Garza serving two passions

Secondary coach finds football suitable for social work

Willie Mack Garza hasn't been on the sidelines when Eric Berry intercepts a pass. He hasn't felt the breathless electricity that takes over Neyland Stadium when Tennessee's All-America safety ruins a quarterback's plan by grabbing the football and twisting and turning upfield.

Garza, Tennessee's new secondary coach, hasn't felt it yet, but he knows he will. And that's the good stuff.

"Watching a guy intercept a pass on gameday or seeing him make a big hit or seeing him do exactly what you wanted him to do. Then all of a sudden he's excited, you're excited and you're chest-bumping and hugging," Garza says. "That's the ultimate feeling right there."

But it's not the only feeling, as far as Garza is concerned.

A legendary athlete from Refugio, Texas, who went on to star in the defensive backfield at the University of Texas, Garza knows plenty about the game of football. He shares the sun-up-to-sun-down passion of his new colleagues, too.

But he also has a soft spot for his players - or anyone, really - who need an ear to listen or some words of advice.

"If there was anything you needed off the field or on the field, he'd be there for you," says Nick Schommer, who played free safety for Garza at North Dakota State and was selected in the seventh round of this year's NFL draft by the Tennessee Titans. "He always asked about your family, how they're doing. I'd say he's a player's coach. He relates to his players really well and has their back anytime they need anything."

It's that spirit that helped Garza turn a career-ending injury into a job that fused his two passions - football and helping others - into a coaching career. And it's a giving spirit, rooted in faith, that helped him overcome a major mistake that cost him his job at Texas Christian University.

Path to coaching

Like many coaches, Willie Mack Garza got his start in coaching as a graduate assistant. But he never thought it would turn into a career.

In 1993, Garza still had his eyes on the NFL. He had the talent to play professionally. What he didn't have was good luck.

In the final game of his senior season at Texas against rival Texas A&M, Garza broke his leg and tore a tendon in his ankle. That, combined with a lingering knee injury, was enough to keep him from the NFL draft in 1993. But Garza attacked his rehab head-on and took a day-job working with juvenile delinquents at a detention center in Austin. He also worked for the Longhorns' athletic department where he interacted with boosters in the hopes of helping former athletes land jobs after college.

By 1994, though, Garza knew his hopes of playing in the NFL were all but gone. His position coach at Texas suggested he take a job as a graduate assistant, which would allow him to get a master's degree in social work.

Coming from what he calls a "very, very, very humble background" in his hometown of Refugio, Garza saw first-hand the impact people could have on someone else's life. For Garza, one of those was a coach. Another was a long-time family friend. Another was his grandmother. Those helping hands that led Garza to choose social work as his major at Texas.

"They really showed me the philosophy, 'It takes a village to raise a family' and stuff like that," Garza said. "That was truly the case in my hometown. There was always people surrounding me and helping me. There was no way that I could not give back. Social work, to me, was a way to really help and give back to other people whether it's the elderly, youth. It didn't matter. Social work was an avenue for me to help other people be successful in life and give back."

Hoping a master's degree would result in a little better salary - a relative term when it comes to social work - Garza accepted the GA position and joined the Texas staff.

That first year was a whirlwind. Not only was Garza helping coach the Longhorns' defensive backs, he was taking a full load of graduate courses, which included internships and volunteer work for various community organizations.

For one of his courses, Garza had to assemble a group and help mentor its members by setting goals and working toward them. Short on time, Garza used his cornerbacks for his group. And that's when Garza realized he didn't have to be a social worker to help people.

"They had goals and objectives, and we talked about how on a daily basis to move forward toward your goals and objectives," Garza said. "I started seeing through that group that, man, a lot of social work, a lot of what I learned in social work, I can really apply to football."

It was the best of both worlds for Garza. He could still help people the way he had been helped growing up. He could be part of the village, and part of the team, too.

"I grew up in a strong Baptist, Christian background. I think that's a part of being a believer in Jesus Christ is giving back," Garza said. "All of that right there really steered me towards social work - which is also coaching football."

Turns out, Garza was pretty good at both.

A mistake, a break

After three seasons as a graduate assistant at Texas, Garza landed his first full-time job at Western Michigan in 1997. He stayed there four seasons before landing at TCU, where he coached cornerbacks for two-plus seasons.

Two-plus - and not three or four or five - because he was charged with a DUI in the fall of 2003. The Horned Frogs suspended him mid-season, and what had been a promising career hit a major low point.

Out of a job, Garza volunteered at Lancaster High School in Dallas, where he knew a few coaches, for a few months. After a year at Division II Tarleton State, he arrived in Fargo, N.D.

