Firmly In His Father's Footsteps

ATHENS – Tom Olivadotti constantly schemed for a way to keep his son, Kirk, from following in his coaching footsteps

NFL coaches are adept at scheming. So, Tom Olivadotti, a long serving member in the professional coaching fraternity, asked his son not to become a coach. He told his son not to become a coach. And when those methods didn't take, he even threatened to punch Kirk in the face if he chose to align himself with the coaching profession.

Naturally, Kirk became a coach, choosing to mimic what his father did—not what his father said or threatened.

"I kind of kept it from him," Kirk Olivadotti said. "My mom kind of had a better idea of it."

From as far back as his memory can summon, Kirk Olivadotti recalls vivid memories of the atmosphere only football can provide. Through his father's various coaching stops, Kirk Olivadotti got a unique taste of football from every angle imaginable.

"I remember kind of running around, and I thought the Princeton Tiger was one of the coolest things of all time," he said. "I was probably four then."

Tom Olivadotti's efforts to block his son's coaching path were noble—any coach will tell you, the gig is unlike any other job. It's a particular existence, full of long hours and, at times, little to no job security. Kirk was fortunate to attend the same high school—St. Thomas Aquinas in Ft. Lauderdale—all four years. His sister was not as lucky, occupying four different schools in as many years.

"I never thought because of anything that my dad had showed me that I didn't want to do it," Kirk Olivadotti said. "Because he was great, and I'm a lot the same way, in that he comes to work and then he goes home. That's basically all he does. He doesn't have too many hobbies or anything like that. He really enjoyed his time with us at home, and whatever was happening at work was staying at work with him. I never really understood the strains or stresses that go with the job."

Disregarding the cons that inevitably come with coaching—whether perceived or conveyed—somewhere during his sophomore year at Purdue (four year letter winner playing wide receiver), Kirk settled on majoring in education with plans of becoming a coach.

His dad's initial reaction was to be expected.

"First he tried to talk me out of it," Olivadotti said. "Once he realized that I was kind of in it, the one thing he said was it's not really a job. It's a lifestyle. That has proven true. At that point I was a sophomore in college, so I didn't really understand what he meant. But now I have a wife and two kids, and it is a lifestyle. It's a family lifestyle that everybody has to kind of be a part of."

So the younger Olivadotti began a quick ascent through the ranks, making a switch from offense to the defensive side of the ball in the process. He coached for one season at Maine Maritime, moving on to be an assistant at Indiana State. Coaching at the school most famous for producing basketball legend Larry Bird, Olivadotti made a switch that would stick for the rest of his career.

"Our head coach was the secondary coach," Olivadotti recalls. "I was coaching wide outs at the time, and he decided he wanted to be a walk around guy and put me in the secondary. From that point on I've been on defense."

And just like that, Olivadotti became a defensive tactician. And seemingly just as abrupt, he was coaching in the NFL just like his father. Three years after beginning his career, Olivadotti landed a position—labeled as defensive quality control—for the Washington Redskins.

Here's where Olivadotti's coaching story takes a surprising—stable—twist. He remained with the Redskins for over 11 years, a remarkable feat considering six different head coaches came and went during his tenure.

The flux of coaches passing through Washington embodied everything Tom Olivadotti had warned his son about. The insecurity. The coming and going. This was the transient nature of the business on full display. Kirk Olivadotti got to witness it all, but somehow he weathered the coaching chaos.

"The key to that—I'm not sure because they did have me pack my office up a couple of times, and then I was asked to come back in. It was luck, a little bit… literally packed up boxes in my house."

During his run in Washington, Olivadotti was hands on with the secondary, defensive line and linebackers. His served in various job functions under defensive coordinators Ray Rhodes, Marvin Lewis, Gregg Williams, all of who are highly respected in coaching circles.

All the time spent with different coaches and coordinators, amid changing philosophies and schemes, proved beneficial, Olivadotti said.

"I'm not sure that it's weird to me because it's just kind of how it went," he said. "So, it's been good in that there's something that you can learn from everybody. If you're not learning from everybody that you're around, then you're not really paying too much attention. It's been a good thing, and I've picked up different things from everybody that I've worked for or worked with."

