182: Eric Wood: Serve Where You Are: A VP’s Story Of Living Intentionally, Removing Barriers, Valuing And Including Others, Pursuing Faith As Relationship, And Overcoming Inequality
You are called upon to serve where you are. No matter what your circumstances are, God has given you the gifts that you have the responsibility to use in the service of the people around you. Eric Wood lives by this principle everyday as someone who does helping people as his profession. Eric is the first African-American VP of Louisiana Tech, as well as the first Athletic Director to take in that same role. For 22 years, Eric has devoted his heart to serving other people, especially his students and the people he works with. In this interview with Thane Marcus Ringler, we will learn how Eric’s experience as a poor multiracial kid from the Bronx raised by a single mother shaped the way he looks at the world, his relationship with faith and his fight against inequality. Listen in for some of Eric’s powerful stories that teach us a lot on what a life of passion and compassion looks like.
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182: Eric Wood: Serve Where You Are: A VP’s Story Of Living Intentionally, Removing Barriers, Valuing And Including Others, Pursuing Faith As Relationship, And Overcoming Inequality
This is a podcast all about learning how to live a good life and the process of becoming. We believe the best way to do that is by infusing intentionality into all that we do, a reason why behind what we’re doing. That’s why our mantra is having intention in the tension that life inevitably is filled with. Thanks for being a fellow Up and Comer on this journey and for joining us each and every week as new episodes drop every Wednesday morning. If you want to help support our show and be a contributing part of the Up and Comers community, there are three easy ways. The first is leaving a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. That’s a great way for us to be found by more people. Head over to Apple podcasts, take a minute, write a review, leave a rating. That would be so helpful for us.
I’m excited to introduce to you this next interview featuring Eric Wood. Who is Dr. Eric Wood? He is a former student-athlete at Sacred Heart University who is also a 22-year veteran of Collegiate Athletic Administration, and accepted the role of Director of Athletics and Vice-President at Louisiana Tech following a five-year stint at UCF where he spent the past four years as the Deputy AD for Competitive Excellence. He became the first Director of Athletics in Louisiana Tech history to also serve as a Vice-President.
The Bronx, New York native, has served in a variety of roles within the Athletics Administration for many years. In addition to his time at UCF, he held full-time positions at the University of Arkansas, the Atlantic Coast Conference, Wake Forest University, and the University of New Haven. He also served as a graduate assistant at both the NCAA National Office and Clemson University early in his career. He has a lot of accolades on every level of his professional career. His qualifications and accomplishments include Board of Trustee Member at Sacred Heart University, 2019 Next Up Honoree presented by Adidas and College AD for senior-level administrators, Athletics representative on the UCF President Advisory Staff Council, 2016 Top 40 Under 40 in the Arkansas Business Journal, 2009 graduate from NCAA’s Leadership Institute, 11 years of executive staff level leadership, $55 million in successful management experience for sports programs, operations and support areas, $5 million in fundraising visits, proposals and presentations for programming, operations and facilities, and so on. There are quite a few. He is a 1998 graduate of Sacred Heart University when earning his degree in Psychology.
He was a three-year starter at cornerback for the Pioneer football team with one outdoor season as a member of the track and field team. Wood earned a Medal of Merit, the athletic department’s highest honor, as the Student-Athlete of the Year of his senior year at Sacred Heart. He completed his Master’s Degree in Counseling and Guidance Services at Clemson University in May 2000, and his Doctorate of Education in Sports Management at the University of Arkansas in 2016. He is the first African-American Vice President in Louisiana Tech history as well as the first minority Director of Athletics in the University’s history.
Dr. Wood and his wife, Celia, have four children, Eliana, Nia, Alyssa and Elijah. He has a long bio for a good reason. He’s done a lot and exceptional work for 22 years in collegiate athletic administration. He’s quite the legacy. I got connected with him through my wife, Evan, as she got to know him at the University of Arkansas and was impacted by his work there. You will get to see a great picture of Eric and his heart for other people, especially for the students and the people he works with.
We talk a lot of things in this interview, including living intentionally, removing the barrier, including people, being great but also being part of the team, giving others the benefit of the doubt, how everyone can win, seeing faith as a relationship, defining friendships, his experience as a man of color, the difference between modeling and mimicking, and some powerful stories from his own life that will bring you to tears at some points. He’s an amazing guy. I was so grateful to have this conversation. As a disclaimer, we did this interview back in October 2020. At that time, he had not accepted the role. The new hire for him is at Louisiana Tech and that was a few weeks after this interview. That’s some context that would help in the flow of the conversation. Without further ado, please enjoy this interview with Eric Wood.
In nowadays world, we are often told about the importance and benefits of being self-aware but rarely are we ever told what that really means. How do we become self-aware? What are the tools we can use to help us? What does the process look like? Is it even attainable? If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard self-awareness thrown around a lot without the idea ever being clarified or explained. Over the past years, I’ve been on a journey of discovering answers to these very questions. I spent much of 2020 putting these tools and processes in place for others to learn alongside me. Through the eight-week course on Thane Marcus Academy, you will learn and practice what it means to truly grow in self-awareness. To help you take the first step, I am offering a special discount of 20% off by using the code upandcomer at check out. Head over to Courses.ThaneMarcus.com to begin your journey of growing self-awareness.
Eric Wood, welcome to the Up and Comers Show.
Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
I want to start at a fun place here and some background calls. One of the questions I ask is about superpowers. You have one of the most unique superpowers I’ve ever heard of. That was the superpower of not being able to read your own writing. How in our world have you accomplished this?
I knew I should have been more careful with these references. My thoughts are moving too fast for my hands, so it is brutal. In fact, I do a lot of exit interviews and either the staff, the students, the HR office, and the folks that review the student interviews had asked me to type them up. It’s shorthand and scribbled. I don’t do it well.
Was that always a part of your process or has it been on decline?
It’s always been that way. I have no idea from a childhood standpoint. It’s always been the case. It got worse.Choose sacrifice over selfishness. Click To Tweet
The other question I have to ask per one of the references is, what was your schedule like particularly on the work upfront?
They’re getting to me. I am so inconsistent. There are a few pants in my closet for the times when I’m emotionally eating and stressed out. There are pants from when I’m rocking and rolling. I feel like I could play a couple of downs in college again. It’s been good. I’ve been back on it. I’m all-in and on a roll.
Talk to me a little bit about that. As a father of four and someone who’s in a leadership role, there’s a lot on your plate and moving pieces. Why does something like fitness matter to you?
I want to be my best version. It’s such a waste of the way God designed me if I’m not giving people my best. That doesn’t mean we can’t be human, come to the office, and not be my normal self but that’s not everybody else’s deal that I’m busy. Everybody that I encounter deserves my full attention. The other thing that drives me crazy is if the space I’m in is not clean and organized. The things around me have to be organized and clean, and I have to be working out. I don’t know if it’s releasing those endorphins. I feel better about myself and I get energized.
It’s getting up in the morning after a crazy day of all the roles that I share. I need that. I may get home from a game or work at midnight after we’ve stayed late. My wife will say, “Lay down and go to sleep,” and I can’t. I need time to myself but I want to do that so that I can pour out to everybody that crosses my path. In order for me to get filled back up, I need that time and the workout. I’m not an ogre when I don’t, but I’m not my best self when I don’t get it in and I’m consistently getting at it. I asked for accountability partners. When I verbalize it, I’ve given people permission to poke at me but hold me accountable too. When I share that with them and to hold me accountable, particularly Kirby, he’ll send me a text in the morning.
