Everyone wants to be the man until it’s time to be the man.

College football is an ugly profession. I know this, and I’ve only been a part of it in some capacity since 2009. Four of those years were as a player, and then later I got to experience the real side of the business as a coach. Things aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. And even when you’re winning, sometimes it doesn’t feel like you’re winning. Separating your personal life and your job is an unattainable feat because the job becomes your life (it has for me, at least). People talk about the hours that you put in, but that’s a very trivial point. If you want to be great at something you’re going to have to put in the extra time, regardless of what it is professionally or personally. The real kick to the side isn’t from the hours that you put in but from what happens before, during, and afterward.

RECENT: The Legacy

I’ll assume the general demographic of people reading this article is post-graduates, so I won’t dive into the ugly side of things from a player’s perspective. Instead, I am going to focus on the young adults that think they want to be strength coaches. This is the best profession in the nation and don’t let anyone tell you differently. But it takes a different type of person to do this. I stopped myself from saying, “do this job,” because it’s not a job — it’s a lifestyle. It’s a part of yourself that becomes intertwined with your very DNA. If that sounds crazy then I’m sorry, this isn’t for you. If this sounds awesome, good, because that means you’re utterly insane and that’s what it’s going to take to ignore the outside distractions and keep moving forward.

donald day stadium

Since 2013 I have lived in five different cities. If you do the math, that’s five different universities I’ve been a part of. I’ve interviewed for more jobs than you can think of. I’ve been paid great and I’ve been paid awfully. I’ve lived in great apartments and I’ve lived in places you wouldn’t want to drive through. I’ve wasted more money going out than I can imagine. I’ve also been one click of the mouse away from ordering food stamps. This beast is a bucking bronco, and you have to hold on tight and be ready to fall off because, at some point in time, best believe you will fall off. And when you fall, you fall hard.

I don’t live my life with regrets because everything that happens serves a purpose. There are two things adversity can do: teach you to learn from it (making you better) or cripple you if you let it (obviously making you worse). There are some hard decisions that happen in the career. I’ve had the greatest moments in my life last only a day because the days that followed were a whirlwind of emotional trials. I’ve watched people close to me lose their jobs, and at the tender age of 26, I’ve already lost most of my trust in people.

Keep your network huge but your circle small. Never believe anything until it’s in writing. When things hit rock bottom (I haven’t exactly been there but definitely was falling), you really find out who you can trust. When you’re in panic mode, there are going to be people you call and people that call you. The ones that call you are the ones who really care. The people you call are the ones you think are the most important people to you. Sometimes they may be, but what I found is that the ones that call you are the ones that are always going to be there. The people that call you will be your best friends, your spouse, your mom, your dad, and some surprises here and there.

I’ve had coaches reach out to me when I was in a time of need that I found out were closer friends than I knew. Make sure, though, to keep your grass cut low because when there’s blood in the water. That’s when you find out who the snakes are. There is going to be a time when you will be fired. It is okay, it happens, but be prepared. Stay calm. Don’t freak out. When people all around you are jumping ship and running around like they’re on the Titanic, do not worry.

Always have a backup plan. While people are trying to figure out how to put the ship back together, make sure you’ve already constructed a getaway vehicle. Always have an escape plan and a plan in case that plan falls through, and another plan in case the backup escape plan falls through. I will tell you this: don’t tell the athletes anything and don’t distract them with your personal problems. They don’t deserve that; we’re the leaders and the adults. Make sure they’re taken care of. It’s okay to freak out, but don’t let them see you freak out.

donald day family support

And as far as job security goes, I’ll take it a step further: the family life. This path you want to go down is not one you can travel alone. Pick a strong partner. I’ve been extremely blessed with mine. She’s been there when I had a seven-hour window to pick a house and move in when I came out to DC. She traveled seven and a half hours to a majority of our games when I was at WKU. She has uprooted her life and moved to Buffalo, New York for me. She’s been there through times that things were extremely low and I was living in project housing to now, which is what I would call the high point of our lives together. She has been there for every school I’ve been at in my career and has held me down in some very tough moments. She’s held her own in some very tough situations as well. Fellas, trust me, not every woman is capable of handling this ride. I put mine through the trenches early on and introduced her to all the coach’s wives and girlfriends, and let her hear the horror stories before we got serious. I’m sure, as you know, there are plenty of three-times-divorced coaches out there, so be wise when making that selection.

This isn’t a very positive article — it’s not supposed to be. I won’t sugarcoat things; this is a very, very tough lifestyle. There are going to be times you’re sleeping in the office, eating protein bars, and drinking shakes to survive. It’s okay. It’s all part of the journey. Like I said, you have to be insane to want to do this profession, but it’s the best profession in the world. And it works out for me because I am insane.

MORE: What Drives Performance: Processes Not Outcomes

I truly believe iron sharpens iron. What I’ve had to go through so far in my career has made me a much better person than when I came in. All the experiences I’ve had serve as things I can help others with so that hopefully, they can avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made. I’ve learned more from listening to the people I’ve met than I think most people will learn in a lifetime. I have made some truly unbelievable friends and mentors.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my current boss, Ryan Cidzik, who is the best boss in the nation. He gave me a chance to keep doing what I love and has already taught me so much in such a short amount of time. I also have to mention Sean Pugh, Parker Showers, Matt Clapp, Matt Gildersleeve, Dave Kitchen, Ryan Nosak, Keith Belton, Jeff Eaton, Chad Wagner, Domenic Reno and Todd Hamer. Every single one of these guys has helped me out beyond what words can express, and though there is a grueling, ugly side of the business, there is also a light at the end of the tunnel for those who make it through. As always, keep grinding!