assistant coach at Murray State. Derek had talked to him several times during the process. He even told Derek that he thought Derek would get the job because he was a better fit for what the head coach was saying he wanted. He also said he wasn’t getting the calls back like Derek was getting. I remember telling Derek I feel for the guy because we have been in his position so many times. We were always the one who was second choice. I indeed felt his pain.
The time had come for the interviews. The assistant from Murray State was in Missouri for his interview on Wednesday and Derek was to fly in on Thursday for his interview. Everything pointed to Derek getting the job. There seemed to be no secret agenda by the head coach. Derek felt confident with all his interactions with the head coach and we had been hearing nothing but great feedback from other coaches who knew him. I thought this interview was just a formality and in two days all of our dreams would come true. This was the answer to our “reason” – meaning this is what everyone meant, when disappointment after disappointment after disappointment, we were told, “everything happens for a reason.” Unlike some of the other jobs Derek missed out on this job had it all. Our two oldest daughters would be able to start and finish high school in one place because the head coach received a seven year contract. We would be close to family and friends – Derek’s father lived in Kansas City (a two hour drive) and all of our friends from St. Louis (a two hour drive). Derek would almost double his salary. We wouldn’t have to count every penny like we have been for the last four years. We could afford to take a vacation. And to top it off, if I wanted to go back to work I already had my Missouri nursing license. It was perfect and if the reasons we didn’t get all those other jobs was because God knew this job was waiting for us then all the heartache was worth it. I remember that Wednesday night before he left. I felt the happiest I had felt in eight years. I felt like a weight had been lifted. We were going to be free. We were going to have security. We were going to have a home.
Derek left our house at 5:00 am for the airport. He was to get to Columbia around 11:00 am. At 10:50 am I received a text from him that he had landed in Columbia – let the games begin!! I was on pins and needles the entire day taking my phone with me everywhere including the bathroom just hoping to get a text, a phone call – any kind of insight into how the day was going. Every once in a while he would send me these short texts, “things going well”, “eating lunch with the staff”. I was actually glad he didn’t have time to call me because that meant he was spending all his time bonding and getting tight with the staff. I felt the more time he spent with the staff the better he was to lock up the job. Finally, at 11:00 that night Derek called home. He was back in his hotel room and the day long interview was over. I wanted to know everything about the day. He told me that when he got there the head coach told him to relax because it was going to be a laid back interview. He told Derek that he knew Derek could get the job done but he just wanted to make sure there was a good connection with the rest of the staff. He said they all got a long really well. Derek can get along with anyone. He is a very humble man and a peace maker so I knew there would not be a problem in that area. He said they all went to the gym and worked out together and Derek even arranged for them to have lunch with one of the coaches from the St. Louis Eagles AAU teams so they could start forming a relationship with one of the top AAU programs in St. Louis – since the head coach had made it very clear that he wanted to get into the St. Louis area. All in all Derek said everything went well. He said he felt like he was at peace and there was nothing else he could have done to get the job. Before I hung up the phone with him that night he said he felt the best he has felt since the interview process started two weeks ago. He said he felt confident and that there have been no indications to him that he wasn’t going to get the job. The head coach had told him that the staff was going to get together in the morning to talk it over and that he would let him know that afternoon about the job. He went to bed thinking he was going to be offered the job tomorrow. For the first time in two weeks Derek slept well! I, on the other hand, could not sleep at all. The moment I have been waiting for for eight years could be just hours away. In a few hours our lives could change. From the decision to accept the head coaching position at Western Illinois which turned out to be a career killer instead of career maker, to losing thousands of dollars in a mortgage scam, to finding ourselves living in a rental house making the least amount of money we have made in 14 years – it was all going to turn around. We were going to be back on track. Back where we started ten years ago on that fateful morning when the head coach at Illinois told us he was stepping down as the coach to accept an NBA position. We were going to be back at a top ranked BCS school again and the future looked bright.
Derek’s plane was expected to land in Detroit around 11:00 am. His plane left Columbia at 6:30 am and he had a layover in Memphis. I was up with the kids at 6:00 getting them ready for school with my stomach in knots. I figured Derek wouldn’t hear anything until his plane landed. At 8:00 am my cell phone rang. It was Derek. I figured he was calling to let me know he was in Memphis. There was silence on the other end of the phone. I could feel the pain through the phone. His voice like I had never heard it before. I knew it was bad. He told me he had just received two texts from people who heard that the other guy got the job. I tried to reassure him. Certainly, the head coach would let you know before it was announced. Anyone can tweet whatever they want and who knows if it is true or not. There was nothing official released so I told him not to worry. He said he had to get off the phone because his plane was boarding. Not within five minutes of Derek getting off the phone I received a phone call from my friend Ann. She told me that an official release had been made and it was on the university’s website. My heart dropped. My husband was already in a panic from the text messages he received before his plane took off what is he going to think when his plane lands and his message box is full of condolences? What a way to find out especially when you were misled the entire time. I feel comfortable saying mislead because before Derek left Detroit for his interview one of the assistants told him, “prepare to accept the job and stay a few days” and “are you ready to come home?” I remember this because we were wondering if this was code talk for “you got the job” but because of school policy the head coach was not allowed to say it before both interviews were complete. We were laughing because we thought that maybe we were so naïve to the politics of the high major conferences that the head coach could have been throwing all these clues at us the entire time and they were just going over our heads. But, we had been burned so many times in the past that we were not going to except anything until it came straight out of the horse’s mouth. Or should I say the horse’s ass because that is what the head coach turned out to be.
I knew Charlie’s plane would be landing in Detroit soon and I dreaded getting that phone call. I knew the job was given to the other guy but Derek was just finding out. I didn’t want to hear the hurt in his voice. I knew it was going to be bad. My heart sank when the phone rang. I was expecting to hear a deep primal moan that I had never heard before but I didn’t. Instead I heard rage. Rage was a lot better than depressed. Rage because the head coach did not have the common decency to call Derek and tell him he didn’t get the job. All Derek received was a voicemail from the assistant coach stating, “Derek, coach is busy and off recruiting so he wanted me to let you know that he decided to go with the other candidate.” They knew Derek was on a flight and wouldn’t be able to answer his phone. That is the biggest bush league move by the biggest bush league coach in the business. He had been talking with Derek for two weeks and he only interviewed two people for the job and he doesn’t have the balls to call and personally speak to Derek. For two weeks he had been telling Derek he was everything he was looking for in an assistant coach but he doesn’t have the integrity to let Derek know why he chose the other guy over him. Derek did call the assistant back and of course he didn’t answer. Derek left him a message and of course he never returned the call.
This one hurt. It hurt bad especially since he was never given a reason. Because Derek was not given the courtesy of a phone call one could only speculate as to why he didn’t get the job. Derek would have been a valuable asset to that staff and he would have worked hard to make them a top ten program every year. The worst part is that in the coaching world when you get screwed over in an obvious fashion there is nothing you can do about it. There is a big part of you that wants to tell that head coach off for the way he treated you but then there is that sensible part of you that knows you can’t burn bridges because who is to say that coach may have an opening on his staff the next year. That just shows you how hard it is to get to the high major level – coaches will allow themselves to get treated like shit and jump right back into the waters waiting for the next coach to screw them over.