Q&A: Player Engagement's Hollier helps players prepare

Dwight Hollier was a middle linebacker for the Miami Dolphins and the Indianapolis Colts until injuries ended his career prior to the 2001 season. However, Hollier already had begun his second career when he began studying for his master's in psychology and he already was a Licensed Professional Counselor.

Experience as a counselor has led Hollier back to the NFL, where he has worked in the Player Engagement department as a Director for Transition and Clinical Services since a year ago this month. He helps to develop programs for current and former players

Despite being busy setting up this weekend's NFL-NCAA Coaching Academy in Phoenix, Hollier talked with NFL Evolution contributing editor Bill Bradley on Thursday about what led him to become a counselor, his role with the NFL and how he sees some players as courageous for stepping forward about the troubles in transitioning into retirement.

When you retired as a middle linebacker in 2001, what made you decide to become a licensed professional counselor?

It's sort of a long story. I grew up in house where we always opened our doors to others. At any given time we had three or four relatives staying with us even though we would scrape by. Upon later reflection, I think it was that heart that my mother and father showed that stuck with me. As I was going through undergrad classes (in college) I started out as a speech communications major, thinking I wanted to do something in broadcasting. But I forgot I grew up as a very shy kid. ... I also had taken a psychology class and I fell in love with it, so I decided to do a double major.

Then when I was playing -- about my fifth or sixth year in the league -- guys in the locker room started calling me "the old guy." I'm like 28 years old, but I was "the old guy." I knew that I had already beaten the odds and I needed to start working on my next (career). Psychology was a perfect fit for me and Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Fla., is located where the Dolphins training camp is. I signed up and started graduate school in the counseling program. I finished in 2 1/2 years. I got a master's degree, and then played one more season. Because of injuries, I couldn't continue and, ultimately, I retired in September of 2001 and I went to work at Carolina Healthcare as a psychotherapist in their outpatient program. It was a great transition and working my way into a counselor was a natural fit for the way I was raised.

After more than 10 years in the private sector, what led you to the NFL Player Engagement offices?

Along the way I stayed in contact with some of my colleagues from the NFL and I had opportunities to speak and do various trainings, like what we call the "Rookie Success Program." ... I had one toe in the NFL the whole time. It certainly is a passion of mine to assist my brothers and work with athletes. It was only natural. I spent a lot of years sharpening my sword and they gave me the opportunity to come back and help.

How would you describe your role in the NFL's Player Engagement division?

I make sure we have the right resources in place in our "Life" platform module. We have three platforms: "Prep," "Life" and "Next" "Prep" would be resources of information and educational programs that we do for high school and college athletes. The "Life" platform provides the same resources for our current players. And "Next" are the resources we provide for former players. I make sure we have the right professional development and education opportunities (for current players). The other piece of my work is assisting us to take the right steps in the mental health field and making the right resources available.

With the season ending this month, is this a busy time for Player Engagement as many players are cut and have to think about their next phase of their lives?

We stay busy pretty much year-round at Player Engagement. It does ramp up toward the end of the season as players start to identify job shadow opportunities, internships and continuing their education. There are various boot camps we offer, like an entrepreneurial boot camp, a broadcast boot camps and a journalism boot camp. There's opportunities in the offseason for players to continue to develop themselves professionally. We are reaching out to players during this time and they're reaching out to us to get connected and make sure they're doing what they can to continue their professional development.

What percentage of players takes advantage of these programs that Player Engagement offers.

We have good participation. We're always looking to add new opportunities and continue to engage players.

How often do you talk to players who are moving from "Life" platform to the "Next" platform with the NFL?

As many opportunities as I can. It's not just me (and colleagues James Thrash and Troy Vincent). There's multiple people in our office who work directly with players. Then there's also the Player Engagement directors on the club levels that players have the opportunity to engage with. We coordinate with the player engagement directors to make sure they have (league) information because they are the ones nine times out of 10 who are sitting down with the players to assist them with identifying with the right fit for them.

What's your reaction when you heard last week about former running back Robert Smith acknowledging he had a problem with alcoholism after he retired or that Eddie George dealt with depression following his playing days?

No. 1, I send a big thank you to them for speaking up. Too often we as men think we have to deal with these challenges by ourselves and that's not true. I think just having the courage to speak out and talk about the struggles they had is going to benefit many other guys. When you have some guys who walk the walk, then talk about the challenges they've gone through, it will help someone else step up and say, "Yes, I'm struggling, too, and I may need some assistance." I'm proud of those guys for speaking up and telling it like it is.

Also, any time you perform at the highest level -- and whatever it is that you do -- and all of sudden it's not there, there's an identity issue that happens. This is not a phenomenon that just happens to NFL players. I think if you look at any profession -- sports or otherwise -- when someone is at the top of their game, the 1 percent, then that opportunity is no longer there, there's an adjustment that happens. There's a challenge and a transition. And it's often difficult to see yourself doing something else. But what we're working with our guys is to help them to re-imagine what that next step is going to be. We have a partnership with AARP and their "Life Reimagined" platform is assisting us with putting a road map in place for guys to take that next step.

Commissioner Roger Goodell last year said he wanted to change the separation process between teams and players to make it more of a job transition than just getting cut. Where does that idea stand?

We are moving in the right direction with that.

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