A Coach for a Lifetime
At practice, KD wore khaki pants, a t-shirt, and an old, worn out hat. Before and after practice, and sometimes during water breaks, he would pull a few drags off of a generic cigarette. He was the antithesis of the 1990’s, image-conscious college football coach. He was KD—nothing more, nothing less. Keith Daniels, referred to as KD by many, was my junior college football coach, and I believe in him.
KD changed me. I can’t point to one magical, defining moment in which KD changed my life. But, I remember the simple things he said which grow in meaning as I get older. For instance, after a tough, August practice, he walked by my locker and said, “You’re doing some good things out there.” These were simple words, but words that made a world of difference to a marginal athlete, like me. I learned that everyone was of equal value, and everyone needs a “good word” from time to time.
In 1997, two of my teammates were involved in a car accident. Juan Mariner was killed. Freddie “Jr. Wayne” White was severely injured and permanently disabled. I expected my coach to put on his “big man” face and teach me another life lesson about overcoming tough circumstances. Instead, KD walked into the room, with tears streaming down his leathered face, and said, “Guys, there’s really nothing I can tell you to make this any better. I just want you all to know that I love you.” I learned that it is okay for a strong man to be vulnerable sometimes.
On October 2, 2000, Coach Daniels passed away suddenly and too soon, at the age of 52. With his wife’s blessing and urging, KD’s team played that Saturday night. They won the game, against a heavily favored team, on a last second field goal. After the game, the kicker, Jack Byrd, told sports writer Rick Cleveland, “It looked like it was going wide, and then the wind pushed it back in. I have God and Coach Daniels to thank for that.” I learned that God reveals his face one KD at a time.
I have found that the most difficult task in my life is getting becoming comfortable in my own skin. As I walk to the practice field everyday to coach my players and walk into the classroom to teach my students, I think of KD, and I wonder if I’m capable of producing a fraction of the impact he had on young men and women. Trying to be Coach Daniels is an impossible and frustrating task, and, often, I have to remind myself that the one characteristic that made him so special was his ability to just be himself. I’ve learned that I can’t be KD, and that being me can be good enough.
I believe that it takes good-hearted, genuine people to move the world. I believe in Coach Daniels.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.