He is in the grasp of one of the rarest of cancers. This dastardly disease cannot snuff out his indomitable spirit, however. Nobody with a health challenge has ever responded with a stiffer upper lip.
Growing up in Florence, Ala., Sam was a star in pickup games as a kid. Next, he was a very productive athlete in high school. In the state, known as “The Heart of Dixie,” you have to declare your allegiance to either Auburn or Alabama, regardless of age, station in life, gender, national origin or church affiliation. You are either an advocate of Alabama or Auburn.
Even those who move into the state must take a stand before they file their homestead exemption. Sam’s brother, Ken, chose Alabama. Sam chose Auburn. All athletes want to play as long as possible and then, hopefully, remain close to the game. This is why so many former players become coaches. Sam had such passion for the game he loved, it was natural that he would initially opt for a coaching career. He coached for 18 years, including four at Georgia.
Sam has led an interesting life, one in which he segued from coaching into business success which gave him options that he could not have enjoyed if he had remained ensconced in a profession which offers exhilarating emotional highs but can bring about pratfalls which often leave one stranded in the prime of life with no place to go.
Early on, Sam realized the few who become head coaches can also become cursed. Even if you get one of the plum jobs, fate has a way of giving you the back of its hand. There were many nights when he would join his friends for a relaxed social and the subject always came front and center — name the best coaching jobs. He and his coaching friends would count on their two hands the top positions in the profession.
Sam was always quick to note that if you didn’t get one of those jobs, why frustrate yourself and compromise your family’s well being by hanging around? He knew his profession could be unfair. Some guys get more than one head coaching opportunity and prosper. Some of the most unqualified coaches are hired, owing to political influence, land the best jobs and, predictably, fail. How unfair, but that was the way it is. Sam was also aware that many coaches got out at the right time and found a way to succeed in business. Less risk, and often, more reward.
With a salesman’s acumen and a flair for marketing, Sam was propitious in finding the opportune time to leave the profession he loved and pursued a life in the investment business. He knew a lot of people, he was good at making friends and was without peer when it came to networking. He had that critical ability to do what all good salesmen can do: to sell your product, you must first sell yourself.
In a relatively short period of time, Sam connected with business success. He worked hard and he had the right touch, which enhanced marketing opportunity. Sam made more money than he could have ever made in coaching, bringing about privileges and options he never thought were possible.
He could take his wife, Lana, a passionate artist, to the Louvre in Paris — along with other museums and landmarks that most coaches never see. Even if they can afford it, few coaches have the time to jet off to London or Paris. Or Rome. Sam and Lana got to do that. Sam has an appreciation for history, which made travel illuminating. He wanted to see the Eiffel Tower, the Tower of Big Ben, the canals of Venice and the Coliseum in Rome. There was a bonus with travel. The osmosis of the exposure would enhance Lana’s art interest.
Lana took up art more than 17 years ago. She had never had a paintbrush in her hand. When she started, she realized that she could actually paint. Then she had the objective Sam always had with his defensive backs. To succeed in football you have “to get better each day.” That became her mantra.
Anybody with a creative urge gets fulfillment out of what they create. With an artist the ultimate accomplishment is for art aficionados to buy your work. Lana’s art is appreciated. People buy her paintings. She is always trying to elevate her status as an artist. At this point in her life, she has a challenge not even Van Gogh or Monet or Michelangelo could manage.
No artist can paint heartbreak.
Loran Smith is an administrative specialist for the University of Georgia sports communication department. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.