By Bill Bradley, contributing editor
Michael Haynes was the 2003 14th overall pick by the Chicago Bears out of Penn State. He played four NFL seasons before retiring prior to the 2007 season in what he calls "a lifetime ago."
Haynes has "rediscovered himself" since leaving the game. He has earned a Master's degree and is working on a second one. He coached high school football and became a secondary school administrator. Yet his life has taken another turn, becoming a manager of Heads Up Football Master Trainers for USA Football.
The former first-round pick talked with NFL Evolution about his transition to working for USA Football, his connection to other Master Trainers and how he sees he can help the future of the Heads Up Football program.
How did you join USA Football?
USA Football approached me 1 1/2 years ago to become a Master Trainer. In that original group there was about 30 of us. Honestly, we had no idea what we were getting into. We flew to Indianapolis. They trained us. They told us we'd work with about 500 organizations and then it ended up being almost triple that amount. ... They had me flying to San Diego, LA and around Texas as well.
How did you handle the fast growth of Heads Up Football?
So Heads Up Football has really taken off during the past two years. We realized there are really a lot of coaching clinics out there. At first we thought, "OK, it's going to take a while for people to really buy in." But what USA Football soon realized is that this was a real need from coaches. Coaches want information from the experts. We looked at a lot of coaching clinics and camps out there. They do a good job with some information, but what we can do with USA Football is we can literally fly in an expert and tell them what are the best practices in areas like dehydration, concussions, equipment fitting -- and even simple things like child psychology. At the end of the day, we're working with student athletes. From high school level to youth level, it's a different mindset. The kids are not professional athletes. For instance, as a professional athlete, we would do things that I would never suggest a youth player to do. But this is about trying to help those coaches understand that. You have to adjust your coaching style to the age of the athlete you're dealing with.
When did you become a manager of the Master Trainers for USA Football?
We started at 30 and then USA Football realized that we needed more Master Trainers. So then we needed to hire somebody whose sole job was to manage the Master Trainers. They said, "We want you to grow the program and look at where you envision the program being in five, 10, 15 years from now and start heading the program in that direction." They approached me in January. They wanted me to fly out and interview. Of course, they had some really highly qualified applicants. I think what I bring to the table is a background in education. What is Heads Up Football? To me, it's education. We educate parents, coaches and players. It made sense to have an education administrator in charge because I can understand and talk to athletic directors and principals and parents.
You sound energized by this role. With the Master trainers growing from 30 to almost 80, what does your job as manager entail?
I work seven days a week. I manage 78 Master Trainers. I get phone calls some nights at 11 p.m. (Indianapolis time), but they'll be on the West Coast and they need answers. For me it's something I'm very passionate about because I can see where it's going. ... I realize it's basically on our guys' shoulders. I want them to lead by example. So I tell my guys, "Before I send you somewhere, I want to be sure that you know what you're doing and I want to know any type of detail that happens that I need to be aware of." So I have to have that 24-hour cell phone. The phone rings, I answer. I have to know what's going on.
You said your experience as a school administrator helped you to land this job. How much do you think your experience as an NFL player has helped you in this role?
I think it gives you instant credibility. I can tell the coaches that I understand. I can go to any football organization and tell them that I understand no matter what level you're at. Colleges say, "Well, you don't understand what we go through." Hey, I went to Penn State. I understand the pressures. I understand the pressure of going to a bowl game every year, the pressure of dealing with boosters, the pressures of having to win to keep your job." ... It's like with injuries. If you've got a kid with a sprained ankle and that (college) athlete might push through and play. That's as opposed to a high school kid that you've got to sit. It's a totally different mindset in dealing with an adult. (As for injuries), high school kids shouldn't be given that option.
How much follow-up do you perform to make sure they are using the Heads Up Football program properly?
I follow-up with my Masters Trainers after every event. We do webinars during the week. I have conference calls during Sunday evening. My Sundays are just getting caught up on what happened. At the end of the day, I'm the one that wants to know if we need to adjust something. USA Football allows me to adjust rapidly. There's no bureaucracy where I have to ask nine different people if I need to adjust this or adjust that. We can listen our members and find what does or doesn't work at an event.
What are some of the frequent things coaches have asked you?
Coaches that are brand new wand to know why they should change. ... Coaches tell me, "We've never had these type of issues." I tell them, that's great, but what happens when you do? What type of training do you feel confident enough to stand in the court of law and say, "I did the best practice"? Your average coach is going to say, "You know what? You're right. I do not know the best practice." It's not that tough. For instance, some coaches don't know how to deal with dehydration. We have a five-minute video you have to watch on dehydration. We work with the Korey Stringer Institute on what is best for dehydration. All of our other partners we work with help us find the best practice.
You've been in this role since January. What do you see is next for the Heads Up Football program?
In a perfect world we want to work with every football organization to get trained by us because we know we're going to have access to the latest and greatest ideas. But how do we do that? How do stay affordable? ... Some groups cannot afford it, which is somewhat of a challenge. If I need to put someone on a plane, who should eat that cost? USA Football, being a true non-profit, has kept the costs down. It's free for parents to join. It's only $5 for a youth coach. It's $25 for a scholastic coach. So the question becomes what does that price point need to be for us to be self-sufficient. I'm constantly trying to work with our CFO to try to crunch numbers. This is what happens when we try to stand on our own. Are we able to do it?
I love the support the NFL gives. But ultimately my goal is to try to be self-sufficient as much as possible. ... But can I be self-sufficient without the price being unaffordable to people? Let's be honest: (Heads Up Football) is free for parents and they get to video our content and our videos. But that content is not free to create. What about when we start doing more and more Moms Clinics. The NFL has done a lot of Moms Clinics over the years, but we want to move forward and have universities run Moms Clinics and have high schools run Moms Clinics. The USA Football staff is probably going to be involved, so how do we pencil that out? Ideally, we want those events to be cheap if not free.
What's next for you, Michael? You left a career in secondary education to join USA Football full time.
I love being in education. But, honestly, with what we're doing at USA Football with Heads Up Football, over the next 10-15 years, I see us expanding overseas. ... We've had local teams in Mexico and Japan and Canada reach out to us. Because at the end of the day, this information needs to be disseminated to anyone that plays the game, regardless if you're a man or a woman. ... At USA Football, we don't care how old you are or your gender. If you play the game, we want to work with you.