What is your workout or fitness routine look like nowadays?
Nowadays, at my age and over, workout means to look good in your polo and make sure your pants fit. I never understand all of these people that are doing performance stuff. I’m like, “What are you competing in?” Once a football player is always a football player. I want a bench in, buys and tries and I try to set up but because of the way I eat too, I’m not as disciplined there. When I want to, I can be disciplined but I’m always getting at least 30 to 45 minutes of cardio. Right now, it’s the elliptical that I fell in love with. I’ll get to that and I’ll do the treadmill. Other than that, I try to lift in-between but a lot of cardio.
That’s a good way to put it too. What are you training for performance for?
“This will help you be more explosive,” and I’m like, “For what?” I can chase my four kids around. When I was competing, I got all of those. Right now, I want to feel good, I want my clothes to fit well for my own sanity. I want that energy and optimism that God has given for me to be able to perform for people.
One of the things that someone had mentioned about you that I’d love to dive into a little bit more is something that a lot of us struggle. It’s being able to balance personal drive and ambition for what we want to accomplish with caring for people. As this other person put it, “It’s being both passionate and compassionate.” Doing that, they’re almost diametrically opposed. It’s a hard thing to do simultaneously and bounces between the two. Others have said you are exceptionally well at it. I’m curious to hear what your thoughts are on that dance and balance because you are incredibly driven. You do pursue your goals, yet everyone talks about how much you care for others, students and the people you work with. Talk to me about that balance.
It brings me to tears. It’s my biggest struggle because I feel like God has given me this talent to lead. Growing up with a single mom, nothing could get in the way of being a dad and a husband. I’ve watched athletic directors around the country. The balance of trying to be the CEO of what could be a $50 million, $60 million, $100 million operation, and still being the husband that my wife needs and the dad that my children need. Sometimes I wonder, does God want me to pursue that position or does He want me to be a solid number two and do that?
I know if He brings me to it, He will bring me through it. It’s my biggest struggle of not wanting to pursue some things because I refuse to let those things lack. The higher I move up in the organization, the more I get away from being in people’s lives and stopping by their offices, seeing how they’re doing, calling them, wishing them happy birthday, congratulating them on a wedding, a birth of a child or promotion they received, and buying them lunch. I have to make a concerted effort to do those things because of the increased responsibilities. I have told myself, “If the athletic director position that I’m pursuing takes me away from that.” As it is now, I miss a few soccer games for travel. I get that. I hope my children learn to see that I’m doing it, chasing my dream, and providing for my family. I’m okay here and there. I think they get that. If it takes me away from not putting them to bed a few nights a week, I’m not going to be able to do it and I’m going to sacrifice that.
Thank you for sharing. It shows the depth of the care and the passion with compassion in that. I’m curious to hear a little bit more as you’ve been struggling with this and thinking through this, because this is something that most people in any career path don’t think about how your role changes as you move up or in different spaces and positions within whatever you’re doing. A lot of times, we want the prize of that next or upward position without our role changing, and that’s impossible. How do you process or work through when you struggle with that? Have you found anything helpful in the way you approach or think through that?
To me, it’s a sacrifice over selfishness. I was blessed with these children. I was blessed with this wife who I’m going to spend the rest of my life. That means if I know I’m staying late after work, I absolutely need to have breakfast with them. If I know I can’t have breakfast and I can’t stay at work, then I screwed out because I’m going to work a twelve-hour day to pick them up, be at the drama show or the thing that they’re doing at school. Those are the things that I have to be very intentional about, in my opinion, as I continue to rise up. I have to make time. I realized now at my age that I make time for the things that are important to me.
Sometimes that means I want to watch SportsCenter uninterrupted. I’m not even trying to make it dramatic. Sometimes, I need to not think and be entertained. I’m not serving anyone, not working with anyone, not helping, not thinking, not assessing or solving a problem. I am vegging out. I need that and I might have to sacrifice something. On the family side, they’re there when I have a tough day and some self-doubt. They encourage me. I have to make time for those things, but I have to make time for the workout because it makes me my best self. Not because I want my pecs to pop out. It does help for confidence. It will allow me to serve the people that I have been put on this earth to serve as my family first and then in all of these roles.
I realized that sacrifices have to be made. Sometimes, I don’t get to watch three college football games in a row. That means I’m going to watch the one I want to watch on Saturday. If we’re not playing, I’ll watch the noon game, and then we’re going to go out and play some soccer in the backyard for a little while. I have to catch the 8:00 and watch that. Do you see what I’m saying? There are some things where I could sit there and say, “Do you know I love college football?” I want to sit there from 12:00 until the West Coast game is over in the pack twelve. I want to watch all of them but that’s not fair. I brought those kids into the world. I gave my commitment to my wife. That’s not fair to them. It’s not fair to the people I serve at work if they need me. It’s a long-winded answer there, but that’s what I’m thinking.
In the context of your job and role, I’m curious how this even applies on another level with your role as the Deputy AD. You can speak a little bit more to that specific position because I love the way it’s titled. You’ve talked about in other interviews, you’re AD being progressive and how it goes about, which is pretty cool. On a daily level in your job and your work, there are things to be done and people to be served. There’s that tension even within your job of moving the ball forward in your jobs, to do a great job, and also caring for the people who have problems, need you, need an ear or some support in the moment. Do you face tension in that environment as well?
From the minute I wake up in the morning until I lay my head down, I have this thing in me that says, “Remove the barrier that is preventing them from being successful.” For a coach, that may be a facility issue, recruiting, budget, response time from the certain units. From the minute I wake up to the minute I go to bed, I’m trying to remove barriers for our coaches to succeed. If there are folks within our organization that don’t feel valued, that we’re thinking of them or that they’re being acknowledged, that’s a barrier that I want to remove. I want to get the best out of them in our organization.
If they come to work and they feel valued, acknowledged, and heard even if we don’t go with their idea then we’re going to get the best out of them. All day long, it’s how do I solve your issue? At night, I get to do my work. Early on in my marriage, my wife would say, “Are you working because you like them?” I’m like, “I love what I do but my day is committed to others.” When I come home, we’re going to eat dinner and we’ll spend some time with the kids. At 8:00, when they go down, I’m either going to watch one show with my wife, but then I’ve got to catch up on email to do my own work that I needed to do.
My day is built like that, solve problems all day, come home, take care of the family, spend time with them and then do the work that I couldn’t do during the day. That tends to happen as you move up. That’s how I view my position here. Even the whole competitive excellence title that was born out of, you’re the general manager. What a general manager would be from a pro organization is what I am to a college organization. When Danny created this title for me, it was what do we need to recruit, retain and win championships? Those are things coaches think about all day. That’s my thought process.
