I can’t see a way to link to the ad directly, so I have copied the text below. Great stuff.
Central lesson for current students: Do not go to law school unless you are really certain you want to be a lawyer. About half of the Williams students in the class of 2009 who go to law school are making a mistake. They would be better off if they did something, anything, else.
As a free safety for the Williams College football team, Mike Levine was an on-field coach, calling signals for the secondary. But soon after he graduated from the elite Massachusetts college in 1994, he left sports behind and went to law school. He spent six years at a large corporate firm in Houston, logging 70-hour work weeks.
He eventually decided his passion for making partner was nothing compared to his enthusiasm for football. He turned to two men-his father, Bert, and his Williams coach, Dick Farley-for advice on how to make the leap of a lifetime, to high school coaching. Thanks to their wise counsel, as well as wife Laura’s support, Mike earned his certification as a math teacher and is now the defensive line coach and special teams coordinator at Stratford High in suburban Houston.
When did you start to formulate this plan of switching careers and becoming a football coach?
Mike Levine: “I always thought that I would be a football coach at some point in my life. It’s something I’ve always known I would do. But maybe I thought I would be a lawyer for, say, 15 years first.
“But over a period of time, by 2002, 2003, 2004, I had already begun realizing my heart wasn’t in being a lawyer as much as it needed to be. My heart is in coaching. That’s where I will excel, because that’s where my love and passion is. I didn’t say anything at that time except to my wife and my parents. From day one, my wife and parents were much more supportive than people think. Whenever I tell this story, people ask, ‘Oh my goodness, what did your parents say?’ or ‘What did your wife say?’ It was just the opposite. They said, ‘We think you’d be a great coach. If that’s what you want to do, that’s what you should do.’ Number one, it was my wife who was incredibly supportive.
“My dad would constantly pump me up and make me feel like I could be a great coach. He thought I had the skills to be great lawyer too, but you’re not going to be great at it if your heart is not in it.”
Bert Levine: “There wasn’t an epiphany, or a seminal moment for Mike. I know he used to talk with admiration for his friends he had played with in college, and some he had played against who are coaching. He’s in Texas, and I’m in New Jersey, but figuratively speaking, I could see his eyes sparkling when he talked about those things. When it’s your son, you can hear the energy. There was just something about it. I started saying, ‘Mike, maybe you should do it.’ His first response was, ‘Dad, why don’t you take a 75 percent pay cut?’
“But fathers and mothers understand sons. We said, ‘Mike, you only go around the track once.’ I was convinced by everything I’ve known about him, his leadership style, the fact that he’s a strong kid in his own way, which coaches have to be, that he was meant to be a coach.
“From the time this thing could toddle, Mike loved systems. They intrigued him. He did math puzzles, and that’s what football coaching is to a large degree. He learned how to play chess, and I was embarrassed to be beaten by a five-year-old. He did all those kinds of games.”
So, Mike, how did you start to put the plan into place?
Mike Levine: “So I started studying for the math exit level exam. In Texas, they have something called alternative certification. If you didn’t major in education, you can take three weeks of fulltime classes, and pay a fee, and then take the exit level exam. When I had passed math exam, I was probationally certified to teach math in Texas. To be fully certified, I had find a job and do it for a year.”
Did you start saving money while you were still working in law to prepare for life on a teacher’s salary?
Mike Levine: “There’s no doubt that when we left lawyering for good, it was a challenge. We headed in with some debt. But we had never bought the partner house. We have a manageable mortgage payment. And we tightened our belt pretty well.
“My first job was at Westbury, which is a real inner city school. You have to understand, I was around the most poor group of individuals I had ever been around. It was really hard to shed a tear for myself when I was going to Westbury every day. Every student at Westbury was an at-risk student. To eat chicken instead of steak, or pack a lunch, was nothing compared to what my kids were doing.”
When Mike was leaving law, did it feel like he was leaving something behind? Did anyone express any worries, like maybe he was wasting law school?
Bert Levine: “The honest answer is a little complex. Yes, I thought he was leaving something behind, yes, I thought he was making the right decision. I thought it was right to leave it behind. Every phone call with him today is a joy. The worst phone call is about a kid who read the play the wrong way. That should be the worst phone call any parent ever gets from a kid. I’m so pleased he’s done it. I’m so proud of him.”