Going from Conference USA to Division I-AA North Dakota State wasn't exactly a path to the big-time, but it was a path, nonetheless.

"I think God works in mysterious ways," Garza said. "I think at TCU, maybe my growth there had stopped. Maybe I had become complacent to a certain extent, and God found a way to help me move on. Things happened in my life at that time that forced me to move on and forced me to appreciate the way I'm supposed to act in life.

"I think God saw at TCU I wasn't continuing to grow. I'm not saying that my mistakes were God's fault, but He corrects you. He takes things from you, and I think He led me to North Dakota State."

Turns out North Dakota State was a great place for Garza to be.

It was there he worked for coach Craig Bohl, a former defensive coordinator and player at Nebraska, who introduced him to the Tampa 2 defense made famous by another former Cornhusker - UT defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

Garza spent three years as defensive coordinator for Bohl and another season coaching defensive backs. During his tenure, the Bisons posted 10-1 seasons in 2006 and 2007.

More importantly, Garza says, he grew as a coach and as a person.

"When I say God works in mysterious ways, I think God takes things out of your hands but He covers you with grace to help you receive even more later on down the road," Garza says. "I think this a perfect example of God taking what I saw as a good thing (at TCU) out of my hands, but then by His grace, He showed me a better thing which was North Dakota State, even though some people wouldn't think that. But in my life at that time, North Dakota State was a better thing."

He also worked with some really good coaches.

On the defensive staff at NDSU, Garza coached alongside assistants Todd Wash and Casey Bradley, both of whom wound up coaching for Kiffin in Tampa Bay. Wash is the Bucs' defensive line coach, and the Seattle Seahawks recently named Bradley defensive coordinator.

Through his connections at North Dakota State, Garza even interviewed with Kiffin for a job coaching defensive backs after Mike Tomlin, now the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, left for the Minnesota Vikings in 2006.

That job didn't work out, but Garza soon got a second chance to work for Kiffin.

Thanks for tip, cousin

Garza hopped in a taxi cab, hoping he wasn't too late.

In Nashville for the American Football Coaches Association convention in January, Garza got a tip from his cousin that Monte Kiffin was still searching for a defensive backs coach at Tennessee.

James Lott, who coaches at Mesa Junior College in Arizona, knew because he interviewed earlier that morning.

"In most situations guys after they didn't get the job, they'd have been all upset and mad. They'd have been thinking more about themselves," Garza said. "But family is family. He knew that I knew Monte."

So Garza called a taxi and made his way to the airport Marriott, where Kiffin had already checked out and was about to return to Knoxville.

At first, he couldn't find Kiffin or Bruce Warwick, UT's former director of football operations who was on hand to help with the process. A woman at the front desk told Garza she didn't have any guests by either name at the hotel, and Garza was about to leave.

"I'm like, 'More than likely, I probably missed him,' " Garza said. "I thought I'm at the wrong damn hotel."

Eventually, though, Garza found Kiffin and Warwick, re-introduced himself and told them he had heard they were interviewing secondary coaches.

Kiffin, who remembered Garza from his interview with Tampa Bay, checked back into his room and, along with UT assistant head coach Ed Orgeron, put Garza through the paces at the dry-erase board like they had several other coaches that week.

Kiffin was impressed with Garza's knowledge of the Cover 2 defense and Orgeron liked what he heard from Garza, too. A few days later, he was on the road recruiting for Tennessee after six years away from Division I football.

For Garza, it's hard to ignore the serendipitous turns that brought him to Tennessee.

"How unbelievable is that that my cousin, who doesn't know Monte Kiffin, interviews, mentions my name and all of a sudden here it is I'm getting another opportunity to interview for Monte Kiffin?" Garza says. "Now it works out. Now I'm at Tennessee, one of the most elite universities in all of football with some fanatical fans and unbelievable coaches on both offense and defense. Not only are they great coaches, they're great people. It's an unbelievable community that loves football like I love football."

But it hasn't been all football for Garza, even during spring practice and the spring evaluation period this month.

'Pretty much straight up'

Just a few weeks ago, one of Tennessee's defensive backs plopped down on the brown leather couch in Garza's office inside the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center. The player and Garza talked for more than 45 minutes. And it had little to do with the Cover 2.

Garza smiles, perhaps at the psychiatric tones of the image. But that's Garza: part therapist, part coach. And all this from a guy who also happens to be a member of the Texas high school football hall of fame and one of the best running backs in Texas prep history.

