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Daron Roberts is graduate of Harvard Law School and a former coach in the National Football League (NFL) in the United States. He is currently the founding director of the Center for Sports Leadership & Innovation at the University of Texas.
In this interview with Bar & Bench’s Aditya AK, Daron takes us through the fascinating story of how a law graduate ended becoming an American Football coach.
In the final year of his JD program at Harvard Law, Daron Roberts found himself pursuing a rather unconventional path, while his peers were working towards landing a law firm job or working at the Supreme Court of the United States.
“A lot of my friends at Harvard were going to work at the White House or the Supreme Court, while I was interning with an NFL team. But I just kept grinding and pushing, and at some point, I knew I was going to achieve my dream of becoming a coach.”
But he did not always want to be a coach. Ever since childhood, he wanted to do law and become a Supreme Court judge.
“When I was a young boy, my Dad bought me a book by Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. I was really struck by the power of his story and I thought that law would be a way for me to influence the world. Also, I didn’t have any family members who were lawyers, so I wanted to be the first in my family.”
So when did that dream change?
“In the summer before I graduated from law school, a friend of mine asked me to go to a football camp with him, and I coached young boys there. That experience completely changed the way that I viewed sports. It also made me think that I could have much more of an impact on the world by being a coach of a sport. Football really brings people together and I wanted to be a part of that.”
Daron also credits a meeting with Mike Leach, a coach of the Texas Tech University football team, as a turning point. He met Leach back when he was writing a paper on how legal training could be applied to sports.
“Mike Leach has a degree from Pepperdine Law School. He is also one of the best minds in college football. So spending time with him really helped me understand how the practice of law and critical thinking skills would help me as a coach.”
Once he set his mind to achieving his dream, there was no turning back. In his final year in law school, Daron began writing letters to the coaches of every NFL team and every first division college football team in the country. In all, there were one hundred and sixty-four letters. Even as the rejections came pouring in, Daron refused to give up.
“I was only looking for one yes. I knew that if I would get one team to say yes, I would be successful.”
And the yes finally did arrive. Herm Edwards, Head Coach of the Kansas City Chiefs would write back to him, offering him an internship with the team. So, Daron would embark on this new journey on July 22, 2007.
The day of the Bar exam.
If there needed to be any clearer sign that Daron was turning his back on law, and the lucrative career opportunities a degree from Harvard offered, it was his decision to turn down an offer from a law firm which would pay him $150,000 a year. All this, for a three-week internship that paid nothing.
“It was very difficult, which is why I did them very quickly. That way, I did not get discouraged and want to go back to the law.”
However, his decision would work out in the long run, with Edwards hiring Daron as defensive quality control assistant. From there, he would take later take up coaching positions with the Detroit Lions, the Cleveland Browns and West Virginia University’s football team.
So, has his legal education helped him as a coach?
“Absolutely. I think the number one thing that a legal education does is help one craft critical thinking skills and solve problems. Football coaching is a game of solving problems.”
In fact, his degree from Harvard also helped when it came to recruiting young players.
“Mothers appreciated that someone who was going to be coaching their sons in football also had a degree from Harvard and really understood the value of education.”
Having being successful in achieving his goals, Daron has given back to the community, founding 4th and 1, an organisation that helps student-athletes prepare for exams and hone life skills.
He has also written Call an Audible, a book that helps people transition from one career to another, based on his own inspiring story. So what advice does he have for lawyers who want to transition?
“One, I think it’s easier to take a detour from law school right after you graduate. For those of you who are thinking about making a transition, definitely think about doing it now rather than later. Secondly, I think it’s important to start moonlighting in one’s career. If you want to be a chef, try taking some cooking classes.
You have to see that what you think you may want to do is something you can sustain over a long period of time. So moonlight first, and then decide whether you want to do it long term.”
Watch Sports Illustrated’s feature on Daron: