KENT: Danita Haynes has a routine early Monday afternoons during the football season, that goes unnoticed by most, but means a lot to her in starting each week out right: spending time with her husband.
That would be first-year Kent State football coach Paul Haynes, whom she meets at the Water Street Tavern for lunch in downtown Kent. After a quick hello, she settles in, off to the side, and eats quietly by herself in a booth, selflessly sharing her husband of 10 years with a handful of die-hard fans and a small group of media for the next hour.
When it’s over and Haynes gets ready to head back to his office on campus, she’s lucky to have gotten five minutes alone with him as he walks her to her car — just the two of them. But it’s five minutes of time well worth it every week.
That’s how being the wife of a football coach works: a lot of support behind the scenes and taking advantage of a little bit of alone time whenever possible.
“It’s just a little bit of time, but we’ve learned to take what we can get,” she said.
Despite it’s challenges — moving every couple of years, the kids changing schools, being a one-woman caravan for after-school activities and doctor appointments — she wouldn’t trade her family’s football-crazed lifestyle. Nor would the kids of KSU’s new first family, who like their mother, have found their ways to fit private time into Dad’s long work schedule.
It was a rare casual evening in the Haynes household two weeks ago when the family’s three kids weren’t bustling from one activity to another.
Lounged on a tan sofa in the spacious family room, Tarron, 15, had his left leg encased in a black brace and propped up on the coffee table. A sophomore defender for the Kent Roosevelt High School soccer team, Tarron had torn his ACL in the last game of the season and would undergo successful surgery the following week.
“He made me feel a little guilty the next day,” Danita Haynes, 38, said, worry still creasing her face. “You know I take everything to heart and you told me it was fine [to go with Paul, Kennedy Rose and the Golden Flashes to their game at Ball State]. Then I got back the next day and picked you up and said I should have been at your soccer game.”
“I just said you should have been there,” said Tarron with one of those teenage shrugs of shoulders.
Tarron, as well as the other two kids, know full well how their mom can whip herself into a frenzy trying to be there for everyone and make it to games, even if it means a quarter of Dad’s game and a period of his.
Making tactics a little tougher for Mom this season is that Tarron also began kicking for the Rough Riders football team. One more place to transport to and from, as well as more games to attend.
Tarron does enjoy his one-on-one time with his dad on the days he drives him to school in the morning.
Standing nearby sporting a navy KSU sweatshirt listening to the exchange with a knowing smile is the oldest of the family, 19-year-old Jordyn. She is a sophomore transfer to Kent State. She ekes out time around her dad by working a couple of hours a week in the Flashes’ football office, similar to her freshman year at Arkansas, where her father served as defensive coordinator/secondary coach for the Razorbacks last season.
“So far, this has been my hardest move,” Jordyn said. “Mostly because now that my dad’s a head coach right now, everyone knows who he is. At Arkansas, people knew who he was, but no one knew who I was.
“Here, everyone knows who I am and thinks I know everything about the team. Early in the season, people kept coming up to me and asking, ‘Is [standout back] Dri [Archer] going to play? Is he going to play this week?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know. I’m not the trainer. I try to explain to people that when Dad’s home and we’re together, we don’t really talk about football. He’s with football all day. When he’s home, he’s with us.”
At the center of attention, as she often is as both the baby and the most outspoken of the family, is Kennedy Rose, 9. Gregarious and mature beyond her years, she’s splayed out on the plush carpeted floor engrossed in yet another of her artistic passions.
Known already as the family’s budding artist (she paints vivid imaginary subjects with bright colors on canvas), writer (she’s writing a kids book about what it’s like to be a coach’s kid) and more recently, jewelry maker (bracelets mostly, for now at least).
The Rainbow Loom — the latest kids’ fad sweeping the country — certainly has Kennedy Rose’s seal of approval, as she’s become the Kent State football team’s top supplier of the colorful plastic bracelets it produces.
Initially, the plan was to just make navy and gold bracelets for her dad. But one day, she got an inspiration and pressed a couple more into his palm before a game with instructions to hand them out to the three top players after the game. Before she knew it, she was getting all kinds of special orders from the team, especially from her top client: Archer.
With hundreds of the Rainbow Loom’s little colored bands spread out on the floor in piles in front of Kennedy Rose, the family’s Labradoodle bounded into the room. Diego joined the family when they lived in Columbus and like Danita Haynes and the kids, is learning how to pick up and relocate to new places as Dad’s job dictates.
