KENT: In early January when the wife of Kent State linebackers coach Marcus Freeman was due to give birth to the couple’s third child, he was hesitant to ask for time off work.
It was the height of the recruiting season, and Freeman was just in his second season as an assistant on coach Darrell Hazell’s staff.
As his wife Joanna’s due date came and went, Freeman, a former Ohio State linebacker, grew more nervous about being on the road for lengthy periods of time, away from a young family that now includes three kids age 5 and under.
“Here I’m on the road and my wife’s about to give birth any minute, already a week overdue,” Freeman said. “In my mind, a part of me was thinking, I need to go see my guys, my recruits. But another part of me was like, if I’m three or four hours away and my wife delivers, she is not going to be a happy woman.”
Luckily, Freeman didn’t have to live with indecision very long.
“After I went out the first couple days, then coach Hazell called and said, ‘You need to stay back.’ I was so relieved because I didn’t want to ask him. I just figured if my wife calls, I better pray that I’m close. But [Hazell] called and then [defensive line] coach Brian George said he’d go [visit the recruits at] my schools for me. Now that’s a family unit.”
Because of the large amount of time football coaches spend away from their families, it’s crucial that they enjoy their football family at work — the one they see more than the people at home — especially during recruiting season.
“I didn’t realize at first how big of an aspect recruiting is to coaching,” said Freeman, who was right where he needed to be when his wife welcomed a baby girl on Jan. 10. “Now I know. It’s huge.”
How much is Freeman able to be home relaxing with his family during recruiting season?
“Honestly, not much,” he said, “And now when I am home with [an infant], I’m not sleeping much. Add a 5- and 4-year-old to the mix; trust me, you have to have a very supportive wife for this line of work.”
Freeman said he has been approached by other young coaches who are considering getting into the business full time.
“I tell them, ‘Would I wish my son to grow up and be a college football coach? Probably not. It’s long hours and a lot of time away from your family.’ I tell them I’ll probably try to deter him from the profession. That being said, do I see myself doing anything else? Absolutely not, because I love it.”
So what makes the long hours and so much time away from loved ones worth it for Freeman and the other coaches on Kent State’s football staff?
“The people,” Freeman said. “You have to work with the right people.”
That’s the reason Jeff Burrow agreed to join Hazell at KSU as the safeties coach last season.
“I’ve been fortunate here at Kent State because coach Hazell has provided time for us to spend with our families,” Burrow said. “That was huge for me because it was one of the prerequisites I had coming in.”
Before Hazell came calling, Burrow was the secondary coach at Indiana State. While he lived in Terre Haute, Ind., with the team during the season, his wife and young daughter remained a five-hour drive away in Huntington, W.Va., where he had previously coached at Marshall.
“It was the first time I’d been though that, and I couldn’t believe how incredibly difficult it was to do,” Burrow said. “Missing the little things like recitals, that can sure tug on your heartstrings.”
One of the first assistants Hazell brought on staff was defensive coordinator Jon Heacock, who spent the previous nine years as the coach at Youngstown State after Jim Tressel left for Ohio State. A big plus for Heacock in accepting a coordinator position was increasing his time at home with family.
“As a head coach, I felt like I was never home,” he said.
Still, the bulk of recruiting season — the end of November to the first few days of February — has a way of making everyone feel like absentee husbands and fathers.
“This time of year, you don’t get anything done at home,” said Heacock, who has a daughter and son in middle school. “But it’s part of the job. Most of the wives and kids who’ve been doing this for awhile, they just don’t expect you home.”
The football coaches at Kent State all have assigned areas of recruiting. For Heacock, it’s the Ohio counties of Summit, Portage, Stark, Tuscarawas, Carroll and Harrison, as well as a secondary assignment in Orlando, Fla.
“But we also do a good job of cross-recruiting,” he said. “I’ve been to Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania, to name a few. It’s just what we do, and you need to do it. Nobody sits in here and goes, ‘Oh, man, I don’t want to go see that guy.’ It’s time away from your family, but recruiting is critical. I love recruiting because it’s the lifeblood of your program.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.