That’s what the job looks like and that takes a lot of energy because you’re giving all day. I don’t have what I had in my earlier career. I’m not hands-on with the students. I have to find time to get out to practice. I’ve got to pick a few games and travel with them so they see me, they know who I am, I can hear it and I can be there. They know that the administration cares about them. I’ve got to make time for that. The higher you rise up in the organization, the less direct impact you have on your constituent group, which for us are our student-athletes. There are days I missed that. I miss the 9:00 program that we have to do because they have to wait until class is over. For all the students, occasionally, you’re like, “I remember those days.” I do miss the everyday connection of them being in our building, stopping by the office, letting me know how they’re doing in their lives, what they’re struggling with, playing a role and influencing that.
That’s a good breakdown. Speaking of the students, you’ve been in this space for many years. Over those years, things are constantly evolving and changing. I’m curious from your experience, what have you seen within your student-athletes and the collegians? How has the state of education changed and their experience change? What’s it like now compared to what it has been?
I’ve been on Division 2 campuses. My first job out of my NCAA internship, I’ve been in the SEC and ACC. I’m in the American. I’ve been at a conference office and national office. The student-athletes are the same. It might be a 4-3 instead of a 4-7 in a 40-yard dash. It might be that there’s 5’11 or 6’3 in some conference. It’s the old adage, the kids don’t care what you know until you know that you care. I don’t care if it’s a first-round traffic or if kids are playing for the love of the game, or had no intentions of going on. They want discipline. They want to be loved. They want you to care about them outside of their sport.
The more you dive into it, you start diving into what was home like. High school teachers and educators say, “I wish somebody would have intervened earlier.” We get them. We say, “We wish we would have.” The pros get them and say, “Did you guys do anything? Did you intervene at all and help?” All you can do for the time you have them is to encourage, support, and hold them accountable. I’ve learned that has been consistent regardless of what campus I’m on, what division I’m in, or what conference I’m in. They want to know that you care about them outside of sport.
In nowadays world, they know that they have a voice, particularly at this level. It was a stark reminder that we have jobs because they are here. That doesn’t mean that you get this entitlement piece to you. We have jobs because we’re here. In particular, as it relates to social justice and Coronavirus, they own their voices this 2020. Some people put those in the form of demands and some in the form of requests. It’s our job to help them find that voice and work through that as they enter what I call the working world because it’s real for them. I call it the working world for the next phase. I don’t know if that answers your question, but that’s the consistency that I know across many years in different divisions in schools. They’re all the same from that perspective. Love me, hold me accountable, and care about myself outside of my sport. On the other side, what’s changed now is understanding their power and their platform. That’s been different this 2020.
I want to circle back to both of those things you brought up in social justice and COVID. Before we get there, for you and your experience in life, when was the first time you had a teacher, coach or someone in faculty show you that they cared?
This is not a faculty member or teacher but with my mom. I was coming from a single-parent home. My mom made $35,000 the last time I remembered in New York City in the Bronx. I didn’t realize what that meant because nobody in my circle was doing exceptionally well. None of us had our dads in our home. None of our moms were wealthy. We all lived in apartments which a lot of people do in New York anyway because it’s astronomical to purchase something. It didn’t seem different until I got to college. To be honest with you, it was our coaches. My peewee league coach didn’t look like me but he held me accountable.
He was tough but he encouraged me and he told me, “You can go to college.” That statement in itself to a kid from the Bronx was powerful. He believed in me. He saw something that my two older brothers didn’t choose that path for whatever reason. I thought about it but also there were people who went straight to work and they had happy lives. He said, “You can play in college.” I thought he would say that to all of the people that were aging out of that Little League Program. Mike Bub is his name. I get to college.
To be honest with you, it was that father figure saying, “You can do it. You’re worthy and capable. Don’t let this environment be your circumstance,” because I wasn’t getting that from a dad who was absent. It started off with a coach and then with professors that I was disengaged in their class. It went to one of the administrators at Sacred Heart that said, “You can get a master’s degree and do this as a profession.” When I walked across the stage after my master’s, it was the Dean of the College of Education who shook my hand and said, “You’re a doctorate material.” I was like, “Get out of here.” I was a 770 SAT guy. I took it three times. I took the previous SAT, and then I took the SAT twice.
You’re telling a kid who had a 770 and to beg to get into high school that was on probation. I was recruited to places like UPenn and Georgetown. Maybe not football powers but they’re Ivy League type schools. All he asked me to do was get 1,000 and I couldn’t get it. I was thankful that Sacred Heart University saw the whole picture in me. I was at 3.2, I did test well, I did community service and some leadership stuff. They saw that whole package. That will have a generational impact on my family. I had a little chip on my shoulder because I couldn’t get into those schools. When I walked across after my master’s and Dean Harold Cheatham said, “You’re a doctorate material.” He believed in me so I believe in myself. That’s what continues to happen.Don't tell people to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps when you were gifted a pair of boots. Click To Tweet
That’s why I find myself doing it to people because I know the power of encouraging and making somebody be their best selves. This is why I do this work. I believe in the transformative power of education. I don’t know if my uncle will ever know this but he drove a bus in New York City. I remember him saying like, “Why are you going to get a master’s? I make more than you do as a bus driver. You did a doctorate. This is ridiculous. How much education do you need?” He was doing very well as a bus driver in Queens, New York. He’s like, “You don’t need all that stuff.” What I remember learning from that was I want options.
What are you going to do if you don’t want to drive that bus anymore? The education felt like it freed me up. It allowed me to not be eliminated from opportunities. It didn’t mean I was going to get the job I wanted or even the career I wanted but it gave me options. As a man, that’s all I want in life. I teach my children that. Do it for yourself to have options. That’s what education meant to me. I believe in the transformative power of education, and I love from eight years old, what sport has done for me. I get to work at a place where that thing intersects.
This is not a job for me. I work seven days a week. It may be that is only two phone calls that day but there’s not a day where the phone doesn’t ring or I’m not doing something related to this work. Half the time, I can’t believe I get paid for it. That’s all I want for people is that they do something like that that fires them up. They don’t dread doing it. We all want a break. Trust me, come summertime, I’m ready to take my family and go away for a conference but I’m never dreading going back. I’m getting pumped up about what I have missed and what’s going on. All those people in education that encouraged me and said I could do it despite that school or you got it on probation, they fired me up. How do I pay that forward? It’s this field that I’m in.
What a powerful story. Getting the energy and the passion in that is exciting and inspiring. It gets me pumped up. I want to go back to your mom for a bit. What about your mom? What gave her the tenacity and the drive to survive, raise you and provide for the family? What lessons do you still take from what she’s given you or how she raised you?
Mom is a fighter. She has a high school education. She never not worked. She’s retired now. I guess she never explained to me that education would give me options. The thing that I keep with me all the time is being great. Maximize the God-given talent that you have and then work to be great. Give it your best effort. Mom always told me every time, number one, “Read everything you sign.” I’ll never forget that. It drives my wife crazy. If we’re selling a house, signing up for credit or we’re buying furniture, I read everything. That drives people crazy because most people just sign away.
She always taught me to know what you’re signing. She also taught me that anything you put your name on will reflect you. She never got on me if she saw me struggling in math. If she saw me grinding at the table after dinner doing the work and she heard me in college saying, “I’ve got to go to this tutor. I’ve got to get this extra.” She was good with that. That encouraged me that if I put my best foot forward, I would please her. That’s all I wanted to do. It was to make sure that she was happy. We were in a one-bedroom apartment. She slept on the couch until eighth grade. She gave me the one-bedroom. We heated up that apartment with the oven. She’d pull that over down so it was warm in the morning when we woke up.
