The 33-year-old Head Coach for Kirkwood High School's football team is remarkably dedicated to the kids in Kirkwood. Perhaps it's because he's been where they are, but more likely, it's because he knows where they can go. After graduating from Kirkwood, Jeremy played football at Mizzou, where he was a two-time All-American. In 2009, he was a first-round draft pick for the Philadelphia Eagles. After playing for the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens and making a Pro Bowl appearance, Jeremy retired from the NFL in 2019. We are lucky to have this inspirational young man leading a new generation of Kirkwood students. Here are ten life and leadership lessons from Coach Jeremy Maclin.
KIDS COME FIRST
As a football coach, I know the fans expect us to win football games. And yes, that is a goal.
But my main goal is to serve these kids. They are my number one priority. Winning football games comes second. If I wanted to win football games, I'd go and get the best athletes I could find. I'm not comfortable with that because it could compromise the values I'm trying to instill. That's not the environment I'm trying to create. That's not the culture I want for the kids.
BE WHERE YOUR FEET ARE
I like to use this phrase because it means being present in the moment and being a good listener. When I decided to apply for the head high school football coach job, my main goal was to be present because that's how you help kids mature. That's how you help kids achieve what they want to achieve, become better football players, or get better grades. That's how you help kids set themselves up for the future. You must be present in their moment. Sometimes kids just need someone to listen to them.
BE A RESOURCE
The kids respect what I've done and where I've played. They also respect who I am and how open, honest, and direct I am with them. I don't tear kids down. I'll say, "Hey, this is wrong, and this is what we can do to correct it." Whether on the field or off, I make myself accessible for the kids to come and talk to me. I encourage them to use me as a resource. Practically, I can help with developing skills, tactics, and different ways to accomplish a goal. Socially, I can connect kids to other resources, counselors, business owners, football coaches, or other people of influence. I guarantee that I'll try my hardest to help them in any situation. All kids want to know is that you are there for them. I'm not trying to be a superhero. What I am trying to do is give the kids hope.
I come from where the kids on my team and the kids in my foundation, JMac Gives Back Foundation, come from. It's my job to get them to trust me. I do that by being myself. I don't put on a front for anyone. Recently, one of my kids called me crying. I asked him where he was and went to get him. As soon as he saw me, he collapsed into my arms. I hugged him. And this kid doesn't have that type of relationship with anybody. I don't know if he's ever hugged a man. I don't know if he trusts anyone. The fact that he collapsed into my arms and trusted me to comfort him and try to make things better for him is my entire purpose in life. I can't tell him that things are going to be ok. What I can say to him is that I'll be there for him.
The one thing about me is that I always tried to stay on the straight and narrow. I knew I wanted to do something with my life, but I needed a little help. One of the messages I tell my kids is, “Never be afraid to ask for help.” Sometimes kids feel embarrassed to ask for help. They feel "less than" if they ask for help. It's the exact opposite. If someone asks for help, it means they are trying to achieve something or get to the next level. There is a difference between asking for help and asking someone to do it for you. I've been lucky to have people who have been willing to help me and are still ready to help me now when I ask. I have two ex-head coaches on my staff. I ask them questions all the time. I'm constantly calling my old coaches and asking them, "When we used to do this, what was your goal?" Asking for help is a strong character trait.
SHARE WHAT YOU KNOW
You will never reach your maximum potential as a person until you share yourself and help others. I hope that sharing my knowledge, experiences, and life lessons will help pave the way for the kids in whatever path they choose. Youth is our future. I will do everything I can to help them be successful, even if that means sacrificing my comfort zone. That's the type of coach I want to be. That's the type of person I want to be.
BE A LIFELONG LEARNER
I'm constantly learning. I've had some great football coaches throughout high school, college, and the pros. I've experienced many different coaching styles. I try to take whatever I learned and see if it works on my kids. I apply different coaching styles to different kids. Part of being a coach is trial and error. This is my first year, so I will do some things that I may not do next year. But that's also part of the fun of coaching.
CONSIDER YOUR ACTIONS
Anytime my kids do something wrong or misguided, I ask them to take me through their thought processes. If they say, "Coach, I don't know," I say, "Yes, you do. Explain it to me." I want to understand them and tap into what they are going through and where their mind is. I want to teach them to think and consider their actions. I tell them that if they make decisions without thinking about their actions, they will end up in a bad situation nine times out of ten. I want them to learn not to act off emotion because that can get them in trouble. I use relatable football examples to tie into life lessons to help them make sense of it all.
The biggest challenge I've had to overcome is expectations. I've always set high expectations for myself. Then I think, "What if I don't live up to this? What if I don't achieve this?" Being a first-round draft pick, everyone had expectations for me to be a Hall of Famer. I had a successful football career, but I'm not going to be a Hall of Famer. But, if you ask people who played with me and played against me, they all respect me. They respect the way I came to work every day, ready to play the game. They respect how I applied myself off the field. I set high expectations for myself because when people talk about me, I want them to say, "I really respect that guy." You can't fall victim to what other people expect out of you. If you do things the right way, have the right people around you, and have a goal in mind, the expectations you set for yourself are the only ones that matter.
FIND YOUR PEACE
While playing for the Ravens, I got hurt which put me in a bad place mentally. I stopped acting like myself. I didn't know what to do. I was trying to get healthy, but my body wasn't responding. And I didn't want to be in Baltimore. I was depressed. I had just got engaged, so I talked to my fiancé (now my wife). I explained that I wanted to go back to St. Louis. She had lived on the East Coast her whole life. But she knew how much coming back home meant to me and what it could do for my life. I will always respect her for sacrificing moving away from her family for me to come home to find peace. I found peace in coaching. But it isn't necessarily the coaching aspect that gave me peace - it is being around the kids. They are where I really found my peace. I started to understand that I might need them more than they need me.
How is coaching different from being a father?
It's different for me because I have two girls. I'm not going to lie. I'm scared to raise two daughters. I've been a teenage boy.
How did you meet your wife?
She is from Philadelphia. I met her in my first year in the NFL. We were engaged in 2016 and got married in 2017. Our wedding was a really good time. If I could have a wedding reception every year, I would. I couldn't ask to be in a better relationship. She's helped me out through a lot of uncertain times. I'm not scared of many things, but the two things that do scare me are the thought of my daughters growing up and the fear of the unknown. My wife has helped me through many uncertain times, and she will be someone I lean on as my daughters grow up.
I have this saying - I didn't create it - but I use it to describe my team. People think of savages as being rough. But my SAVAGEs are:
S - selfless (we are a team)
A - accountable (each kid has a responsibility)
V – victorious (working to win the day)
A – attitude-oriented (coming to school and practice ready to learn and ready to work)
G – grit (the heart and soul of who we are)
E- educated (education is critical both on and off the football field)