My 10 ‘Men’tors – #9, Darrell Sutherland

Darrell Sutherland is the head football coach at Bartram Trail High School, and the only coach BT has ever had. When I played for him for 2 years (2000-2001), I realize I learned a lot, and the way he led and coached impacted the way I would coach 7 years later.

Football is by nature a violent game played by large men. High school football not as much, but when you play in a hotbed like Florida, they’re plenty big and fast enough. The pressure to win is big, and can really wear on a person. Many choose to do whatever it takes to win, and pass that pressure on to their players.

What Coach Sutherland did, and has done for hundreds of young men since, is provide an emotionally safe environment for young men to continue to go out and play a game, and the coaching expertise to teach them to play it well.

This applies to almost anything we can do in life. Many of our jobs, relationships, even hobbies are under pressure, and people rely on the managers to get the job done. Do you transmit that pressure, or allow it to be transformed through your beliefs and coaching? In addition, we need to provide the support and instruction that helps others do their jobs well.

Here are 5 other lessons I learned from Coach Sutherland

You Need to Care about the Ones You Lead – Beyond our role as players, Coach cared about us as students and people. He checked up on our grades, helped us find tutors, and has been an active leader in the school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes group since he arrived. He cared about the the whole person, not just what you could do on the field.

You Can be Passionate without the Vulgarity – If you’ve watched a college football game lately, you may have noticed there is a good amount of cursing coming from the coaches. Now, that’s just a way they get fired up, show their passion, and it works to motivate some players. I’m not going to get in to the morals of bad language, but I can respect a coach that can get his point across, and show his excitement without dropping f-bombs.

A Man Who Stays – I don’t know if Coach Sutherland has been offered other jobs, frankly, I’d be shocked if no one has tried to pluck him from BT. The guy has taken a small school in the sticks of Jacksonville to the playoffs 11 out of 12 years on the job, coached several D1 athletes, and headed one of the most successful offensive attacks in the state many of those years. Yet he has stayed. Stayed despite some personal attacks, other jobs, and probably more pay. He has stayed because his family is happy in their home, and because his job is important. Coach Sutherland has not fallen in to the routine of chasing the next job, the bigger role, and more money. And we all benefit from that commitment.

Stands for What He Believes – As I said before, Coach is a strong christian and active leader in the school’s FCA. He came under fire a few years ago for his beliefs, for praying with players, and whether or not that was his “role”. It was quite a process, but throughout it all, Coach Sutherland stayed firm in his beliefs. Another important aspect is that he also believed that he did not have the right to attack others in response. It would have been easy to do that, but he turned the other cheek, and kept living and coaching as he has been called.

Integrity – This trait really integrates all of the others. Coach Sutherland has taken all of his beliefs, experience, successes, failures, and passions, forming them in to the whole man he has become. I’m sure it’s been a wild ride at BT, he came to us from Virginia, and made his home in Northeast Florida. He is a pillar of the community and someone people could rely on to take care of their sons, teaching them about more than just football, but life.

Thanks again Coach, it takes a while for your ex-players to integrate all we’ve learned, but I know there are many like me who feel the same.

So Coach Sutherland, please keep coaching, leading, and teaching. We need it!

10 ‘Men’tors is a series of posts I’m writing to recognize the men who have impacted me through their involvement in my life. Read the others here

Be Heard!  Who has been a mentor in your life? What kind of impact have they made in your development? Please share in the comments, but mostly make sure they know how much their mentoring means to you!


My 10 ‘Men’tors: #10 – Jon Gordon

Over the next several weeks, I’m going to be writing about men in my life who have been mentors to me. It’s a diverse group, and I did make a stipulation that I needed to have me them in person before. Today we’re kicking off with author & speaker Jon Gordon

I first met Jon over the phone. I was interviewing him for Florida Lacrosse magazine, talking about his memories of playing Cornell, advice for young lacrosse players, and his current work. Before and after the interview, we spoke about varying topics, the most memorable for me being how he started as a writer. Jon had several different jobs and lead roles in companies, including owning Moe’s Southwest Grill franchises in Northeast Florida.

But he felt he wanted to write, despite success in other fields, and told me about his beginnings.

He talked about his first book, The Energy Addict, and then his breakthrough book, The Energy Bus. Jon was the first person outside of my family who I told about my passion for writing, and he genuinely encouraged me to follow that passion.

That was in 2008. Since then, Jon and I speak semi-regularly, whether on the phone, through email, or even twitter, he has continued to be an encouragement to me and my work. I remember a conversation we had about writing, and he asked how mine was going. I confessed I hadn’t done much of it lately, too much of this or that.

“Well, do you still want to write?”

I said I did.

“Start small then, just write 20-30 minutes a day, whatever comes out, just get it on the paper. The rest will come.” 

Months later, I put together an ebook of short essays I had written, and sent it off to Jon. He was generous to read it through, and offer some comments, suggestions, and praise for the piece. His willingness to give me feedback was humbling.

Jon returned the favor, and sent me an advance copy of his book Soup, asking me to read it over and offer feedback before it went to a final draft. It was really cool to feel he trusted me with a piece of his work, and valued my feedback. Sure enough, when I sent in my notes, he thanked me, and a couple made it in to the final draft.

I haven’t spoken with Jon in a while, life for both of us has been quite busy, his more so than me. Jon is a sought-after speaker and continues to write, while spending time with his wife and 2 kids. But I know that if I reach out to him, he’ll check in when he can and answer my questions.

What I learned mostly from Jon is the value of connections, relationships, kindness, and how much an interaction can mean to someone.

Maybe the dozen times we’ve talked over the years hasn’t been a burden to him, but he didn’t have to return my calls and emails, or initiate praise, or offer advice on writing. But he did.

As I continue to write, and even more importantly as I prepare for the summer at Rockmont, I realize even more the value of these connections we make with each other. You may not feel like you’re doing much, but your attention and kindness can mean the world to someone else.

Don’t miss that opportunity.

You can learn more about Jon at his website, then follow him on Twitter.