"They live out there in the real world," Garza says of his players. "They face real-world problems. As a coach, you have to be able to sit down and talk to your players outside of football. I think right now, I'm really starting to develop more of a relationship with guys where they just come in here and sit down."

That can be an asset for any coaching staff, and his former players saw it firsthand.

"He leaves himself accessible to anyone stopping in and talking to him about anything," says Craig Dahl, a former NDSU safety who is set to enter his third NFL season. "I think the biggest thing is kids in the college atmosphere don't always have the trust level with one of their coaches that they do with a normal person if they were to go out and ask for help or ask for advice or something. For some of these kids, home is far away or maybe their parents aren't around all the time to help them out. It's huge at this age to have someone to come to talk to and help out through life or football or anything."

But those relationships aren't built overnight.

Just as Garza saw his players begin to really understand the defense during spring practice, he's starting to see players become comfortable enough with him to talk about much more than just X's and O's. Part of that comes from his ability to communicate and relate with players on and off the field. Part of it is his honesty, too.

"He's pretty much straight up with you. He never sugar-coated it from my perspective," Schommer said. "He likes to have a lot of fun in the meeting room and on the field. But when it comes down to it, he's a serious guy and a serious coach. But he likes to joke around and have a good time."

The best times are on the football field, when everything lines up just so and one of his players is in the right place at the right time to make a game-changing play.

But it's the relationships, the ability to help change a player's life whether by helping him reach the NFL or simply find a place in the world after football is over, that got Garza into the coaching business. And in many ways, it's what keeps him there now.

"It's that relationship, probably above all else, that makes coaching football such a special, special profession," Garza said. "You can touch a young man in such positive way to make a difference in his life. It's football, his social life, his spiritual life and I don't know if there's very many other professions where you can really touch a young man's life like that and make such an impact in every area."

Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.

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Comments » 95

kabzs writes:

Curious how a man of faith like this , gets along with the partying coaches?

FWBVol writes:

in response to kabzs:

Curious how a man of faith like this , gets along with the partying coaches?

I'm like to think of myself as a man of faith and the Bible tells us we are in the world, not of the world.

I lived in Hess Hall in the 1976-77 school year when I was a freshman. The floor I lived on, J-5, had a reputation of being the rowdiest floor in the Zoo. Many of my closest friends on my floor did things I would never think about doing then or now. I shared my faith and they knew where I stood without me coming across as holier than thou. They even joked that we would form our on fraternity, and because I didn't drink or fool around, and lived a Christian life, I could be the chapter chaplin.

I hate that coach Garza made some poor choices while he was at TCU, but I applaud him for admitting his shortcomings and trying to use his mistakes to teach the kids he coaches off the field.

kabzs writes:

Garza's life is a template for Daniel Hood. As Saul was a murderous, violent man, but came to faith and became the apostle Paul, now Garza is usinge the athletic field as a venue to show off the wonderful things God has done in his life. Watch for Hood to do likewise.

Second chances are so cool.

FLAVOLS writes:

in response to BobbeaVol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Voluvr writes:

in response to kabzs:

Curious how a man of faith like this , gets along with the partying coaches?

Not sure that they have time to "party." Especially being married and all. But, it's partiers, or down trodden that need to hear the good news the most! Not the choir.

civilianvol_formerly_marinevol writes:

in response to FLAVOLS:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I have no use for racists, black or white or whatever. The best thing to do is just ignore this worthless piece of trash.

ThaiVolFan writes:

in response to The_Four_Horsemen:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

well put 4 horsemen,
I second that motion

VolunteerMan writes:

That type of perspective could be valuable to many of us.

GR82BaTennesseeVOL writes:

in response to Navalorange:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Couldn't have said it better myself...so I won't.

"Ditto" on all points.

BigOrangeCrazy writes:

in response to heykoolaide:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Either you're full of sh*t or you don't know what you're talking about. Probably both.

Right now is an evaluation period for coaches. The head coach is not allowed to have contact with recruits.

Nothing more then "accidently" bumpimg into them and saying hi. The Saban rule.

So what is it? Are you stupid or did your Gators balantly commit a major NCAA infraction?

MidTennVol writes:

Coach Garza, welcome to Tennessee. You seem to have the same spiritual DNA as a former Volunteer great, a man named Roland James who many of us grew up watching.

I suggest you give him a call. He's in Boston and here's a link to how he's spending his time these days...

http://www.boston.com/sports/football...

teampenny#658108 writes:

in response to kabzs:

Garza's life is a template for Daniel Hood. As Saul was a murderous, violent man, but came to faith and became the apostle Paul, now Garza is usinge the athletic field as a venue to show off the wonderful things God has done in his life. Watch for Hood to do likewise.

