Sunday Conversation: Coach Rick LaFavers

In the first of a series, we sat down with the Rice Special Teams and Tight Ends Coach recently to gain insight into the life of a Rice coach...

In the first of a series of conversations with our Rice Football Coaches I had lunch with Coach Rick LaFavers recently. He shared some insight into the life of a coach and why special things are happening in the Rice Football program. I asked Coach LaFavers how he got into coaching, the highs and lows of his profession, and why Rice is different than other places.

OD: When did you know you wanted to be a football coach?

"I grew up around high school football. My dad was a high school trainer and I was always up at the office with him and the rest of the staff year round, even summers. I just enjoyed the environment and looked up to those guys with so much respect and admiration. As I got older and got into athletics in Junior High and High School, again the coaches I had all made huge impressions on me as a young man and I new that coaching was what I wanted to do."

OD: What is the best, and worst things about coaching?

"The best part is the players, just being around them on a daily basis. It keeps you young. I truly feel like I don't have a job. It isn't something where I punch a time card. I enjoy seeing a young freshman come in and watching him grow as a man. It's also gratifying to try and teach a young player a skill, technique, or a scheme and to watch them work on it and work through it - then when they finally get it and everything cliques, that is a very special part of the job. Then there are the game days. Working all week (or may be off-season) implementing a certain scheme or strategy and then seeing it come together and watching the players work their tails off together as a team is very satisfying. Then turning around and doing it again and again. Each week is new and each year/team is new. It never gets old or boring that is for sure. I also enjoy being around "the guys" (coaches) as well. All the families truly become one big family. The worst part is the time commitment that the job requires. Being away from my family and kids is extremely tough. There aren't many free weekends throughout the year as there might be with a "normal" job. But I do know my two boys absolutely love coming up to the office, seeing the players. In fact they have been asking me lately when we are going to have the players over for dinner."

OD: Some coaches are screamers, some are disciplinarians. How would you describe yourself as a coach?

"I try to coach my players with respect and trust. I try to be positive and instill in them confidence so they play fast and can execute with confidence. I try to teach them not only the how, but the why. The big picture. So many guys today want to know why? For example, I want them to understand why it is important to keep the route at a certain depth or why the spacing is so critical vs. a certain coverage. I do think different positions require different demeanors and approaches (styles) as do the different personalities each player has. Some players need you to keep your thumb on them, some players tank if you yell at them. I try to coach with enthusiasm, emotion, and instill confidence. I want my players to believe when they walk out on the field on Saturday they are the best dad-gum player out there and that whoever lines up across from them is in for a long day."

OD: Beside the obvious academic differences, how is coaching at Rice different than the other places you've been?

"Our players are amazing. We don't have the issues that maybe other programs have, especially the negative ones. You don't see our guys in the papers or the headlines for making a bad decision. All of our players see the big picture in life. They understand what it means to truly be a student-athlete. The way they balance athletics and academics is incredible. They are all very mature and responsible (for the most part, they still are 18-21yrs old) compared to most other student-athletes at other schools. I will say this, our guys work their tails off. They give tremendous effort in all aspects of our program, more so than at any other place."

OD: Rice has done a tremendous job in recruiting thus far for the 2009 class and one thing I hear a lot is that recruits really like the Rice Coaching Staff. Why is that?

"I believe it is because we are very genuine. We don't have a lot of "used-car salesmanship" tactics. We are honest and down to earth. I think players and their families appreciate that and it can be refreshing. I believe they know we will take care of their son and help him grow academically, athletically, socially, and even spiritually."

OD: Describe the highs and lows of recruiting?

"The highs are getting out meeting the coaches and developing the relationships with the players and their families. Recruiting is accelerated so much that you often times are recruiting a young man and his family for 2 or more years. Great bonds and relationships can form during those times. Then having them join your Rice family on signing day pulls it all together. Then some of the worst parts are "losing" a kid you have really developed a relationship with; and also the time on the road away from your family. It is tough sometimes when you only have a certain amount of scholarships and you can't offer or maybe recruit a guy. Then there is the juggling act of trying to decide who you are going to take. It is tough. I wish we could take them all, but telling someone who burns with desire to be a part of your program that you don't have any "spots" for him is tough."

OD: What advantages does Rice have as a school and a program?

"First and foremost is the outstanding academics. A degree from Rice is truly life changing. Secondly, we are small and private. There are a lot of advantages in that regards. We are also located in the great city of Houston so there is obviously so much to do. The unique thing is Rice doesn't feel like it is in a big city. It is such an intimate and quiet campus, you can sometimes forget you are in the "big city." Athletically, we are in a great conference that is extremely competitive from top to bottom. Rice is a school that has a lot of deep tradition dating back to the old SWC days. At no other place in America can you receive such an outstanding world-class education, play big-time college athletics, and legitimately have a chance to win championships and go to bowl games year-in and year-out. Nowhere!"

OD: Has their been a coach that's greatly influenced your life and how so?

"There are so many coaches that have had an impact and influence on me throughout my growing up as a player and throughout my coaching career. It is impossible to name just one. Pat Sullivan (my head coach at TCU). My position coach my senior year, Chris Thurmond, who I eventually worked with for 8 years at the beginning of my career. My junior high and high school coach, Jim Langdon at Bonham Junior High and Amarillo High. Mark Tommerdahl and Ben Pollard, who I also worked with for 8 years. All of these guys were men of character and men of influence. Each one has blessed me and given to me in so many ways."

OD: If you could have dinner with any person in history – who would it be and what would you talk about?

"Wow, tough one. Again there are a lot. As far as coaching, two guys that come to mind are John Wooden and Tom Osborn. The thing that is so impressive about them is they truly were men of influence and character. Every player to a man walked away a better person and a better player after leaving their programs. They won and did it the right way."

OD: OK, here's a tougher question. Last year was a tough season for the team, and the Special Teams had their share of challenges. What do you look forward to for 2008 and what are your goals for your units?

"Personally, I want our special teams to have tremendous improvement. If we can improve our units, we will be a much better team this fall. Overall, we need to get to the post-season and win. It will be another brick in the wall as we continue to build this storied program."

OD: Last question, fill in the blank: Rice Football is:

"On the rise! Get on board, because it is going to be a great ride!"

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