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Connie Whitesell’s Championship Life Series: “If you haven’t been fired, you ain’t (bleep)!”
During this height of college basketball, Spouses in Sports would like to introduce our guest blogger, Connie Whitesell. Connie has been a keynote speaker and workshop leader at the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) spouse program for the past four years, helping wives and partners of college basketball coaches live “championship” lives. She is a certified professional coach, founder of Scattered to Streamlined Business Coaching, and wife of NCAA Basketball Coach, Jim Whitesell.
Jim & Connie (supporting her alma mater last year)
Over the next two weeks, Connie will be sharing:
- Her experience going through a particularly trying time as a college basketball coach’s spouse – and coming out much happier for it;
- Results of her “Life with Coach” survey, focusing on the highs and lows of the athletics life;
- The importance of self-care and ways we all can keep ourselves a top priority, even in the midst of sporting madness!
Please join in the conversation in the comments section below or on our social media outlets.
And now, enjoy the first post in her series…
Championship Life #1:
“If you haven’t been fired, you ain’t (bleep)!”
That is what legendary college basketball coach Rick Majerus told my husband after Jim was fired from his coaching job for the first (and, hopefully, only!) time in his life.
It was four years ago, at the 2011 NCAA Tournament Finals/NABC Conference in Houston. My husband had just been let go from his head basketball coaching job at Loyola University – Chicago. To say we were stressed put it mildly.
Jim and I had been together for 22 years. In that time, I’d seen Jim as a Division III, a Division II, and as a Division I head coach (and amazingly, all in one location – the Chicagoland area where I had grown up). I’d seen lots of winning seasons, some losing ones, lots of tournaments – but one thing I’d never seen was Jim out of a job.
He had spent the previous seven years rebuilding a program that had floundered for years before that. The first three years, 2004-2007, the team made remarkable progress, achieving their first 20-win season since 1985. In the last 2010-2011 season, the team began strong with a 7-0 record before being devastated with injuries. Even with that, they ended that season with a winning record. All of Jim’s players graduated.
Regardless, as soon as the season ended, Jim was told to leave immediately by his newly-hired athletic director who had her own team of coaches in mind. He was not given the opportunity to speak with his players. Despite his efforts to convince the administration to keep on at least one assistant for player assistance and transition’s sake, all of his assistants lost their jobs that same day. So, it was not just the loss of his own job, something vitally tied to his identity, as it is for many men, but also the feelings of guilt and responsibility over his assistants and the immediate disconnect from his players. Embarrassment too, as he had been boxing up his office to move to the gorgeous new athletic facility that had been opened the week prior and instead the boxes went into our car.
The strangest part for me was to go to work every day in the morning – leaving Jim at home – and coming home in the evening – to find Jim at home. It was March for heaven’s sake, the height of basketball tournament and recruiting season. Having him home during this month never had happened before. I had been attending school at night at the time and I stopped. In fact I stopped doing anything outside of work. I felt horrible, being gone all day and then coming home and telling Jim that I had a class or had to put in extra work time, or even that I was meeting friends for dinner. I stopped all things I had been used to doing, many of which were part of my life because I was married to a coach who normally was so rarely home.
You can imagine what the Final Four in Houston was like that year, two weeks after being fired. Coaches and their spouses know that somewhat desperate feeling that can be sensed in those hotel lobbies. It feels a lot stronger when you are out of a job. Coincidentally, that was also the first time I had been invited to speak at the NABC conference spouses’ program. Focusing on the positive was a challenge, but thanks to this amazing and embracing community of women, it was a lovely afternoon.
I won’t belabor the negative here. Many coaches’ wives have been there and know what I’m talking about. This certainly wasn’t the end of the world. There were many people who had it worse than we did. We were healthy. Our families were healthy. We had supportive people around us. Getting fired often is a part of this profession, as Coach Majerus reminded us.
It’s just that it had never happened to us.
Read the next post Championship Life Series: New Beginnings here.