HLS Alumnus And Former Detroit Lions Football Coach Daron Roberts On Pivoting, Coaching, And Advice For 3Ls

- HLS Alumnus And Former Detroit Lions Football Coach Daron Roberts On Pivoting, Coaching, And Advice For 3Ls

Daron K. Roberts

“When they died they left no instructions / Just a legacy to protect.” Lin-Manuel Miranda

This month, I had the opportunity to review a book titled, “Call an Audible: Let my Pivot from Harvard Law to the NFL Inspire Your Transition” (affiliate link) written by Daron K. Roberts. This is an excellent read for anyone thinking about a career change, but even more topical for law students in the middle of the annual, typical 3L existential crisis.

After graduating from the University of Texas, Daron Roberts was hyper-focused on attending Harvard Law School. He knew that a law degree would give him the flexibility to pivot in a multitude of directions. The HLS waitlist process, which he endured three times, also forced Roberts to reinvent himself each year.

While biding his time, Roberts worked for Senator Joe Lieberman and attended the Harvard Kennedy School to lend more credence to his application. He viewed the admissions process as a game that he had no intention of losing.

After working as a summer associate for a few international Texas-based law firms during his 1L and 2L summers, Roberts really enjoyed the practice of law. But after serving as a volunteer coach at the Steve Spurrier Summer Football Camp in South Carolina, his “passion purpose had smacked him in the face.” Sure, his book talks a lot about the world of the NFL, but it also serves an inspirational blueprint for anyone facing a potential pivot point in his or her career.

Here are some of my favorite tidbits of advice from his book:

  1. Find three champions—reduce your circle to a triangle.

  2. Be willing to mop the floors. Get used to the struggle and the pain early and build your immunity. Remember: No struggle, no progress.

  3. Identify what other won’t (or don’t want to) do, then do it.

  4. Convert low-value activities into high-value opportunities.

  5. Circumvent the system when the system circumvents you.

  6. Put yourself in a position to make a play. Then make your play.

  7. Reach out. Reach back.

  8. Create value instead of looking for credit.

Perhaps (or maybe in spite of?) because he went to law school, Roberts’ writing is easily digestible and often speaks to the much larger landscape of our lives.  This week, I had the opportunity to catch up with Daron K. Roberts. Without further ado, here is a (lightly edited and condensed) write-up of our conversation:

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Renwei Chung (RC): In your book, you mentioned that you wrote 164 letters, seeking an internship, to the head coach and defensive coordinator of every NFL franchise and 50 NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams. How did you develop this type of tenaciousness?

Daron K. Roberts (DR): I knew that my last name was not Belichick. Therefore, I had to pound the pavement and put out as many feelers as I possibly could in order to give myself a chance at getting a “yes.” I think this point is important — I was less concerned with how many “no’s” I would receive. What was paramount for me was putting myself in a position to get one “yes.”

RC: Herman Edwards ultimately extended you an offer, I love watching the YouTube videos of him speaking to incoming rookies. What did you learn from him and other coaches during your NFL coaching experience? 

DR: One of the best lessons that I learned from coach Herm Edwards was from his incessant reminder that “the ball will go flat.”

He would always tell coaches to players that at some point the ball will go flat. The translation of this reminder was that we could not coach or play football for the rest of our lives. I think this is a good reminder to people that you need to always think about what sustains you in life.

RC: As someone who grew up on 8 Mile, I was thrilled to learn you were part of the NFL Lions coaching staff. As a fifth-generation Texan, what did you think about Detroit?

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DR: I am a proud 5th generation Texan. But, I was struck by the sense of community and resilience that I witnessed in Detroit. My wife and I are arrived in Motown and early 2009. Not only had the football team just experienced a winless season, but the automotive industry was tearing apart at the seams and the capital markets were in a frenzy.

Nevertheless, the folks of Detroit kept their heads high and pushed through a really difficult time. For that reason, I will always be a Motown fan.

RC: My friend Andrew Yang (founder of Venture for America) speaks often about how finance and law have made it quite difficult for students to leave their lanes, once they start on these type of career paths. When did you know that your calling was more for a coaching and leadership role rather than a traditional attorney role?

DR: Earlier this month I spoke at Harvard Law School to some students were thinking about taking alternative career paths. My advice is simply to stay in the deep end of the pool. By that, I mean that a law student who has a desire to go down an unconventional path needs to find a way to sprinkle some of those experiences into the calendar. During law school, I worked a football camp and realized that coaching was my purpose.

My second piece of advice would be to make sure that for those students who are working law firm jobs during the summer, stash some money away that could give you some runway if you decide to take a detour from the legal world.

RC: I mentor several 3L students who are struggling with what they want to do after they graduate law school. What is your advice for 3Ls who are having existential crises?

DR: For the 3L students who are having an existential crisis, first I encourage you to breathe. Second, think about experiences in your life that have brought the most professional joy. Third, think about the things that you read outside of your law school curriculum.

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Between those three worlds, there lies some semblance of what you should really be doing in life.

RC: What are you up to nowadays?

DR: Today, I serve as the founding director of the Center for Sports Leadership & Innovation at the University of Texas. I created the Center after leaving my last position as a coach with the Cleveland Browns.

I teach a class to all freshmen athletes on leadership, failure management and financial literacy. Also I spend a lot of time writing for outlets like Forbes and Fortune. I travel extensively giving corporate talks on leadership and risk-taking. I also take on a limited number of clients who want to be coached out of their current careers.

My wife and I have five kids. And one of the best things that I do each week is take my kids to a different donut shop in Austin. We call ourselves “The Donut Council” and we have official t-shirts.

On behalf of everyone here at Above the Law, I would like to thank Daron K. Roberts for taking the time to share his story with our audience. We wish him continued success in his career.

To learn more about Daron K. Roberts, you can follow him on Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter: @CoachDKR; visit his website: www.daronkroberts.com; or shoot him an email: Daronroberts@post.harvard.edu.


Renwei Chung is the Diversity Columnist at Above the Law. You can contact Renwei by email at projectrenwei@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter (@renweichung), or connect with him on LinkedIn

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