Meet the staff: Brick Haley
In a series of stories over the next few weeks, PowerMizzou is going in-depth with Missouri's assistant coaches to give Tiger fans a better idea of who the coaches are and what led them to this point. Today, hear from defensive line coach Brick Haley, who is entering his fourth season on the Tiger staff. Haley, one of three defensive assistants retained on the Missouri staff by new head coach Eli Drinkwitz, has spent 24 seasons as a full-time college assistant in addition to a two-year stint with the Chicago Bears. You can find our most recent Q&A, with new offensive line coach March Johnson, here.
PowerMizzou: Just to start off, when did you first know that you wanted to get into coaching?
Brick Haley: “I kind of knew right after I got through playing. I actually started at the university as a student-assistant and kind of enjoyed that part of it, and then graduated after that spring and had an opportunity to get into a high school job, and that was awesome. That worked out, the coaches there helped me get that job and kind of work from there.”
Why do you feel like you were drawn to coaching?
“I think the biggest thing was I realized the coaches that I had, I admired how they worked in my life, and it was a way to give back and to help people that had shown me how you actually go about helping people in this profession. It was awesome, and it was fulfilling to me.”
You said you started out at a high school job, how did you end up breaking into the college ranks?
“Well, I was at the high school ranks for a little bit, and then of course it goes back to the guys that I had played for. One of the coaches that I had played for in high school was actually now the special teams coach at the University of Arkansas, so he called me up and asked me about being a graduate assistant, and I decided after one year of high school that it was something that I wanted to do, so I just took off and headed to Fayetteville, Arkansas, and kind of went from there, and worked as a graduate assistant for that year and then wound up getting a full-time job the next year.”
I know you coached with the Chicago Bears for a little bit in the NFL at one point in your career. What was that experience like? What did you learn and what were the differences from coaching in college to the NFL?
“Well the biggest thing I learned is that, when we went to an organization like those, those guys are there for a reason. They’re there because that’s their job. There’s no classes, there’s no tutoring, there’s none of that. It’s work. They’re more grown men. They had their own families to think about and take care of, so it was their job. So it was really more important to them, and of course at that age they’re a little bit more mature, and so it was really intriguing to go in and see some of the things that I saw and to be introduced to a different world of football, which was awesome.”
Did you leave that experience feeling like you wanted to stick with coaching in college or is that just kind of the way things worked out?
“Well, it’s kind of the way things worked out. But I’ll tell you, I realized, in that profession you’re not as much of an influence as you are to the college students. And so that was really what I felt like I was driven for, and it was an opportunity I got to get back into college and I did, and I guess as they say the rest is history.”
Like a lot of college coaches, after you got into the college coaching ranks you had to move around a whole bunch, I think six different places in the first 10 years, and even the past 10, 15 years you’ve coached at a few different places. What were the challenges of that?
“Well, I think you get used to it, but it’s always hard early, especially if you’ve got a young family. You’ve got to find schools, you’ve got to find the right place to live so your kids are in that school district. And you want safe environments for your family and things like that. And it’s always a tough deal, just moving itself, packing up and leaving something that you’ve been involved with for however many years it’s been since you’ve been there. It’s one of those situations where you just try to figure out what’s best for you and your family.”
Who are some of the main influences on your coaching career?
“Well, there’s no question that there’s a few guys that stick out when we talk about that, and one of them is a guy who is the director of football operations at Clemson, Woody McCorvey, who actually recruited me out of high school. We worked together at Mississippi State. He’s a mentor for me, and he did a great job of mentoring me and giving me ideas about things and keeping me on the right track as a young coach. I can tell you there’s not been very many jobs that I’ve taken that I didn’t consult with him before taking them. So he’s been there for me, and still to this day, it’s a good relationship. We’ve kept in touch and have discussions on all subjects, so I’d have to say he’s one of the biggest. And then John Chavis, who was my position coach at college, who I also had an opportunity to work with at LSU, was a huge influence on my life and my coaching profession, and actually he was the reason why I left (the Chicago Bears) to go back to college. Gave us an opportunity to work together, which was awesome to work with the guy that pretty much taught me as much football as I know. To this day, that was pretty special, and he’s a great man and a great mentor, so I felt really comfortable being there with him and having an opportunity to work with him. I think the other guy I’d be remiss not to mention would be Sylvester Croom, who I worked for at Mississippi State, and this was later in my career, but just a really solid man, and so that was really, really important. I have a great deal of respect for him. I think maybe the last person that I’ll mention is Kevin Steele. He’s a defensive coordinator at Auburn who took a chance on a young coach and gave him the opportunity to do some things when he was at Baylor. Named me his defensive coordinator, and at the time I was the youngest defensive coordinator in the country. That was pretty awesome, and I never can repay him for the thing that he did for me and to help my career, so I would have to say Kevin has been a big influence, and we talk a lot, keep in touch. And that’s the great thing about this profession is once you get in, you spend time with people and they become just as much a part of the family as your real family, and friendships and relationships that you develop over the course of that period. There’s an older gentleman that really tutored me when I was at the University of Arkansas by the name of Ken Rucker who’s an unbelievable man, a man of God, and he kind of put me on the right track of doing things right in my life. So there’s been a lot of people that have actually touched my life in this business.”
