When we last talked about Rick Telander in this space (Sept. 24, 1984), he was writing a lot of football stories, playing guitar for the Del-Crustaceans, the rock band he founded during his years at Northwestern, and living next to the Bears' practice field in the Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, a fitting address for the only former All-Big Ten defensive back on our staff. Well, the band is still rocking, he and the Bears are still neighbors, and he is still writing stories for us on football—one in this issue, on Dallas Cowboy running backs Tony Dorsett and Herschel Walker (page 76), as well as a story on NBA star Michael Jordan (page 16). But Telander has one more distinction. He is our only oil company president.
Telander, 37, heads up Coleman Oil, a firm in his hometown of Peoria, Ill., which has been in the family ever since Rick's grandfather, Norbert Overstolz, and father, Richard, bought it right after World War II. Telander now generally spends Tuesdays and Wednesdays—the weekend at SI—there.
"Sometimes, switching hats from sportswriter to businessman...jeez, it's like being turned inside out," he says. "I'll go from one phone call with an All-Pro running back to a call from a purchaser of solvents. I talk to lawyers, to bankers, to environmental activists. It's wild."
Telander's involvement in Coleman Oil goes back to childhood. "When I was a boy, it was a gas station with a little tiny warehouse," says Rick. "I'd always worked there, pulling weeds, making deliveries, painting, and I started going down there again a few years ago when my father needed a hand."
Because of the drop in oil prices and the worsening business climate in smokestack cities like Peoria, it was a time of transition for Coleman Oil. In this case, transition meant diversification. Enter the Solvent Environmental Assistance Corp., a subsidiary of Coleman Oil that dates back to the early '70s. Getting rid of chemicals the EPA says are dangerous has become SEA's bread and butter. "The volume of the stuff is just astounding," Rick says. "Before I got involved, I didn't know beans about this. But the important thing I've learned is that something can be done. I'm very confident the environment will be cleaned up."
When Telander the sportswriter is working on a story, Telander the oil company official is never more than a phone call away from a snap executive decision. "People can't believe I'm doing both," he says, "and I can't believe I'm doing both. It's obvious I don't get any days off. How long will I do it? Until I go insane. But, really, going from one to the other is refreshing."
Telander took this week's disparate assignments in stride. He says working on Dorsett and Walker was especially enjoyable "because I had been doing a lot of Bears stories and they've become a media sideshow. It's a madhouse. So I welcomed the change of pace." He had to shift gears again for the Jordan story: "I laughed through the whole assignment. The Bulls are a young, frisky team, full of life."
But then, doing double-duty comes naturally to Telander.