She didn’t have to say much to me. We always had a meal. She found a way to get me to football practice. She limited my amount of time that I hung out on the streets. She let me out there to ride my bike and play with my friends so I had that. If it wasn’t football, it was basketball. If it wasn’t basketball, it was baseball. She let me try karate. She let me try anything that would keep me off the streets. You don’t realize it when you’re in the midst of it. You think your mom was the fun killer if you’re in the middle of that.
She is the representation of the phrase “preached the gospel and when necessary, use words,” because she lived it. She woke up early to turn on the oven to make sure the apartment was warm by the time I woke up. She slept on a sofa bed that was so warped. We had to get pieces of wood to put under the mattress so she could be comfortable, and then have to put that back up every day because it was also our couch. All I wanted to do was make her happy. My goal was to make $40,000 because she made $35,000. If I made $40,000, she’ll be proud that she did well, that her effort and her investment was not in vain.
That’s all I wanted to do. She said, “Be great.” How can you not do that? She sent me a check in college because I wasn’t on an athletic scholarship. I had some money from GE as a minority student and we had some financial delays. I qualified for some academic money at Sacred Heart. For the leftover balance, she would mail me the check to bring to the bursar’s office. Do you know what kind of message that sends to me? My mom makes $35,000. She sends me the balance of the check because we had a payment plan for the balance. When I walked that check to drop it off at the bursar’s office, I could skip class.
I couldn’t give my best effort on the football field. I never anticipated playing on the next level. I had to do my best because she was doing her best and finding a way. When I walked that check over to the bursar’s office, she was going to get the best out of me. That was a reminder. To this day, I don’t know if she did that on purpose or she did trust the campus mail system, she was like, “Get that check over there.” Back then, there was no direct deposit from ‘94 to ‘98 but the intended or unintended message is it fired me up to give her my best. That’s what it is. Anything I put my name on or if I take a position, you’re going to get the best out of me because it’s the DNA. It’s what she instilled in me.
That’s incredible, just be great.
We can’t talk about mom. That’s going to bring tears to me every time.
She sounds like an incredible woman. Speaking of football, what did the sport of football do for you? How did it grow you as a man? What was it about football that ended up being the sport for you?
It’s funny I loved baseball practice more. When baseball practice got canceled, I was disappointed. If football got canceled, I was like, “Okay.” You tend to lean to the one that you’re better at. After a while, I couldn’t hit anymore so I was getting discouraged at baseball. I played at least through my junior year of high school. Early on, I realized I had a talent. My big brother loved college football, which is still weird in New York City. It’s a pro town, pro city. I was encouraged by that and would watch that with him. Football is accountability.
You have to do your part for the rest of the thing to work. What I love about it is it being a microcosm of life too. People have heard this in some form or fashion before but I didn’t care who was in the huddle with me. If you’re white, black, Hispanic, Latino, gay or straight, it didn’t matter to me. What were you going to do to help us win? Off the field, everybody got the benefit of the doubt from me. It was a microcosm of what we ended up living in every day. If you do your part, you give the team a chance to win.
If I don’t sleep well at night, I’m going to have bad practices. What it did was it helped me operate when other’s success is on the line as well. I’ll never know what it feels like to be an individual sport athlete. My wife ran track in college. She would run her event and then go somewhere and stretch. We maybe go watch a friend or two, but it ends up being a team sport too. I don’t want any of your audiences to think that you can’t learn anything from an individual sport but it’s being a team sport. I want my kids to at least play one team sport. It’s discipline, accountability, and doing your part so that everybody has a chance to win.
At the end of the day, that’s what happens in our office. Are you here on time? Did you do your part of that project? Did you give your best effort? That allows everybody to win. I love that and I love the accountability. When you’re losing, are you going to bury in the sand? Are you going to try to get better? When you’re winning, identifying the things that helped you be successful. Those were all transferable skills in my life. If I know we have a week of meetings and projects, I’m always thinking about going back to camp. Knowing camp was going to be about two weeks every year.
You took it one day at a time. There were three days in a row, you had a great day at camp. You were in the starting position. There were two days in a row where you were awful and you’ve bumped down to the number 2 or 3. I can’t look two weeks down the road for camp to be over. It was one day at a time. When I have those tough weeks at work or at some projects and upcoming meetings, it’s one day at a time and all I think about is camp. If you can get through a camp, you can get through a lot of things in life.
It’s amazing how sports are such great parallel realms for life. We take those experiences and remind ourselves of those continually because it reframes like, “This is back in training.” Even though it’s life, it’s the same thing. You said, “Accountability and doing your part so that everybody wins.” What a great lesson for all of us to learn in any realm, especially team sports are the primary role for that. You mentioned in the huddle, it doesn’t matter what you look like, where you’re from and who you are. Our country especially 2020, is in the midst of another uprising of social justice around racism and fighting to change that. Accountability and doing your part so that we can all win applies directly to that. What has your experience with racism been like in America? After you share that, I’d love to hear how you see where we’re at now, and what you’re encouraged or discouraged by.
It’s funny that consistency in all of these forums that we’re now creating within our organization and department and listening to the students, racism exists. I’m biracial. Let me make sure that I identify myself that way. My mother is Puerto Rican and my biological father was African-American. My stepdad, who is also African-American, raised me from five years old on. He’s dad as well. It’s amazing to understand how we are raised in America. You’ve heard the story 1,000 times now about police and neighborhoods but it is absolutely true.
The things that our parents had to say, “You can’t do that. You can’t dress that way. You can’t have facial hair like that. You can’t be out.” Every parent is telling their child what anything after 12:00 AM is. There’s nothing good happening after 12:00 AM or 2:00 AM, whatever the phrase is. Every parent is doing that, but the most powerful thing I experienced during the social justice movement. For the first time, I was articulating this outside of the comfort of being around black and brown people. It brought me to tears and that takes much as you’ve seen or heard already if I’m talking about my mother and these things I’m passionate about.
This was the first time in my life that I was talking to my white friends and counterparts about the things we do every day. The intentionality of how we name our children, that we want to have culturally ambiguous names. People can do Google searches and social media searches now and all of that. We wanted to name our children where somebody couldn’t automatically say, “They are a minority candidate?” I wanted you to do that phone interview and let them blow you away.
I’m talking to my friends about how we dress when we look for a home because we don’t want the neighbors to think, “There goes the neighborhood,” or “Can they even afford to be here?” There are things that for me getting the doctorate. Not only that Dean Cheatham says your doctorate material so I was empowered. I’m thinking to myself, “How do I separate myself from the other candidates that are going for this job?” In the collegiate athletic space, I believe it’s 89% white males that are in the CEO positions.
What am I going to do to separate myself? You don’t have to have been a minority to be thinking that way. You could also think, “How can I diversify my portfolio?” I’m telling you my personal experience. That doctorate was to make sure that number one, the president who was going to hire that athletic director position would go, “He’s an academic. In a college setting, it’s important to him.” Number two, “He has a terminal degree.” Less than 2% of the country has a terminal degree. That’s awesome in a higher-ed setting. Number three, if he or she were hesitant about hiring a minority candidate, in my mind, with this help, he or she feels better about presenting me as their pick to the community. We’ve been taught along the way of all the extra things that we have to do to be successful in this country.