For all the challenges in finding time together, there are some pretty cool perks to the connections that come with Dad’s high-profile job.
Take Tarron’s 10th surprise birthday party, which came when Paul Haynes was in the midst of an eight-year stint as a defensive coach at Ohio State under former Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel. Held at the first-class OSU football facility, even a few of the Buckeyes players stopped by to join in the fun.
Originally, Tarron didn’t think a football birthday party sounded interesting. To him, football was ho-hum everyday life.
“He was 110 percent against it,” Danita Haynes said. “He had been there way too much, and it wasn’t cool to him. So I said, ‘Ok, honey.’ But we surprised him anyway.”
Mom quietly orchestrated the surprise event and even had T-shirts made with the words: “Tarron’s 10th Birthday” in the shape of the block O on the front, with number 10s on the back.
“Later, he admitted it was one of his best birthdays,” she said with a satisfied smile.
One of Kennedy Rose’s favorite birthday parties was her third. Not only did the Ohio State cheerleaders come to the Haynes’ home to perform for her, but also her favorite mascot Brutus made a surprise appearance.
Just as fun was the kindergarten Valentine’s Day surprise, when some of Kennedy Rose’s favorite Buckeyes players surprised her and her classmates with a visit and then sat down to make homemade valentine cards with them.
“Oh, that was one of my favorite times,” she gushed. “Boom came.”
Boom would be former Warren Harding High School standout running back Daniel “Boom” Herron. The four-time letterman for the Buckeyes went on to become a sixth-round draft pick in 2012 by the Cincinnati Bengals before signing with the Indianapolis Colts last month.
“Here they are these big football players, and they’re sitting there with the kids in kindergarten classes making valentines,” Danita Haynes said. “It’s nice to see that side of the players. Paul’s really good about getting his players out in the community like that. It wasn’t just her school they went to that day and even now he has [KSU’s] players out in the schools reading to kids.”
In the beginning
When she first met her husband, she didn’t know a first down from a secondary. But as young teacher working in Jacksonville, Fla., she wasn’t afraid to ask questions to begin the process of educating herself on this interesting, yet confusing world of football.
“When we were dating I was asking him questions one day and he said, ‘Oh, I have something for you,’ ” she said.
That’s when Paul Haynes, who spent the 2001 season working in the NFL as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ defensive quality control coach, handed her his team’s handy Women’s Guide to Football Basics. The title of the shiny and bound booklet might seem contrite at first glance, but it is full of relevant information that breaks down the purpose of each player’s position and illustrates basic offensive and defensive formation alignments.
“I thought it was the cutest thing that I had this book that was going to explain everything to me and I wouldn’t have to keep asking my mom, who’s the big football fan in the family,” she said. “But then I looked at the book he’d given me and I realized it was going to take some studying.”
More book lessons
Another book that’s had an impact on the Haynes family is one Danita Haynes was given in Arkansas by another football wife, titled Married To The Game. It is a compilation of stories by football wives across the nation.
Kennedy Rose took notice of the book last year, then decided to write her own book. That’s how All You Want To Know About Being a Coach’s Kid came about, the first couple of pages so far neatly written in pencil in one of her favorite notebooks.
An excerpt: “Oh, you don’t get anything about being a football coach’s kid. It’s harder than you think … Dad works seven days a week, sometimes for 13 hours. So we have our little special days, like Thursdays. He gets home early and we go out to eat. And on game days my family goes to the stadium early so we can give him a big hug and a kiss.
“We get to experience a lot of new places, like Columbus, Ohio, Fayetteville, Arkansas, and Kent, Ohio. Sometimes it’s hard to move away from your friends, but it’s fun to make new friends. I love to see the stadium and cities when we travel to bowl games and away games. It’s cool to get to see his new offices and plays.”
During the Monday after Kent State’s near upset of Ball State, Paul Haynes made a rare mention of his wife at his weekly news conference as she sat in her usual place quietly off to the side.
“I sulk a lot at home, my wife will tell you,” he said with a smile, as he explained how he’s stayed positive during a 2-8 first season at his alma mater. “But once I get [into the office], get around these kids and get around the rest of the coaches, I feel rejuvenated. I get in front of them and they have a look in their eyes like they can’t wait to get back out there. I love that because our job — and we all signed up for this — is to go out there and give it our best.”
Danita Haynes might not have fully understood what she signed up for when she first married a football coach. A decade later, she handles it like a pro as she and the kids give him the kind of support on and off the field that maybe someone just might write a book about someday.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.