Daron Roberts was student body president during his days at UT. He went on to dual degrees from Harvard. So what will he be doing on the West Virginia sidelines Saturday?
Daron Roberts is a football coach with one surprising story. Coming to UT from the small Texas town of Mount Pleasant, Roberts, BA 20’01, Life Member, Outstanding Young Texas Ex, quickly became a big man on campus.
He majored in Plan II Honors, won a Texas Excellence Award scholarship, and was voted student body president, among other honors. He went on for double graduate degrees from Harvard and was even named one of the Kennedy School for Government’s 75 Most Fascinating Alumni.
That’s when Roberts realized his true passion lay not in law or public policy, his areas of grad study, but in coaching football.
He had no coaching experience. So he sent letters to every NFL team begging to work for free.
No one responded—except the coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, who looked at his résumé and just had to know: why would a guy with a Harvard law degree want to start at the bottom in football? Herman Edwards agreed to take Roberts on as an unpaid intern.
The rookie coach rented a basement room in Kansas City but slept on an air mattress in a closet in the stadium most nights. That way he could be up before 5 a.m. to make coffee for the higher-ups.
He went on to work with the Detroit Lions, then came back to the college level last year to coach at West Virginia University. At that time, he had no idea he’d ever face off against the Longhorns—but thanks to the Big 12 realignment, that’s exactly what he’ll be doing Saturday. Here, he opens up to The Alcalde about what he expects from one of this season’s highest-pressure match-ups.
Your education is gold-plated. How is it informing your life now as a coach?
I’ve said this a lot, but preparing for a football game is exactly like preparing for a court case. You are looking at the arguments of your opponent and preparing your best counter-argument. It’s the exact same exercise. Talking with Coach Leach [former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach] really brought that home to me. I use my law degree every day. Framing a message—that’s the same challenge as in a legal brief. Synthesizing a lot of information into a digestible formart. There are limits on our time here. We have 20 hours a week. It’s finding a way to find which bullet points matter.
How long did you spend with the Chiefs and the Lions, and why leave the NFL for college ball?
I started in 2007 with the Chiefs and 2009 with the Lions. I was just fortunate that my starting point was the NFL. After four years, I was just curious to see what the college game was like. I knew my retirement job would be a head coach at the college level. Then this opportunity came along
The NFL lifestyle is dominated by football. You don’t recruit, you don’t deal with parents, there’s no interaction with the players outside the facility. One hundred percent of my day was spent on football—looking at film, developing game plans. Here, recruiting takes a large part of the day. There are more opportunities from a mentoring standpoint at the college level than the pros. I’ve had a wonderful time here in Morgantown. I teach a leadership speech class in the spring semester. I had a seminar course with 12 students. The course was called The Speech as a Leadership Tool. We surveyed history’s most powerful speeches. It’s always been a passion of mine. I’m always looking for things to get outside the football context.
You’re the cornerbacks coach. What’s your game strategy coming into the Big 12?
I coach the corners, so we’re mainly responsible for defending the pass, which in the Big 12 is probably the most important position on the field because it’s Ten players. I recruit for Maryland, Virginia, and DC, and parts of Texas. So much talent, it’s so difficult.
I grew up in the Big 12. We haven’t played a Big 12 game yet, so not much has changed except for the signage on the walls. We’re excited for more exposure. My family’s excited because we get to play in Texas. At the end of the day, we have to win football games. It’ll be exciting because we play new opponents, but we still have to win.
When you were at UT, you weren’t involved with football. What are your memories of gamedays?
One thing we have in common are very rabid fan bases. Coming from Texas I was accustomed to playing in a war, being part of a program with a rich football tradition. The same applies to West Virginia. It’s even more pronounced here because we are the football program that represents the entire state. For all intents and purposes, we are the NFL team of the state. You don’t have loyalties split. But there’s nothing pronounced like a Hex Rally.
What are your emotions coming back to your alma mater for battle—on the enemy side?
I had some very good years at the University and a lot of great memories there. West Virginia feeds my family now, so I’m traveling to Austin with the intention of beating the Longhorns. It’s good to go back and be in a familiar environment, see old friends and so on, but I want to beat Texas. I know part of my personal success is tied to West Virginia. I love Texas, but I’m all West Virginia. I’ll be the most excited person if we win.
Photo by Dale Sparks. Courtesy West Virginia Athletics.