If it wasn't for an emotional breakdown by a former roommate, an NFL head coach would have a much different life these days.
Jim Schwartz, the fiery leader of the Detroit Lions, likes "intellectual stimulation" and didn't plan on a life in coaching. The son of a hard-working policeman grew up in Baltimore with eight brothers and sisters, but coaching pro football wasn't the dream.
Schwartz tells the Detroit News that all changed following a night out with an old bunkmate at Georgetown.
"I never really thought about a career in coaching until I was a junior," Schwartz told the paper. "One of my ex-roommates had come back for homecoming, and he was working on Wall Street making a ton of money. And he got all liquored up one night, about 3 in the morning, and he started crying. He works 80 hours a week, hates his job, costs him $1,000 a month to park his car in Manhattan, and he says, 'All I want to do is quit and go teach high school somewhere.'
"And I said, if I'm gonna work 80 hours a week, I'm gonna do something I like. My original goal was to go to grad school, try to get an advanced degree in economics and be a member of the faculty at some small school and coach football there for the next 40 years."
After picking up that degree in economics from Georgetown, Schwartz embarked on a coaching career that began as a Maryland graduate assistant in 1989 before jobs at Minnesota, North Carolina Central and Colgate led to his first crack at the NFL.
Bill Belichick, now considered the best coach in pro football with the Patriots, hired Schwartz in 1993. But it wasn't a paying gig.
"That was about as ground floor as you can get, an unpaid intern with the Browns. Driving people to the airport, making zero dollars," Schwartz told the News. That's the same path Belichick took to begin his coaching career with the Baltimore Colts as a $25 a week personal coaching assistant to Ted Marchibroda in 1975. Schwartz learned from a Browns staff that included current college coaches Nick Saban (Alabama), Kirk Ferentz (Iowa) and Pat Hill (Fresno State), along with current Ravens executive Ozzie
Newsome. "I wasn't married, had no bills, lived in a crappy apartment at the end of the airport runway and all I did was hang around the office. Rather than a gym rat, I was an office rat."
Despite his passion for pigskin, Schwartz picked up a surprising hobby from his mother, who passed away in 1994.
"I love sports, but I've read from the time I was a kid," he said. "If you have a picture of me on vacation, there's a book in my hand. That came from my mom. She raised nine kids, and there was always somebody on one hip and a book on the other."
An advocate of books, Schwartz favorite is "A Confederacy of Dunces," by John Kennedy Toole. "The guy (Toole) was an absolute genius. It'll make you cry because you'll start reading it and you'll be, like, damn why can't I write like this?," Schwartz said. "You read his stuff and it's like watching Michael Jordan play basketball or Tiger Woods play golf or Joe Montana play quarterback. He committed suicide and his mom found the book in a shoe box or something and it's considered one of the greatest literary works of the 20th century."
Schwartz, 45, and his wife, Kathy, have twins (a boy and girl) along with a younger daughter. The coach doesn't go out in public much and isn't exactly in the front row when he attends his kids' baseball games. "I go to my son's little league games," he said, "and I sit way out in right field, 200 feet from home plate, because the umpires would chat me up. I do my Christmas shopping at Toys R Us at midnight."
The Lions are 6-2 and have a legitimate shot of making the playoffs this year, but Schwartz is a national
Lions coach Jim Schwartz Donnybrook With 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh
talking point because of a tussle with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh after a post-game hand shake.
"There's a lot more to it than the backslap. And I'm gonna do whatever I can to continue to fight for the city of Detroit and for the Detroit Lions," Schwartz said. "I reacted and I wasn't worried about how it was going to look. I don't really pay much attention to other people. I'm sort of arrogant that way." The Lions coach was asked if he has any second thoughts on the hullabaloo. "Well, I regret that it took away from the game and the players. But I'm not very thin-skinned. I can take all the criticism in the world and it really, literally does not bother me. I think about this -- any criticism I took over the way I reacted would be a lot worse if I had walked away without reacting."
At this rate, with both the Niners and Lions winning games, there might be another post-game handshake in the playoffs.
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