Don’t blame me for that. Don’t blame my mama. She was just trying to help her baby do well. These are the things that have been infused in our lives of how you have to be better than the white person in this world to succeed. For the first time in my life, when I am 1 of 2 in leadership roles, you find yourself and your white counterparts going like, “Tell me what this is like. Is that happening? It doesn’t happen to you, does it? You’ve got a doctorate and you’d make this money.” I don’t want to go to the extent of naming an adverse situation but we feel it in our heads as well.
Let me acknowledge that for your audience, a little bit of what we know, but it’s also what we’ve been taught to do. It’s to survive in advance. It was powerful for colleagues and friends to reach out and say, “Is this true? Does this happen to you? Is this how you feel?” For the first time to articulate it outside of my safe bubble of other people that have been taught the same way, it’s understood. We don’t even talk about it. We go to a conference and there’s 3 or 4 African-American standing together and go, “We ought to break this up a little bit. We can’t all go to the same deal. We can’t all be at this place.”
People are dressing down and it’s like, “We’re going to wear a sport coat.” There are things that are understood within us. This was the first time that I’ve had to articulate it. I’m failing on the kid front because I’ve not addressed it with them at the very surface as they watched the news in our home wondering what the bickering is. They’re like, “Daddy, who were those group of people that are holding up signs on the corner as we head to Chick-fil-A?” “That’s called a protest, baby.” “What’s a protest, daddy? Why do they feel that need to protest?”
What do you say to a young girl? What do you say to a child? My young kid has no clue what’s going on but how do you start diving into that? When we moved here thinking that I was moving to one of the most diverse melting pots in the country. I’m living in Florida. In her kindergarten class, one of her classmates came up to her and said, “You ought to be in the class with brown people.” She’s in first grade. She’s bawling her eyes out. I may be being a little bit naive to this, but I don’t think at that point she realized she looked different, that she has brown skin. That in itself is a privilege. The fact that I’m a light-skinned biracial man, there are privileges there that I benefit from.
I’m in the minority category but I’m light-skinned, and there’s a privilege that comes with that as well. I find this balance of educating my children on this. I also want to make sure I keep them grounded because they live in a nice home. They have two nice cars. We have a pool outback. Both parents have at least a master’s. I have a doctorate. I want to make sure they realize that they are not immune to racism because of what mommy and daddy do, our income level, or our education level. I want them to be aware. I don’t want to paint a dark picture of our world but I need their intents up.
My daughter experienced that in 1st-grade and I had no idea how to explain it. That’s been the struggle here. How deep do you dive in? How do I address this with them? I want her to have a picture of this world that is loving and good, and the people she interacts with at her school, her soccer team and basketball team don’t care what she looks like. They care if she’s a good teammate. She brought an extra Gatorade for them. They come to her party, she goes to their parties. I don’t want to ruin that. I want her to experience that. Anyway, I’m rambling now but that’s what this movement has brought to the surface. It’s the stuff that we’ve been taught since we were little. My wife is the same way.Maximize the things that God has given you and serve. Click To Tweet
It makes me think of the importance of someone feeling valued, seen or heard. Similarly, I had zero idea of a lot of the experience of someone in a very different position or background than my own. Now, being able to start seeing better that and having more empathy, then I can start seeing and valuing those people more than I didn’t before and I was naive too before. I think there’s such power.
The hardest part is you want people to realize that they are privileged. I have a colleague that calls it the P-word. It drives him nuts. I’m acknowledging to him that there’s a privilege I have of how I look, my skin tone. The fact that people compliment me on how well I speak. I’ve brought these things to his attention and I’m thinking of one in particular but that word drives him crazy. I have to remind him, “I’m acknowledging my privilege as well, but we cannot move forward until people realize they’re privileged. Yours is as a male in this society.” We’re talking about race and social, but we can’t move forward until we realize that. My wife says, “I can’t run outside in our neighborhood.” Let’s not even talk about it because she’s a black female. It’s not safe from male predators potentially at that time because she’s wearing spandex.
There are different privileges. I don’t think we can move forward until we identify our own and empathize with others. We start to understand and listen to where that perspective is coming from. That’s all I want out of this. If we did that, we would all be a little more considerate. That’s even tougher in a college athletic setting, for our students where are football and basketball teams are 85% African-American. They want to know that their administration cares about more than winning. They want to know that we see them as students. This is a business. We’re shy of $7 million business, but they wanted to know that this is different than the pros.
They’re all figuring out how to articulate that to us, but between this and Coronavirus, they wanted to know, “Do you care about us? Is this about making money for the department? Do you care about us that we’re hurting or scared? Do you want us to shut up and play?” That’s what they care about. We walk a balance because we have so many constituents, but we cannot walk the balance and letting them know that we see them, we hear them, we care and, “Tell us about your experience. How can we help while you are in our care?”
It’s been an interesting time. As a senior-level administrator, what are we putting on our social media? We’re worried about that. I want to be an athletic director. If I’m too overt, does that prevent somebody from wanting to hire me to lead their operation? What message does that send to my student-athletes? That I’m a coward. There are these struggles all the time of the constituent groups you serve, the leadership role you’re in, wanting your students to know you care and then also going, “This hurt me and my chances to be an athletics director.”
That’s my real raw thoughts on that stuff. I chose to have intentional conversations and to reach out to people. You won’t see a whole lot of activity but I don’t want anybody to mistake that. The people that I serve or he’s not bold enough. Because of that fear, I’m choosing to have intentional conversations over the phone, via Skype, one-on-one, hallways or let’s go grab a coffee. I’m doing that to keep the conversation going and to make this a better place by the time my kids are in a position to be in college and high school and live in the neighborhoods we live in.
Thank you for sharing. Acknowledging what we can’t take credit for is such an important part of being honest with ourselves and others. Whenever I’m talking to other people and sharing my story, the quote I always try to say is Barry Switzer’s. He said, “I was born on third base and thought I hit a triple.” I want to lead with that because I understand that I had 0% involvement in where I was born, who I was born into, what time in the world I was born into, and then the opportunities that were provided to me. I have a role in how I handle or what I do with my responsibility to manage that but that’s it.
Nobody wants you to feel guilty about that. If we go back to what I shared, I want us to acknowledge that. Don’t tell the persons to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps when you were gifted a pair of boots. That’s the thing. You feel like you’re digging out of a hole. Let me acknowledge that there are decisions. To your point, if you start on third base and you’d do nothing with it, that’s on you. You can’t be a victim either and say, “I’m never going to amount to anything. It’s hard to be what you can’t see but maybe I’ll be the person that a young student-athlete says, “I can be that.”
I don’t have to play my sport to do what I love. I can be around my sport and do what he does. He’s got a healthy living and he’s still involved. He seems like he’s enjoying it. That’s a career. Those are the things. I don’t want any of my white friends or counterparts and colleagues, nobody is intending for them to have guilt. It’s acknowledge that and then go, “What role can I play here? How do I maximize that I’m on third base? Let me do something with it.” That’s where my heart has been. That’s the thing that hurts the most. Don’t assume somebody is playing the victim or wants to move off the government. What have the two generations before them been able to do?
