The plates had been cleared, the detritus of a players-and-coaches enchilada feast washed down the drain. West Virginia's cornerbacks had gone home to rest for the next day's spring practice. Daron Roberts, their 33-year-old position coach, sat at his dining-room table with graduate assistant Andrew McGee. Roberts listened as McGee ticked off the difficulties a young coach encounters. Brutal hours. Little or no pay. No health insurance.
"You sure you want to do this, man?" Roberts asked McGee. Then Roberts laughed.
If anyone is qualified to ask that question, it's Roberts. He answered it five years earlier when he passed up a $250,000 job offer and a future few could even dream of to show up at a Kansas City Chiefs' camp for a three-week internship that offered no guarantees beyond it. Consider the following.
Résumé A: B.A. in political science from Columbia; J.D. from Harvard; president of Harvard Law Review
Résumé B: B.A. in Plan II (honors interdisciplinary major) and government from Texas; student-body president at Texas; M.A. in public policy from Harvard; J.D. from Harvard
The first résumé is that of President Obama. The second belongs to Daron Roberts. "He's the overachiever of all overachievers," says West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen.
Roberts, the pride of Mount Pleasant, Texas, son of a soil scientist and a teacher and the great-great-grandson of a slave, might have become a senator. He might have become the governor of Texas. He might have become a Supreme Court justice. All were among his career goals at one time or another, and he was well on his way to any one of them.
After graduating from Texas, Roberts worked for eight months on Capitol Hill in the office of Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, before returning to school to earn his master's from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. From there it was on to Harvard Law, after which the real world would welcome him with promises of huge private-sector salaries (median starting salary for a Harvard Law grad: $160,000) or boundless public-sector possibilities.
But in 2006, during his second year of law school, Roberts took a class taught by Paul Weiler, the father of modern sports law. For his final paper Roberts wanted to examine if legal training could help a football coach. He sent interview requests to three college coaches who held law degrees: UCLA's Rick Neuheisel (USC, 1990), Louisiana Tech's Derek Dooley (Georgia, 1994) and Texas Tech's Mike Leach (Pepperdine, 1986). Neuheisel didn't respond. Dooley couldn't make time. Roberts held out hope for Leach.
Through a friend of a friend, Roberts procured a phone number with a Lubbock area code. He was told to call and let it ring. There would be no voice mail. Within two minutes he would receive a call back. So Roberts dialed the number at 9:30 one night. The phone rang. He hung up. Sure enough, at 9:32 he got a call back. Roberts barely spit out his reason for phoning before Leach began peppering him with questions. What was your favorite 1L class? Do you ever go to Harvard Square and watch the chess players? "We talked for an hour and half," Roberts says.