I didn’t know that you were the youngest coordinator in the country when you were at Baylor. What did you learn from that experience? Now that you have so much more experience in the industry, do you ever look back and think about anything you wish you had known at that point?
“Oh, I think you think about those things all the time. I think that’s just human nature to go back and say, hey, I could have done this better, hey, I could have done that better. But at the same time, I didn’t have the experience of some, and with Kevin’s tutelage it became obvious that I was going to get better at it, because he was going to make you work at it, which he did, and that’s why he’s one of the top coordinators in the country now, is because that’s his mentality and he’s always worked that way. So yeah, I think there’s a lot of things that I could look back on and say wow, I wish I could have done this better, I wish I could have done that better, but I was 34 years old, 33 years old.”
I know one thing you’ve been outspoken about during your time at Missouri has been autism and your work to raise money for autism support and research. For those who don’t know, could you detail some of the things you’ve done in that realm?
“Well, we started our foundation a few years back and that basically was founded on my son AJ who is autistic. And my wife was like, 'Hey, we do a lot of things for other people, we’re doing football camps, we’re doing things for under-privileged kids, but what about our own son? We could have a platform here for him.’ And so after that conversation, of course, we changed up our foundation to autism, and so what we do every year, we try to raise money for Autism Speaks. We have a golf tournament every year in my hometown of Gadsden, Alabama, and we raise money and we have a lot of things. Because we have had so much success and been very fortunate, we have a lot of players that are still playing in the NFL that played for us and have been drafted, so those guys are unbelievable, the amount of support and things that they give to us to make it work. That’s what I was talking about, the reason I got back into college, because of the relationships that you build, and we’ve built some really great relationships with young men, and so they give back, they send things in, we have a silent auction every year, and they send jerseys, helmets, whatever paraphernalia that they want. I have a guy, actually, Michael Brockers, who is a starting tackle with the Rams, he called me one day and said, 'Hey coach, I know that you’re still doing your tournament and I want to do something kind of special if you don’t mind.' And in the NFL they have a program where they pair up with a cause and they wear those cleats for that game, for whatever cause it is. So he decided to choose my foundation to be his cause, for autism. So he had a couple pairs of cleats made up, with, of course, our logo is Brick Road to Success, and so he had those put on his cleats and he wore them in the game. And so I actually was going to auction them off but then I kind of out-bid everybody because that meant so much to me. But those are the things that you carry that’s the gratification down the road with your players and the relationships that you build, and it’s lifelong relationships. It’s not just recruitment, play for me and then you’re done. We go from player and coach to friends, and it’s friends for life, and that’s really special to me.”
I know you’ve mentioned in the past you’ve had players over to your house for dinner and you’ve built these relationships with former players. How much has that meant to AJ to get support from these guys, even professional football players who are willing to help out?
“Oh, he’s ecstatic about it. He looks forward to it every year, to those guys coming over, and I can’t tell you how much it meant to me for those guys to take time and to spend time with him, to make him feel special. It’s a feeling that, unless you’re there, you’ll never have it. It’s an amazing, amazing thing. He looks up to them as big brothers and they kind of call him their little brother, so yeah, it’s really special. And we always open up our house to our players because I think it’s important that they don’t just see me as their position coach. It’s important that they see me as a man, that they see me as a husband and they see me as a father.”
Last thing for you, I know obviously after coach Drinkwitz was hired you were able to stay on the staff in some capacity but without the guarantee of a full-time job moving forward. Why did you ultimately choose to stick it out with Missouri?
“Well I think the biggest thing was my son, and I think here in Missouri we have phenomenal facilities for autistic kids. And so that was one of the factors that weighed on it. And then my youngest son, Jeremy, was going to be a senior this upcoming year, and so I didn’t want to take him away from his friends and things like that. I just thought that Missouri was a really good place. It’s been good for us, we’ve had no issues, it’s been awesome for our kids, it’s been a great place to work. I love the town, I love the people and it was just a fit for us. With us not having to move, there was no reason for us to do it, and we had so many reasons to stay, like I said, with my son, with the facilities for autism and my youngest going to be a senior. He’s been here for four years now, and so he’s created this bond of friends and all those things, and I think that was one of those things that you talked about earlier, about what’s the hardest thing about moving, and that’s one of the hardest things is that you’ve got to take your kids and separate them from their friends. So it was an opportunity for us to stay. Coach Drinkwitz came in and he was very good and offered me a job to stay, so we’re excited about that, and it all worked out, but we’re really glad that it worked out that way because we wanted to be here and to see my son graduate from Rock Bridge and for my other son to be able to maintain and use the facilities at the Thompson Center and other things like that for autism.”