Friday October 16th, 2009

Jim Jeffcoat doesn't look like you. To start with, he's 6-foot-5. And muscular. And his neck is the size of a hot-air balloon.

Jim Jeffcoat doesn't share your background, either. Your 20s and early 30s were spent at the bank. Or the law office. Or in school. His 20s and 30s were spent winning two Super Bowl rings as a standout defensive lineman with the Dallas Cowboys.

But, in a sense, you were Jim Jeffcoat. Jim Jeffcoat was you.

Two years ago, as the economy was collapsing and the political landscape was changing, Jeffcoat found himself sitting behind a desk in an ordinary looking insurance office in Dallas. Like most of his peers and colleagues within the world of insurance sales, Jeffcoat wore a suit and tie, handed out business cards, attended power lunches, kept a neat desk and computerized files.

"It's not an easy job, being an insurance agent," says Jeffcoat, who owned his own agency for two years. "You're always working to bring in new customers and to sell yourself to different people. It's a long day."

In other words, at age 46, Jeffcoat was bored. Not miserable. But uninspired -- similar to the way you, reading this column in between conference calls, may well feel right now. The copy machine is busted. The coffee is lukewarm. The guy in the neighboring cubicle likes to randomly (and loudly) quote scenes from Napoleon Dynamite. Somebody stole your paper clips.

On the bright side, Jeffcoat was around for his wife, Tammy, and their four children, which was a relief following an NFL career that lasted from 1983 through 1997. But, well, he yawned a lot.

"You need to do what you love," he says. "It's a big part of being happy. And while I certainly didn't hate the insurance business, it wasn't my calling. So I did what everyone in this world should probably try and do -- I went back to my love."

From 1998 through 2004, Jeffcoat worked for the Cowboys as an assistant coach, teaching linemen the same tricks that helped him accumulate 102.5 career sacks and 745 tackles over 227 games. Yet when he was fired by Bill Parcells in January 2005, Jeffcoat felt lost. Football was all he had known since his days at Arizona State in the early 1980s. He lived and perspired and bled Cowboy blue. "It was an adjustment," he says. "No doubt."

Two years ago, a mutual friend placed Jeffcoat in touch with Leon Burtnett, the new linebackers coach at the University of Houston. The Cougars, Burtnett told him, were planning on building a powerful program with a new staff, and they could use someone of Jeffcoat's talents. Kevin Sumlin, the program's newly hired head coach, agreed.

"I talked it over with my wife," Jeffcoat says, "and she told me that she knew this was what I'm meant to do. She was right. I love coaching, love teaching young players how to do something the right way. It makes me happy more than any other job I've had."

That optimism is hardly dampened by the fact that the Cougars, overlooked by most in the preseason, are 4-1 and ranked No. 23 in the nation (the have beaten three BCS teams and their lone loss was a 58-41 defeat to UTEP).

From Saturday through Thursday afternoon, Jeffcoat spends his time in Houston. He then flies home Thursday nights, determined to catch his son Jackson's football games at Plano West High (another of his sons plays basketball at Norwich University). "I fly back Saturday mornings, and usually my family will drive down for the weekends. Somehow, we've made it work."

His dream, one day, is to run his own collegiate football team. To recruit the players and pace the sidelines and call the shots. When that happens, he will surely reflect back on his time in the insurance business, when football felt 100,000 miles away.

And he will be happy.

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