Updated: February 21, 2013 6:57AM
Do this someday: Pick up the phone and make 300 cold calls, knowing there is a device on the receiver that tracks every call you make. Can’t cheat.
That was Ted Karras, Jr.’s first job out of college. Using the phone. He sold stocks with a helicopter boss hovering around him while he heard the hum of an answering machine most of the time on his way to 300.
Click, click, click. A few conversations. Click, click, click, click. A few more conversations until the counter said at least 300.
That sort of day makes a football player long for a football field. So, at 25, he quit his second job selling yellow page advertising and decided to follow his heart and fall in love with work.
He’s been running away from random phone calls now for 23 years. Karras played at Northwestern and Hobart. His dad, Ted, played on the offensive line for the Bears’ 1963 championship team. His uncle, Alex Karras, was a legendary tackle with the Lions.
Karras did take one valuable lesson away from his early job experience. Don’t take no for answer.
“Helps with recruiting,” he said.
Karras has been on a beeline for coaching greatness ever since. I’m more convinced of this than ever now — having watched Bill Belichick and Lou Holtz, been around Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh and covered Craig Buzea and Don Howell — that really, really great coaches are everywhere — in the NFL, in college at various levels and at the high school level.
Sometimes, they are hiding in plain sight.
That’s Karras. The man with a coaching plan and an extraordinary record to back it up.
Last month, after wining the NAIA national championship at Marian University in Indianapolis, Karras opened the next set of doors in his coaching odyssey. He was hired by Welsh University, a Division II school in Canton, Ohio. Yes, that Canton — the Canton that houses the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
It’s the fourth stop in his relatively linear, ambling move up the coaching ladder.
I was there in 1997 when he coached Andrean into the state championship game. Even then, the ultra-focused, always-on-message Karras could stare a hole through your chest while making a point.
He didn’t waste many words. Chasing the football dream was serious stuff for him. He had precious little time to waste.
Since Andrean, he has made stops at St. Xavier in Chicago and Rose Hulman in Terre Haute for three seasons.
Everywhere he has traveled, Karras has left the old program in better shape than he found it. In Marian’s case, Karras built it. The school didn’t have a program. He created it from scratch. The Knights beat Morningside 30-27 on Dec. 13 for the title. Karras was on his way to Walsh a week later.
It was a typical Karras move. Build it and then move on. There were no regrets from either side —only fond memories.
The understanding with Karras is that he is going to leave everything he has in the film room, on the field and with the kids and then he’ll go do it again somewhere else.
“I just want to try to get as high as I can in this profession,” he said. “I just do the best job I can do whereever I’m at. I think I can do it and do it well. We’re all doing the same thing — some guys just get paid more.”
Walsh plays in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, a Division II powerhouse that includes Grand Valley State, the college that Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly coached at before he jumped to Central Michigan. Last year, Walsh finished 3-9. Soon enough, a year, maybe two or three at the most, Walsh will be winning again.
Karras will make the same moves he made at Andrean, St. Xavier, Rose Hulman and Marian.
He will preach toughness and discipline. He will create an atmosphere and of trust and collegiality. He will find players who are resourceful, versatile and smart.
And he will win. Bet on it. And then he will be off to his next job, at a higher level.
“I live in the moment and do the best I can,” he said. “I never imagined be in Canton, coaching football. I love the journey. I love to see what can happen. I get satisfaction out of that. I didn’t get satisfaction out of selling stocks and ads for the yellow pages.”