February 26, 2012 by bowmanaj
Here is a story I did a couple years back for a class with Keith O’Brien, but the story never got picked up by a newspaper. Still, it is one of my favorite pieces ever. It is about a friend of mine, Eli Wicklund. Wicklund is an assistant with the Miami Football team for the past few years and is looking to become a head coach one day. Enjoy.
Trying to Get His Foot in the Door
Current Intern for Miami University Football Seeks a Job as a Head Coach
How does a person become coach? Do you get recruited and offered a scholarship, like the athletes do? No, of course not. The truth is, you have got to be persistent and lucky. Eli Wicklund is both, and wants to be a coach.
Wicklund is a 2009 graduate of Miami University and currently a graduate student at Miami. However, he is best known for is his work with the Miami University RedHawks football team. Wicklund has worked with the football team since his undergraduate years, and is currently the defensive intern coach for the team. All of this is just the next juncture in route to his dream job of a NCAA head football coach.
Wicklund was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and his family lived in St. Paul for a couple of years, then, moved to Rochester, where Wicklund went to elementary school. Before the start of fifth grade, his family moved to Nicholasville, Kentucky, because his father found work in nearby Lexington.
“I did nine years in Minnesota, nine years in Kentucky, and, well, I’m on pace for nine in Oxford,” said Wicklund.
Back in Minnesota is where Wicklund’s passion for sports started. The first sport he played was soccer, and was in trouble or thrown out of nearly every game. And, unlike most young boys, he never wanted to play tee ball.
“I thought that was cheating. My dad and I would play baseball in the backyard all the time. So, I could hit a pitch. I never found hitting of a tee to be any fun,” said Wicklund. “Once coach pitch started, then, I joined.”
His first sport passion actually wasn’t football, but instead basketball.
“Growing up, I always wanted to play hockey, just because it is king in Minnesota. But Hockey is an expensive sport. So, it was give up everything else and just play hockey or play every other sport,” said Wicklund. He chose everything else.
In fourth grade, he drifted away basketball. Why? In fourth grade, Minnesota kids are allowed to start full contact football. After all of his friends decided to try out, Wicklund tried out too. His aggressiveness finally had an outlet, at nose-guard linebacker. He played nose-guard through eighth grade, then, was forced to switch to wide receiver because of his smaller size.
While sheer aggression was fun, he started to find himself fascinated more with the defensive strategy of the game. His intrigue for strategy followed him to college. Immediately, before college, he decided he wanted to become a coach. He looked around to schools with the best opportunities for him to get involved with a football program. Miami University, a Mid American Conference (MAC) school would be the perfect place for him.
“I wasn’t at all surprised when he picked Miami. It’s the Cradle of Coaches. He researched it, and found it all on his own,” said Wicklund’s mother, Becky Crawford.
While attending Miami University, he majored in Sports Studies with a double minor in Coaching and English literature. More importantly, he found work in the football department.
He began his work with football while Shane Montgomery was still the head coach. Wicklund wanted to be involved with the program in anyway possible, so he was given the opportunity to videotape practices for viewing later, starting his sophomore year. He stuck with taping for his sophomore and junior year.
Starting junior year and communicating his dream of becoming a coach to the rest of the staff, Wicklund was gradually asked to do more. Not only did he videotape but also got to work on the sidelines during games, doing odd and ends. During film sessions he was asked to chart opponents’ tendencies. He did all of this while earning minimum wage.
Senior year, Wicklund was asked to do even more for the program: not that he was complaining. He helped both the defense and offense during practice, helped during games, and went to video sessions to break down plays.
After the season ended for the RedHawks, everything changed. Head coach Shane Montgomery resigned during winter break, and Wicklund found out he was now jobless via ESPN’s tickertape.
Mike Haywood was hired. And Wicklund had to plead his case to Haywood to keep him on the staff.
“Luckily, I had a light schedule for the last semester of my senior year. So, I was down there all the time with the new staff, just doing everything I could to help out,” said Wicklund.