Kirk Olivadotti's NFL resume has but one team listed—Washington. That compact bio vastly differs from his father's.

Tom Olivadotti has coached football for over 40 years, including stops with five NFL teams. He also coached in college, most notably at Miami, Boston College and Princeton. He currently serves as the defensive coordinator for the Omaha Nighthawks in the United Football League.

Along the way, Tom coached with a man named Todd Grantham. The two were together in Houston, indirectly linking Grantham with Kirk Olivadotti. "Shoot, I don't know—maybe six years, seven years," said Kirk Olivadotti of the time he'd known Grantham. "Something like that. He worked with my old man with the Texans, and we got to know each other then."

That simple connection would come full circle in February of 2011. Georgia was seeking a new inside linebackers coach and word was the hire was completely in the hands of defensive coordinator Grantham, entering his second season with the Bulldogs.

"When we talked I don't think he really had to sell me," Olivadotti. "It was one of those things. It wasn't like he called me and said, ‘Here's the job.' I went through the interview process and talked to (head) coach (Mark) Richt and the whole deal. It was just kind of a conversation. I wouldn't say he had to sell me on anything or he was recruiting me to try to get here."

So after 11 years in Washington—remarkable stability in an unstable profession—Olivadotti himself wanted to make a change. He'd had other college offers on the table before, but none infatuated him like the opportunity at Georgia presented.

"First of all, when you look at the school as a whole, you're in the SEC," he said. "For my money, it's the best college football you can have. So, it's highly competitive, and you've got to come every week. The best team isn't always going to win. You've got to play the best in order to win the game. That's attractive to me. I mean that was attractive to be in such a competitive conference. You know, if you're going to do something you want to be at the highest level of it, and I believe this is one of the highest level of it."

Many coaches have sought out the "challenge of the SEC." Now, Olivadotti becomes Georgia's third linebackers coach in as many years. The main objective he'll teach his players sounds simple enough.

"Well, they're going to run to the ball, and they're going to hit something. That's what I've told them. That was the first meeting that we did was, I told them, ‘You play if you run to the ball and you hit something.' We'll take it from there. It's my job to teach you how to run and what to look at and those kinds of things, but they got to take care of the effort because I can't be real tough with their bodies. I can sit there and tell them what to do, but at the end of the day they're going to have to run to the ball, and they're going to have to hit stuff."

After spending so much time around "professional" athletes—grown men—Olivadotti indicates coaching student-athletes will be a refreshing task. And of course, he already understands recruiting is the game outside the game that leads to winning more games.

"I'm not one of those guys that is like, ‘Oh gosh, we've got to go recruit,' because I enjoy meeting people," he said. "I've always enjoyed that part of life, basically. That's what recruiting is, is to find out people's stories. The good thing is that you're going in there—it's not like I'm selling a bad product. You know, I'm going in there and offering up an opportunity to come—and you look at this facility, this is a place that wants to win football games. So, that's easy. I always say that, even about coaching, I get to coach the easiest subject matter that these guys take all day because it's what they want to learn. This is what they want to learn. I want to learn exactly how to balance my checkbook, but if you ask me to balance your checkbook or watch football, I'm going to watch football. You know, that's more fun."

Now having completed his first full week on the job, Olivadotti has 12 days to get prepared for spring practice. Whether or not he'll aid in special teams is yet to be determined, but Olivadotti has experience in all areas in that department. For now, he's thrown himself into film study. And the way he describes his own day-to-day actions sounds a lot like the way he describes his father's from decades ago.

"Most of the stuff that I'm doing, it's verbiage at this point—trying to figure out the verbiage of everything," he said. "It's like a different language, so I had to catch up with that. I've met with the players once. When I did I said, ‘Hey, we're going to work through this together, and we're going to make it right.' There is that part of it, and we still have two weeks. Like I said, my family's still up in Virginia so I don't really have any hobbies. I might go to a movie just to relax or something. Other than that I'm going to be watching and studying and trying to catch up."

These are the type of days his father warned Kirk Olivadotti about. And he appears perfectly happy he did not heed the warning, firmly instep with his father's coaching footsteps.


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