Mike Levine: “I learned an incredible amount in law school, and what I learned in law helps me in coaching every day. I have a lot more poise. I learned leadership skills. I learned when you analyze what’s going on in a jury’s mind, that’s an awful lot like being in front of a classroom. I don’t feel like that was wasted at all, and in fact, the way you vet your case, the way you analyze your facts, bounce them off a colleague and try to determine how is this case going to play with the jury, is not that dissimilar from making a game plan going into a football game. And talking to Farley helped cement my belief that I would be much happier in coaching.
Dick Farley: “It doesn’t shock me that he did what he did. When he told me was thinking about it, I just started laughing. I told him, ‘You better check with your wife, the paycheck is going to be a heck of a lot different.’ But I think he felt an obligation also. I think he feels very fulfilled at the end of the day. He started in a tough neighborhood, a tough school, and when it’s all said and done, maybe he feels he made more of a contribution to humanity by helping a lot of people out along the way than he would have if he were in a court room or with a suit and tie on. I understand that. There are a lot of Williams kids who feel that way. I’m just happy and proud to be a part of it.’
Bert Levine: “That an insight I could share with him too. I told him that good lawyers come and good lawyers go, and when they’ve gone, no one knows or cares. I worked at Johnson & Johnson in their legal department for 18 years. And I think 24 hours after I walked out the door no one even knew who I was. When you touch the lives of kids, it’s so important. So what are you going to say to your son when he has an opportunity to have that experience, to make a difference? Sure lawyers doing civil liberties cases can make a difference. But this to me is a much more certain way of making a difference at a fundamental level. If you have one kid whose life you changed, boy, that’s a victory.
“And I really think this is a piece of what explains what he did. At least 50 percent of our conversations are Mike talking about his relationship with the kids and not so much about football per se. He has really been touched by his ability to touch some of these kids. And that’s the insight I could share with him. ‘Mike, you know, at the end of the day, when you’re wrapping it all up, what kind of memories do you want?'”
Mike, do you spend a lot of time on the life issues with kids?
Mike Levine: “That’s one advantage to teaching in the high school. I’m around these kids all the time. Nothing irritates me more than if I’m passing one of my football players in the hallway, and I see him manhandling a young lady or using a bad word. That is a coaching opportunity. I feel there is an absolute crisis in this country, with young men growing up thinking being a man means something twisted about conquests.
“I give my kids a stern talking to: ‘Every woman you interface with, think that that’s your mom or your sister, and you treat them the way you would want to be treated.’ I don’t think some of my kids are getting that from anywhere else. One kid told me, ‘You’re like the dad I don’t have in my life.’ After I choked for a second, I realized this is why I do this, this is why this is more rewarding than the greatest legal case you could ever win. There is a lot of life coaching as well as football coaching.”
Coach Farley, what other insights did you share about starting a career as a coach or dealing with high school athletes?
Dick Farley: “I reminded him of the acronym KISS, which stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. It’s not important what you know as a coach; it’s what the kids know and can put into play on the field. Don’t make it so complicated that they’re thinking when they’re playing.
“Also, I encouraged him to get in touch with other Williams players who are coaching. We have a tremendous alumni association here, and once you go through the football program, you’re part of the tapestry. If there’s any way you can help one another, that’s part of the Williams experience and it’s also being a good human being.
Mike Levine: “The other thing he told me was to work hard, hustle, and go to every clinic and get every resource I could get my hands on. He said there are a lot of good videos and books and clinics out there, and to avail myself of everyone and everything I could.”
Mike Levine’s “best piece of advice” he ever received:
The best piece of advice I ever got was from Joe Ehrmann, a fellow coach. He stresses the message of what it really means for a boy to become a man in today’s society. The advice was to teach young men about more than just football. More than any tackling or blocking or football technique, the more important thing a coach can teach to a young man is how to become a decent, honest family man, who respects women and supports his family. At its heart, Ehrmann’s advice was to be the role model who imparts these kids of lessons to young men.