Haywood had designed three new intern positions for the program and wanted Wicklund to be a part of the team still. The dilemma was that it was unclear if the university would be able to make them paid positions.
“So when graduation happened, I was renting a house in Oxford,” said Wicklund. “I told the landlord, ‘Hey, I’m still working here. I just don’t know for how long.’ My landlord said, ‘I’ll give you a week, then after that you got to go.’”
Wicklund explained the situation to Coach Haywood. Haywood told him to go back home and would call when information became available.
He spent a month at home, sending hundreds of emails across the countries to coaches with a bunch of “Thanks, but no thanks,” type of answers.
“Luckily my parents bought me an air mattress as a gift upon graduating. I think it was a really twisted joke,” said Wicklund. “Anyways, I drove up to Oxford and crashed on a few friends’ floor for about nine weeks. I went to the field everyday to help with camps we run during the summer.”
In late July, word came in he would be hired. In early August, when training camp opened, he spent the night in the dorms and slept on a bed, for the first time in over a month and a half. In September he signed his contact and was finally able to have a source of income for the first time since the start of summer.
Wicklund has been busy since being hired.
“I know they’ve had him do everything from running errands to getting the coaches lunches to compiling stats. And from what he tells me, he’s eating it up,” said Crawford. “I believe he is a valuable asset for the team. If nothing else, he knows where everything is at.”
Wicklund purchased a new phone after he was hired. His favorite part of the phone is its internet capability and a battery with a charge. Every time a coach on the team needs a quick question answered, Wicklund is called and asked to look it up, at any and all hours of the day.
His days usually begin at about 5:30 am. He heads off to practice and by 8:20 on the field. His size makes him easy to lose in a crowd of huge football players. But you quickly find him with his blond hair, as he shouts out the next set of defensive changes for the next set of drills. His main job is to cycle players through the drills so they all get enough practice and rest. On a good day, he usually manages to go to bed at 11pm.
He is probably the closest of all the coaches to the players. In between his line changes, his wanders through the crowd of defensive players, answers questions and makes small talk to loosen the players up. While the rest of the defensive coaches are loud and often use profanity, Wicklund usually never reaches their level. This isn’t to say he doesn’t have to get yell at the players.
“Yea, every now and then I have to yell at someone who is dogging it. I normally never have a problem with them not listening to me. If I have to yell at them, they know they are doing something wrong,” said Wicklund.
During the games, Wicklund sits in the booth with the other coaches. He monitors tendencies of both teams and relays information to the sidelines.
Wicklund’s position on the coaching staff, doesn’t go unnoticed by the rest of the coaching staff. When, Defensive Coach Lance Guidry found out this profile was being done on Wicklund, Guidry said, “Eli!? You’re doing a profile on Eli?”
Other coaches in amazement quietly repeated Guidry’s question.
One said, “Eli? Did he just say he is writing about Eli?” While another coach, followed it up with, “Did I hear that right? Eli?”
Despite everything Wicklund does for the team, that doesn’t mean his position is secure for next season, as he must resign a contract for next year. Wicklund said, “You’re next season is never guaranteed in this line of work.”
Though, the young coach’s eyes are on the bigger prize. He dream job, would be a head coaching job in the NCAA. In fact, he would rather have a head-coaching job at the collegiate level, over a lesser position in the NFL.
But to reach his goal, Wicklund must continually be at his best because he never knows who is watching. Coach Guidry indirectly said it best at practice, in earshot of Wicklund, when yelling at a defensive player, who was not performing to expectations. “You’re at a job interview right now!”
Of course, a little luck won’t hurt Wicklund’s journey to the sidelines.
Crawford, Wicklund’s mother, said, “Most of the time we can’t make it to the game. So we sit here at home and watch another college game. And we will watch the ticker tape at the bottom, waiting to see the Miami score because we know Eli is a part of it.”
The Miami University RedHawks football team is 5-4 on the season and 4-1 in the MAC, after going 1-11 the previous year, and 2-10 the year before.