Second chances are so cool.

Not even close. The risks are far greater with Hood. If the coach repeats he gets suspended or fired-problem goes away, but now know one pays attention. Hood will be a big distraction at visiting stadiums-similar to M Vick-an if he slips up he leaves a stain on this program that will be around for years. His signing will not help us in signing top notch players. Just my opinion time will tell. Go Vols

VOLinDAWGland writes:

in response to BobbeaVol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

BobbeaVol = Snaflov????

Same sorry racial infected insults.

VOLinDAWGland writes:

in response to teampenny#658108:

Not even close. The risks are far greater with Hood. If the coach repeats he gets suspended or fired-problem goes away, but now know one pays attention. Hood will be a big distraction at visiting stadiums-similar to M Vick-an if he slips up he leaves a stain on this program that will be around for years. His signing will not help us in signing top notch players. Just my opinion time will tell. Go Vols

I think Hood redshirts, moves to O-line and the whole thing will be forgotten.

pete_hastings#206889 writes:

Garza's story is great and Drew did a nice job drawing it out for us. Glad to see a coach who knows football well, shares the knowledge effectively but is equally concerned with his players off the field.

Garza made a mistake and it cost him professionally. But, I think he made the most of it personally and turned around. That's character - how do you handle the consequences of your decisions? Garza grew and decided to help the young men he coaches grow as well.

You don't always get a second chance but Garza's making the most of it. Glad he's on our team.

boro_vol writes:

in response to BobbeaVol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Unlike you, those Rogers brothers are all Vol. Zack and Austin, please ignore this guy. The Vol Nation supports you all the way!

boro_vol writes:

Did Urban Meyer commit a recruiting violation by talking to and verbally offering Scroggins during the evaluation period?

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/blog/i...

ibvolman writes:

in response to heykoolaide:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I think you are full of carp. But in one way, it would be great if this is true, because Urban Wiener would have committed a major NCAA infraction, and probation would most-likely be forthcoming. That would mean no championships, no bowl games, and limited scholarships to pass out.

TommyJack writes:

in response to MidTennVol:

Coach Garza, welcome to Tennessee. You seem to have the same spiritual DNA as a former Volunteer great, a man named Roland James who many of us grew up watching.

I suggest you give him a call. He's in Boston and here's a link to how he's spending his time these days...

http://www.boston.com/sports/football...

Good link, Mbum.

dvhill100 writes:

Good article KNS. Keep them up. Seems like we are getting one every Sunday. Like the background information. Hopefully he'll work out and be a tremendous coach for us.

teampenny#658108 writes:

in response to VOLinDAWGland:

I think Hood redshirts, moves to O-line and the whole thing will be forgotten.

do not see ESPN letting that happen.

VOLFORLIFE writes:

in response to MidTennVol:

Coach Garza, welcome to Tennessee. You seem to have the same spiritual DNA as a former Volunteer great, a man named Roland James who many of us grew up watching.

I suggest you give him a call. He's in Boston and here's a link to how he's spending his time these days...

http://www.boston.com/sports/football...

GREAT link and GREAT story about a GREAT former Vol, Denmark! Wish KNS would run more stories like this rather than some of the negative stuff that the 'lopers and trolls feed off of.

I remember watching Mr. James throughout his career with the Big Orange. Outstanding player but, as it turns out, a more outstanding person and family man. Hats off to you, Mr. James.

GO VOLS!!!
JUGHEAD

Hudro writes:

in response to MidTennVol:

Coach Garza, welcome to Tennessee. You seem to have the same spiritual DNA as a former Volunteer great, a man named Roland James who many of us grew up watching.

I suggest you give him a call. He's in Boston and here's a link to how he's spending his time these days...

http://www.boston.com/sports/football...

great article on a former great player. So often we only hear about the Travis Henry's of the world and not the ones who are making a difference.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to MagicMan:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Was he found guilty? Do any time? Doesn't look like he missed any seasons and he resigned from TCU not fired. Was that out of ethics and a decision to right his life?

chargervol writes:

in response to BobbeaVol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You're either with us or against us. Make up your mind.

panties4tebow writes:

in response to gatorz5:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Your (.)

TommyJack writes:

in response to heykoolaide:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Hey Turd: With a name like that, what would you expect people to think?