I told you my goal was to make $40,000 so mama felt great, but I didn’t have anybody in my family that owned a home. That was not even in my mindset. I started to meet other people that were going, “Have you ever thought about ownership?” “Absolutely not. Why would I do that? I don’t have the money for that. That’s not for people like us,” until people brought that in your horizons. Let’s not make those assumptions. There are no assumptions that every white person is naive to it and they have some privilege. Don’t assume that everybody else is playing the victim and wants things handed to them. That’s what’s been driving me nuts in all of this ugly discourse. It’s the assumption that is made without learning and listening on both sides.
That’s real. In all realms, that applies especially in things like race, backgrounds, personal experiences and equally in politics and this realm of this side versus that side. The show’s tagline is intention in the tension, as you know. The whole conversation that we’ve been having, you’ve been sharing the tensions that you face every single day in life. That is a wide range and it involves our whole lives, our whole beings. The point isn’t to go to one side and camp out on that side. The point is to be in the messy middle in the gray. Assumptions keep us camping out on one side as you’re talking about. It’s those personal relationships. It goes back to your work in these human interactions and caring about people.
We can only get past assumptions through personal relationships and real conversations in real life. Not by reading more articles, watching more clips, posting more on social media, and having more debates that don’t do anything. That’s doesn’t create progress. How do we get in real time with real people like your friends and colleagues asking them, “Have you experienced this? What is this like? Is this real because I don’t know?” That is where growth comes. That’s where we start changing.
The fear from white friends and colleagues that they were going to overstep or misstep. Some fear that I would go, “That doesn’t happen to me.” They’re like, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to assume that it did.” I acknowledge those who reached out, I get why that was nerve-wracking. We don’t go back years. The ones that we know and love each other, it’s been double-digit years that we’re in each other’s lives, or we went at each other’s weddings, they could call and go, “Is this real because you speak well? You’ve never shared that with me.”
It’s like, “Yeah, I did. It’s understood that this is what we do.” I acknowledge that there was a lot of tension and fear of reaching out, and not known to your black colleague or friend, not knowing what the response was going to be, and not knowing that you could ask something and offend them even more. I was optimistic. At one point, I stopped counting now but it was 27 or 30 individual conversations of folks that reached out. I thought, “Good for me but good for them,” because you could sit in the back seat of that car and go, “I acknowledge it. My heart is there. I’ll help any way I can.”
The folks that reached out and said, “Is this real? Do you experience this? How can I help?” That was common. I acknowledge that that was a bold step. This movement felt different, maybe because there were three in a row and people said, “I’ve had it.” This is the one where we said we need allies or don’t assign the diversity work to the lone black person in your organization. This one was different where we said like, “What do I do? What does my circle look like?” We need our white friends and colleagues to own this thing with us. The fact that you know the story and you have people that you know and love that are walking through it. I’m not talking about anything else that people have been bickering about. Do you have people that you can love like that and be in their world? You may not even have to ask if you’re with them because you’ll experience it around.
For white people reading and white males specifically, my pastor said, “Understanding that it’s not your individual fault but it’s our collective problem.” That releases us from the shame and guilt. This isn’t your individual fault but it’s our collective problem that we still have in this country.
There is people or group that is hurting. You may not have done anything. You may love people. You have some in your circle on soccer teams, at church or in a small group, you may have that. We’re not saying that but it is still the larger population. This one felt different. Allies will help this thing. We need allies. I wouldn’t want anybody to feel that guilt especially if you’ve said to yourself, “I love and serve all people in my circle.” Even if it’s not you, acknowledging that there’s a sheep. There are 99 sheeps and 1 out there that is suffering. Did he not leave and bring that one back home?
That brings me to something that many people have said. The way you demonstrate your faith on a daily level is powerful to experience, witness, and to come alongside. I’d love to know from you what role faith plays in your life and how that integrates into all that you do.
I grew up Catholic. I went to a Catholic high school. I went to a Catholic university but the truth is I knew there was a God. There’s no doubt about that. Mom, we prayed, we blessed our food. There’s no way I could tell you I had a real relationship. I went on a few retreats in college with our campus ministry folks. That was good. I acknowledged the walk but I don’t know that He was Lord and Savior, counselor or healer. I don’t know that we had that relationship. My relationship with Christ as a Christian was I need to believe in Him so that bad things don’t happen to me.
I was the guy who wore a cross because if I didn’t wear my cross, something could happen to me out there as opposed to that being a symbol and a reminder. That’s where I was with God. It was, you better believe or something bad can happen. It wasn’t until I graduate from school. I went to Clemson in South Carolina. Quite honestly, being in the South, your faith and walk are a little more freely discussed. I always tell people the jobs that I ended up working. I worked at Wake, I went to Clemson, I’ve been at Arkansas which is South. At those schools, one of the first things people ask you when you go to work there is like, “Where are you from? Do you have children? Have you found a church yet?” It blows me away. Being a New Yorker at first, I was like, “That’s invasive.”
For people living there, it was a way of life. What church do you go to? There are a few options over here. Do you go to a black church? Do you go to nondenominational? St. Leo is over here if you’re Catholic. That’s a part of everyday talk. That was a little different moving from New York City, working in Connecticut, going to school in Connecticut, moving to Clemson and then working at Wake, I was like, “That was pretty bold for people to ask.” My supervisor, while I was at Wake, invited me to her church. My wife and I grew up Catholic and she invited me to Calvary Baptist Church in North Carolina. We went because it was my boss and I didn’t want to offend her.
She asked me again the next week, “What do you think?” Of course, I said, “It’s great. Thank you for the invite. I appreciate it.” Thinking it was a one and done deal. She said, “I’ll see you next week.” I was like, “This is unbelievable.” I went back a second time and a third time. That’s when people started walking along and saying, “Do you play softball? We’ve got a little church softball league.” It was some people that casually were in our space and they were married. I’m thinking about my wife and I. They were married, they loved the Lord, and they were trying to be good husbands. I was like, “This is awesome.” They were trying to be good. They were meeting once a week to go, “How can I be more Christ-like in my job and my family?”
It fed my soul. I started to understand the relationship versus if I don’t worship this God, I don’t follow the rules, I’m going to go to hell, get murdered or get seriously ill. As opposed to learning about Him, what He wants for me and my family, listening and understanding who the Holy Spirit was. My faith keeps me grounded. My faith reminds me that I’m not in control, but my faith reminds me to do well with what He’s given me. I’m reminded that we’re in the grand scheme of things, at least according to our belief as Christians, that this time on Earth is not the end.
In fact, it’s a belief when you talk about eternity. Why not maximize the things that God has given us and serve? That’s hard because I’m ambitious and competitive. I want to make great money. I want my kids to have things I didn’t have and my wife to enjoy that. My faith is that bubble on the balance. I’m not a big construction guy but when you have a balance thing and that balance is filling, you know you’re in a good spot. That’s what my faith does for me. When I get too high, it gives me perspective. When I’m too low, I’m reminded of who loves me and this is a short time in this place.
