When I walked into that first team meeting at Arizona State, I think my players didn't know what to expect. I had just left Pitt after one season, and my reputation had taken a major hit after that. I won't make excuses for it, and I probably should have faced criticism for leaving a program that quickly. I was in a poor situation, but the right opportunity came along for me and my family, and now that I had taken it, I was standing in front of more than 80-plus young men who were curious to know about the man they would be playing for.
I talked to them about my faith, my family, and the things in my life that I would die for. I told them my story, and about why I am the man I am today.
Then I turned it on them...what would you die for?
The kids were real reluctant at first, and then the answers started to come in...my mom. My dad. My grandad.
“Okay tell me about mom,” I told them. “Why would you die for my mom?”
The answers they gave were all similar. These people showed unconditional love. Sacrifice. Service. They were givers.
I was 47 and they were 18-22 year-olds, but on that day we realized we all had something in common.
“People say the name on the front is more important than the name on your back, oh you're crazy,” I said that day. “I would die for the name on the back.”
So I asked these kids when it comes to their loved ones, what are the standards they hold you too? Good, average? No, your best. That's what I will hold you to as well. Your best.
Each kid walked out of that room that day shaking my hand and agreeing to give me their best. It's just that I knew what their best was more than they knew of themselves.
When I got to Arizona State, the players were surrounded by a culture of partying. There was drinking and drugs among the larger student body, and that atmosphere was having a negative effect on our team. Our team GPA was 2.3 when I got there, our graduation rate was at 58 percent, and we hadn't had a winning record since 2007. Now I didn't know if we were going to win football games or not, but I knew that I was going to treat them like their parents would, and expect the best out of them.
We had a “voluntary” Bible study for our players, and some of them got to read about forgiveness and redemption through Jesus Christ for the first time. But whether it was their first time or 100th time, the story of Jesus dying on a cross for our sins never gets old. I loved our players, but Jesus loved them way more than I was ever capable of.
Whether the kids knew it or not, everything I did for our program was rooted in Christian values. The seeds that were planted began to bear fruit, both on the field and off the field. By the time I was let go, our GPA was over 3.0, our graduation rate was 90 percent, and in my six years we won 46 games.
Of course, the staff and players deserve the credit for the hardwork and discipline it took to accomplish these goals. The thing is, in order to change the culture at a program, you really need help and leadership from your players.
Enter Taylor Kelly and Mike Bercovici.