I recently lost my grandfather at the young age of 96, like most grandfathers he was a role model, mentor, and great story teller. My grandfather, affectionally known as “Pop”, leaves behind a legacy: Army Veteran, former Negro League Baseball player and Enshrined in the Harrisburg Bowling Hall of Fame; he bowled a 299 game in his 70s. These accolades and affiliations only tell a small part of his life, what’s even more amazing was his commitment to his wife for 62 years and his ability to balance his life to the fullest. Balancing life, family, and a career as a college coach had been a struggle for me for many years, especially early in my career.
The Early Years:
I’m beginning my 24th year as a college coach. I ask myself, “ where did the time go?” In 1992, I accepted my first college basketball coaching position at the United States Naval Academy. In order to accept the position I had to join the US Navy and acted as a liaison between the military obligations and Midshipmen obligations for our men’s basketball team. With no military background or interest, I ultimately fell in the love with Annapolis and fulfilled my commitment of service. During my time in Maryland, I met and married my wife, Christy. This past June we celebrated 20 years of marriage and we have two teenage boys. Due to circumstances, our first two years of our marriage were spent apart. Welcome to college coaching!
Throughout my career, we’ve made stops at Towson, Holy Cross, Fairfield, Notre Dame, North Carolina, Iowa State, St. John’s and presently Kansas. We had our 1st son while we were at Notre Dame, so the family has had some transition. Along the journey, I was extremely fortunate to work with great coaches, players, and administrators.
Married to the Grind:
As a college coach, our world consists of many highs and lows, wins and losses, recruiting and travel, long office hours and preparation, drastic variations in salary, and sudden moves that require buying/renting and selling houses with little notice, finding new schools for our kids without time to prepare … the list goes on, but you get the idea. The sacrifice, commitment, and dedication to our careers can take control and precedence over everything else. That was the case for me for a long time. Have you ever gone into the office on a Sunday afternoon just to go in? Yes, there are occasions that we must handle business at unconventional times, but I’m talking about when it just becomes a habit or you’re there because another coach is there.
It is easy to become married to the grind and unfortunately other areas in your life suffer. As a college coach you find yourself spending more time teaching and mentoring someone else’s kid than your own, your family doesn’t get the focus that they deserve. I’ve been so blessed to have the love and support of my wife and kids. With most of our moves, my wife had to take care of the transitions. I recall telling my wife that I had to leave for a new job on Father’s Day and she would have to put the house up for sale, my parting words, “Love you honey! I’ll see you after the recruiting season! Let me know when the house sells”. What a selfish act on my part, she has her own career and had no family or friends in the area to help with our toddlers while she packed up and moved our lives to the next stop. Welcome to college coaching! Another area that takes a toll in our profession is our mental and physical health. The constant travel leaves fast food as the easiest option for nourishment, and proper rest and sleep are out of whack. When you’re in the zone and doing your best to out-work the competition for a prized recruit or to win games, your health suffers. During my tenure, I’ve had pneumonia (hospitalized), shingles, burnout, a bulging disc in my back and a micro-fracture in my knee. Welcome to college coaching!
My last season at St. John’s was very difficult. We started to climb the ladder, reached the NIT post-season, but ultimately not enough to keep our job. Back in my early coaching days my first response would have been to get back on the horse and find a new school for our family, but this time I took a step back. There was a little bit of time from the day we were fired until more jobs would open up, I remember taking my son to the bus stop (which never happened) and he said, “Dad I like you taking me to the bus stop, I like you being home more.” Reality check! I was in my mid-40’s, my kids were excelling and enjoying being around family and friends in NY, my wife continued to climb the corporate ladder in the pharmaceutical industry, and no coaching job was worth disrupting that.
I decided to leave college coaching and pursue a counseling/mentor position at a local college. I also kept my hand in sports by starting a business in basketball/life mentoring for youth in our community. During those 2 years I focused more on family and their interests, I made a strong effort to take better care of my health and fitness, and I rekindled friendships that were put on hold. Our family vacations became real “vacations”, planned around our kids’ schedules and not recruiting periods. I became more present and mindful of my surroundings and the lives of people around me. I have always been a very happy and positive person, but these 2 years away from the grind made me realize how unbalanced my life had been.
After a 2-year hiatus, an opportunity presented itself to join the University of Kansas Basketball program. My family realized how much I missed being around the college game, the camaraderie with staff, and the relationships that developed with players; they insisted that I take the position on Coach Self’s staff. The cool thing about this decision is that we didn’t have to make this move, we were in our groove enjoying life. This was truly a family decision and an obvious no-brainer! Entering our 5th season, we remain appreciative and enthusiastic to be a part of the Jayhawk family! With this opportunity I’ve approached my career and personal life differently, It helps that my boss supports work/life balance and insists on us taking care of home. I am intentional about my priorities and make time for them. I’ve learned to work smarter, spending 100 hours/week in the office isn’t good for anyone. At 50, my health/fitness, family, and career are in a good place. I am not advocating for people to take a 2-year sabbatical to find balance, that was my journey. I also realize that balance is not always 50/50, it is highly variable and subjective. I know it took me some time to feel balanced, but I’ll forever have the memory of my grandfather to keep me on track.
I’m thankful to share my story and hopefully it can be helpful to young coaches that are starting families or current coaches struggling to find their balance.
Q’s Keys to a Balanced Lifestyle
1. Workout (early mornings)
2. Fuel your body with healthy food
3. Include family in team functions
4. Prioritize your day and stick to it
5. Don’t sit in the office with nothing to do
6. Reach out to friends and family members often
7. Vacation or Staycation with family as much as possible
8. Organize/Plan your yearly calendar
9. Be “present” and “mindful”- BE where you are.
10. Quality outweighs Quantity
Fred Quartlebaum is a veteran of the coaching profession for over 2 decades. He currently serves on the Kansas Men’s Basketball Staff under future Hall of Fame coach Bill Self. After a stellar playing career at Fordham University he began his coaching career as the Head coach at Rye High School (NY) followed by stints on the collegiate level at The Naval Academy, Towson, Holy Cross, Fairfield, Notre Dame and North Carolina under Matt Doherty, Iowa State and St John’s under Norm Roberts. Quartlebaum joined the Jayhawk staff in 2013 and has been an integral part of their enormous success. You can follow Coach Q on Instagram @qfit50 and on twitter @fq212.