I’m here to serve people and advance the kingdom. I’m very transparent, particularly with my close friends of where I fall short. I personally feel like when I articulate those things, it helps me realize that I’m not as good as I think I am in my head. It also lets those people in my circle know that I want accountability. I want you to call me out when I’m not walking the walk. It also shows them that I’m not claiming and I’m acknowledging that I’m not perfect. I’m not far from it but every day I’m still trying to chip away at being more Christ-like. I hope that the people that you talk to said, “I acknowledged my slippage and my fault but I’m not giving up. I want you to hold me accountable as a person in my circle.”
Some of the things you highlighted. Jesus is helping you be grounded, helping you realize you’re not in control, being a good steward of the gifts that He’s given in life, and being transparent about falling short. I love how you use that as a tool for accountability and for humility. What a great tool that we can use and practice on a daily basis. If you want to be more humble, be more transparent about your failures.
It’s not a self-deprecating thing. I don’t want any of the audience to feel like you self-deprecate yourself so you don’t get too high. What I’m saying is that I wanted that job not because I thought that was a place I could serve and be myself. I wanted that because of the money. I wanted that car because of how it helps my status. Those are the things that if I lay them out, it helps people to remind me. It’s not self-deprecating that our faith would suggest that you can’t be confident, proud and right. How about giving that back to God and say, “How blessed you are to have it?”
Without the talent He gave you, you don’t earn that job or that increase. There are no self-made men. You put your effort forward that you built your own business and started a podcast but that’s the Holy Spirit inspired like you explored. How long have you stayed on this podcast world? You’re exploring something the Holy Spirit put on your heart to go, “Is this something you wanted me to do to advance the kingdom?” This whole idea of a self-made man is crap. That’s what I did. Not to be self-deprecating, but the more transparent you are then you allow people to hold you accountable. To be honest, I shared this with my small group. We were talking about the importance of accountability.
When I was early on in my faith, it was a matter of I wanted to please them at that time more than even the Lord. I knew I had to come to see them face to face and go, “You said you wanted to get seven devotionals in between now and next Wednesday, how do you do?” They’re going to ask me. Even when my relationship wasn’t where it is with the Lord, I know I’m accountable to Christian men who fall short as well. I’ve asked them to hold me accountable so that next time, I want to be able to say to them, “We got 6 out of 7 and then 7 out of 7 in.” Early in my faith, it was important because I wasn’t there with the Lord yet. I was at the very minimum, these guys that I meet with on a weekly basis, that’s where it starts. There’s that snowball effect of doing it because you want to please the Lord.
There’s a quote but I can’t remember who said it and I’m going to paraphrase it, “Pride is the belief in the idea that God had when He made you.” That’s beautiful. That’s the pride we need to have. The potential that God has placed in each of us to be His image, and bring good and the kingdom here in this world. I want to echo that self-deprecation is not what God wants and it can easily slide into especially in the Christian spheres. You made a good point on that. It’s so life giving. It brings life to our lives. This is the sweetest gift in that. The other thing that you have brought life into the world. You have four kids now. I love to hear what those four kids have given you. How have they grown or changed you as a man?Serve people right in the space you occupy, and the rest will take care of itself. Click To Tweet
I’m not going to cry during this segment. There was nothing else more than being an athletic director. There was nothing else I wanted to be more than being a husband and a dad. I couldn’t wait. I felt like some of my female friends who always thought that I wanted to be married and have kids. I never had a bunch of dudes that were like, “I can’t wait to be married and have a family.” I didn’t have many. That’s my experience. I was that guy. I wanted that because I yearned for it. I didn’t get that. As I played on different sports teams from high school to college, I saw families like that. I was like, “I want that.”
Growing up as an only child, I have two older half-brothers but they didn’t live with me. Being an only child, I was like, “We’ve got to have a big family.” I want Christmas and Thanksgiving to be fun. I want them to come back from college because they want to come back and see their brother and sister, eat mom and dad’s home cooking, and go back to their old bedroom. I envisioned all of that. Our goal was to build a family that was loving, loved the Lord and loved each other. I tell them all the time, “These are your best friends. You’re going to have a best friend from school or your team but nobody is more important than the people in this house to you. That means you include them when you’re going to do something with your best friend.”
They said they’re not as good as you in that sport, that you encourage them and go kick balls and put up shots in the backyard to help them. That’s what family does. I’ve had this thing in my mind, heart and soul of what I wanted it to be. I wanted my mother-in-law and my mother to be a part of that, for them to be a part of our kids’ lives. I prayed for that and God has delivered. You go into it thinking, “Two would be good, boy and a girl.” If you could request at the Godspeed, but the first two were girls. We said we wanted even numbers so somebody wasn’t left out.
When the first two were girls, we knew it was a matter of four, even if three was a boy, we were going. People are joking at me all the time like, “You wanted to get your boy.” He came on the last try but I’m reminding Him that we wanted 2 or 4. I do believe if God gave us a boy and a girl, we would have stopped. I don’t believe that’s what he intended for us. He heard my heart. He knew when I said two because I thought two is what we could handle and afford. He said, “That’s not what he prayed for.” I’m in agreement with Him. God wanted me to have these four. He knew I would have stopped if He had given me that boy early. They’re all two years apart and I can’t believe they call me daddy.
It is the coolest thing I’ve ever experienced. Don’t get me wrong, they wear me out. We get angry sometimes but it’s a picture of God’s love too. Sometimes, I have to think about that. “I told you five times not to do that and you did this. You think I’m trying not to be fun but you’re not ready for the news about social justice yet. You’re not ready to understand divorce. I’ll explain that in due time. I’ll reveal that to you in due time.” What a picture of Christ’s love for us. When we get frustrated that He doesn’t answer it the way we want. Sometimes He says no. Sometimes He says yes. Sometimes He says not yet. When I’m in that phase of being worn-out of being daddy or I want to veg out and watch sports or do something, that’s like, “What a blessing it is and what a reminder of God’s love.” It’s the coolest thing. Even having four and the oldest being ten, when they call me daddy, it does something. It’s the coolest gig ever.
It’s so cool to hear you talk about it too. Eric, this has been a lot of fun. We’re going to wrap it up with a handful of one-offs here. The first one was from a reference and defining you as someone who does friendship well. The question is, how would you define friendship?
Friendship to me is somebody that I can be vulnerable with. I thought it was corny growing up when guys would say their wives are their best friends. I’m like, “Can your wife be really your best friend?” That’s a good thing to say but the reality is whoever it is that I can be completely vulnerable with, the person that we can have fun with, there’s no judgment but they also hold you accountable for who you are and when we said who you’re going to be. For me, it’s somebody that’s always thinking about them like, “What can I do for you? How do I help you accomplish what you want to accomplish?”
That’s through honesty, love, accountability and all that. I want that as corny as it was. That’s why many wives become their best friends. There’s nothing like having your bro. There’s one person that knows everything about me. What I’m overconfident about, what I’m fearful and insecure about, what makes me laugh and what makes me cry. That is my wife, which also gives her the ability to hurt you too because they know that. When you talk about friendship, it’s who can we be vulnerable with? Who has the other person’s best interests in mind, but also who’s not going to judge and be honest in their feedback? That’s what I think about friendship.
What new habit or belief has most positively impacted you in your life?