10volunteers98 writes:

in response to heykoolaide:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Thanks for the link,B.O.T.Man,I hope Scroggins doesn`t pick the GAY-TORS.With the team U.T. is building,I can`t imagine why a QB recruit wouldn`t be eager to sign with the Vols.We`ve already got the running backs,and Oku and Brown haven`t even got to campus yet.I believe the O.line will be better than last year,and this staff will undoubtedly sign some big-time O.line recruits.With all these top-notch RB`s and improving O.line to take pressure off a Q.B.,I believe we`ll get a big-time Q.B. recruit.GO,VOLS!!!

TommyJack writes:

in response to heykoolaide:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Well, a turd of any other color would just be a turd. lol

10volunteers98 writes:

in response to heykoolaide:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Agreed.Distance from home would be my biggest concern for Scroggins OR Heaps.But,Scroggins says he has family in Tennessee.And,I`m not ready to throw in the towel just yet on Heaps.Kiffin signed the top two RB`s in the country,so that really shows me a lot.

trollhunter writes:

Time for me to kick this Gatorz whatever his name is booty and run him off this site.

It's a big mistake to wakeup the resident hunter.

My cousin told me about this pantie waste and how him and his nimrods have ruined every single thread. I checked it out and it made me sick.

TommyJack writes:

in response to Orange_A_Holic:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Amen to the orangeAholic

panties4tebow writes:

Hey fl TROLLS LIL- meyer said it's time to wash your panties!!!!!!!!!!!!

rich182x writes:

What a snooze fe........

trollhunter writes:

in response to gatorz5:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Listen you sewer gator punk,

Why don't you and your get your worthless coward arse off this site and take it to a site that gives a darn. take your band with you while you are at it.

You have pizzed off this great nation for one last time and its time for vigilante vol justice to take over and remove you and your sorry minions arsses.

If you don't, then you will be facing my brother who takes no prisoners when handing out verdicts.

trollhunter writes:

in response to kiffinwearstebowpanties:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You have no idea how much of a whoopin that will be coming to you and your leader's way.

gwbask writes:

in response to heykoolaide:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

bigorange#2

Ironcity writes:

in response to BobbeaVol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Rumor has it that one of those Rogers brothers absolutely wore your butt out in HS. Then he laughed at you when you tried to walk on. Is this true? It would explain a lot about your hostility.

trollhunter writes:

in response to checkeredpast:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

No idiot, my brother is a judge that does not give any mercy when delivering the verdict.

You better not be a troll because I will deal with you in the no so distant future.

appalachianvol writes:

in response to heykoolaide:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Tell him any thing he wants to hear! I don't see Fla changing their offense they have won two of the last three NC's with just to appease a qb.
Just my opinion.

trollhunter writes:

in response to Orange_A_Holic:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

And if I am the staff I would not want to waste much time of not naming a replacement because you want to get a summer workout program in place, especially those staying on the Hill for the summertime.

trollhunter writes:

in response to checkeredpast:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You have just created the bridge of STFU!!!

1BigOrangeVol writes:

in response to heykoolaide:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

big o,
I went through that 6 weeks ago today. It sucked then and it sucks now.

trollhunter writes:

in response to checkeredpast:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

THANK YOU LATER???

You'll thank me later after I am done flushing you off this site.

panties4tebow writes:

Lil-meyer wants all fl pantie TROLLS to meet him at the gay lizard bar tonight at 8 p.m. for the pantie model show, he promises there will be lots of fun and tebow will be there!!!!!!!!!

trollhunter writes:

in response to panties4tebow:

Lil-meyer wants all fl pantie TROLLS to meet him at the gay lizard bar tonight at 8 p.m. for the pantie model show, he promises there will be lots of fun and tebow will be there!!!!!!!!!

Expect a massacare there tonight as I will be there.

panties4tebow writes:

in response to trollhunter:

Expect a massacare there tonight as I will be there.

Go get them trollhunter!

GO VOLS!!!!!!!!!!!

chrisw2967 writes:

in response to heykoolaide:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I cant see urbie changing the off. this off. has been what he has ran every place he has been. tebow was also the only QB urbie was recruiting when he went after snead. if he did indeed have contact with scroggins , that is a ncaa violation.asst. coaches can have contact but the head coach cant ?

Vol43 writes:

in response to kabzs:

Curious how a man of faith like this , gets along with the partying coaches?

People who live in glass houses should not.......well you know the rest.

Vol43 writes:

in response to BolivarBob:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Bob, a club has been started soliciting members to agree to ignore lopers. So what if one of the members makes the mistake of reading one of their posts and responds? Is he ousted from the club or at least severly reprimanded? I, for one, choose simply to spin through their comments and focus on relevant football discussion. Except for dc who is a piece of dung.

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