I have to say God works all things for our good. When I hang on to that, I don’t go to either extreme because I’m so driven professionally. I’m evading your question there because I’m trying to think of something new but it’s been more prominent now. The closer I get to becoming an athletics director, it’s more of what I’m having to hang on to these days is work and serve people, and the rest will take care of itself. There’s a plan already out there for me. The closer I get to experiencing the goal of being the CEO of an athletics department, being the AD is so close, I can taste it but it’s like, “Don’t press. Serve people right in the space you occupy and the rest will take care of itself.” I’m hanging on more to it these days, particularly with all this unrest. That’s what I’m hanging on to most.
What book or books have had the biggest impact on you or what comes to mind that you would recommend?
I liked Tony Dungy’s Uncommon. That’s a cool book. Everything by Jon Gordon. You can pick a book in that Jon Gordon series whether it’s The Carpenter. There are many there. I’ll say the first one that rocked me because he’s everything, he’s uncommon. He’s not the yeller and cusser and what is traditionally at a football locker room. He’s confident in who he is. He accomplished great things, winning a Super Bowl as an African-American coach. Not to put him on a pedestal but reading the book reminds me of being uncommon. That’s the difference-maker.
I’m going to check that one out for sure. What are you most proud of in your working life thus far?
I’m most proud of my family. There’s no doubt about that. You have conflict in the workspace but I truly believe that every university or conference office, every organization that I’ve worked, when I left, there will always be people that say, “Thank goodness, he’s gone.” The majority of the people said, “We’ll miss him. He was genuine. He cared about us. He was intentional. He was a good dude.” I’m proud of that. I’m still in this space of being a people pleaser and let me acknowledge that. It’s more so because I’m like, “I’d never meant to hurt you.” It has never been my intent if we had a conflict.
That’s the part where I struggled the most. If we had a conflict, I want to be the one that said, “What was that? Where did I hurt you?” Wherever I’ve gone, I’ve brightened that place up and I served people there. I’m proud of that. That’s always been my intent. Not to be liked but because we’re blessed. Let’s make everywhere work. Let’s have fun. Let’s be a good team. I say that now to the staff and particularly our senior staff like, “Let’s be good teammates.” That may not benefit you that time, that shift you took but what’s good for the group. I like doing that. I like to share that message of being a good teammate wherever you go.
That’s how we got connected. My wife, Evan, was impacted in some awesome ways by your influence. That is a beautiful thing to be proud of. The final question that we ask every guest is that if you could send a morning text reminder to every up and comer out there, what would you say and why? This would be a short message from you that they’d receive as a text every morning.
Every morning, I would remind them that you are worthy and your time is coming. By virtue of you were made in His image, you are worthy. No matter what’s around you, how unloved you feel, if you feel obese, anorexic, wealthy, poor, you feel smart or you feel dumb. Wake up in the morning and I want them to feel worthy. You are all worthy right in your own skin. Somebody may not want you if it’s a relationship but that’s their issue. That may not have been the person for you. You are worthy and your time is coming to serve where you are. In full transparency, that’s what we want. That’s what I would want to receive. We learned from The 5 Love Languages book that you’re supposed to love people the way they want to be loved, serve people the way you wanted to be served. My knee jerk reaction to that is that’s what I would want to hear. I would want to remind people they are worthy just as God made them and then your time is coming, just serve where you are.
That’s beautiful. What a great way to end, Eric. This has been such a fun conversation. Thank you so much for coming on, sharing your story and your heart and encouraging us in many ways. Where is a good place if people want to reach out or connect? Where would people find you or follow along with your work?
I’m on Twitter @EWood_UCF. There are weeks where I’m active and there are weeks where I’m silent. It’s mostly work but I like to splash in some family pics, videos and experiences so that our students and my colleagues know that it’s not all business. They see me as a human and not an administrator. It’s a combination. You’re going to see a lot of UCF but you’ll see some Yankees, Knicks and Giants. You’ll see a lot of my kids and my family because that’s about all I have time for.
Eric, until next time, this has been such a joy. I’m grateful.
I had a blast. I shared things here I’ve never shared before. I thank you for giving me the forum. I hope that your readers enjoy and I hope that they’re encouraged. Anything you put your name on, go get it. That’s what I want them to believe.
For the readers, we hope you have an up and coming week because we are out.
I’m following up with one last thing to note. If you would like to get a curated list of all the content I’m learning from whether that’d be books I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, quotes I’m pondering or even some sermons I’m enjoying, In-Thane is a monthly newsletter that brings vetted content that I know you’ll enjoy. Go to ThaneMarcus.com/inthane to sign up and you’ll be sure to receive the very next one. Each edition of In-Thane is released on the first Sunday of the month. This is a once-a-month newsletter that I hope you enjoy and benefit from as much as I have. Here’s to learning and growing one day at a time.
- Apple Podcasts – The Up and Comers Show
- @UpAndComersShow – Instagram
- Patreon – The Up and Comers Show
- Eric Wood – LinkedIn
- The Carpenter
- The 5 Love Languages
- @EWood_UCF – Twitter
About Eric Wood
Eric Wood, a former student-athlete at Sacred Heart University who is also 22-year veteran of collegiate athletic administration, just accepted the role of Director of Athletics and Vice President at LA Tech, following a five-year stint at UCF, where he spent the past four years as the Deputy AD for Competitive Excellence. He becomes the first Director of Athletics in LA Tech history to also serve as a Vice President.
The Bronx, New York, native has served in a variety of roles within athletics administration for more than two decades. In addition to his time at UCF, Wood has held full-time positions at the University of Arkansas, the Atlantic Coast Conference, Wake Forest University and the University of New Haven. He also served as a graduate assistant at both the NCAA national office and Clemson University early in his career.
At every level of his professional career, Wood has made an impact. His qualifications and accomplishments include:
– Board of Trustee Member – Sacred Heart University
– 2019 “Next Up” honoree presented by Adidas and College AD for senior level administrators
– Athletics Representative on the UCF Presidents Advisory Staff Council
– 2016 Top 40 Under 40 in the Arkansas Business Journal
– 2009 graduate of the NCAA’s Leadership Institute
– 11 years of executive staff level leadership
– $55 million in successful management experience for sport programs, operations and support areas
– $5 million in fundraising visits, proposals, and presentations for programing, operations and facilities
– Head coach hires in football, men’s basketball, men’s and women’s tennis, and track and field
– Sport administrator experience (football, men’s basketball, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s golf)
– NCAA, NLI, Division I-A Athletics Director’s Association (Now Lead1), USTA committee service
– 1997-98 NCAA football student-athlete Medal of Merit recipient as SA of the Year
He is a 1998 graduate of Sacred Heart University, earning his degree in Psychology. He was a three-year starter at cornerback for the Pioneer football team with one outdoor season as a member of the track and field team.
Wood earned a Medal of Merit, the athletic department’s highest honor, as the Student-Athlete of the Year his senior year at Sacred Heart. He completed his master’s degree in counseling and guidance services at Clemson University in May 2000 and his Doctorate of Education in Sports Management at the University of Arkansas in 2016.
He is the first African-American Vice President in Louisiana Tech history as well as the first minority Director of Athletics in the University’s history.
Dr. Wood and his wife Celia have four children – Eliana (10), Nia (8), Alyssa (6) and Elijah (4).
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