Editor's note: This Friday, the Vanderbilt men's basketball team will play their first non-exhibition game of the season against the Presbyterian College Blue Hose at Memorial Gym. As part of a project interviewing a wide range of Americans on the verge of their 50th birthdays, from The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne to Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins, writer Rob Trucks spoke to Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings just two days before he turned 50 on Oct. 1. They discussed some things not usually broached with a two-time SEC Coach of the Year — like how he's never downed a beer and sipped champagne only once (at his wedding), his fondness for the music of Vince Gill, what causes heartache ... and why he doesn't expect to be Vanderbilt's basketball coach 10 years from now.
I would say that the first thing I wanted to be was a professional baseball player, and then I wanted to be a professional basketball player, and then I think pretty early I just decided that I'd like to be a basketball coach, and I've been really fortunate to be able to do that.
I think I figured out in high school that coaching would ultimately be where I landed and it would be what I wanted to do, and so I'm one of the fortunate few that I don't feel like I get up and go to work. I just feel like I go in and do what I really like to do, and that's been a real blessing.
Q: Tell me something you've never ever done before in your life.
I've never drank a beer.
I will have retired before I'm 65. There is zero chance that I will be coaching at 65 [laughs]. Zero. There is zero chance. I would say less than zero, but there isn't such a thing.
I think a lot of it is stress. And you certainly wonder at what point are you shortening your life because you're doing something that produces the amount of stress and anxiety that what we do produces.
But I just don't have any desire to coach when I'm that old. And I know that there have been guys that have coached older than that and done so very successfully. But I think with the Internet and talk radio and all of the things that have come along sort of in my coaching generation that coaching careers will be shorter rather than longer as time goes on.
As important as this is to me, it's not the most important thing in my life. I'm about my wife and my kids and my family. I don't want to say that I want to do other things because there aren't a lot of other things that I am interested in doing, but I will have no problem walking away [laughs].
And that sounds like I don't like it, and that's not the case — because I do like it, and I especially like it where I'm at. I really like it at Vanderbilt. I really like everything that we've got in place here. But there's just nothing about me that thinks of me coaching in my 60s. That's not ever been a consideration to me. And fortunately, if, you know, it all goes well, financially I'll be able to do it.
A lot of guys need to do this for their ego and a lot of guys need to do this for their self-image and their self-worth. I don't. I just . . . I mean, I just don't.
When I walk away I'll walk [laughs]. And I'll walk away gladly and hopefully quietly. Hopefully my kids will have kids and I'll be going to Little League games and playing catch and doing the things I did when my son and daughter were little [laughs], and that's what I hope I'm doing again, just hopefully I'll be doing it with their kids.
I've got a daughter in the fourth grade and I would love to make it until she's out of high school.
Nine more years. I really don't have 60 circled in my head. I use 60 as a number, but ... if I didn't have a little girl in the fourth grade right now I don't know how much longer I would coach.
I think when my daughter gets out of high school, I just think my time will be up. There's not an age thing that prevents it. It's just that's what I see as my window and that's what I see as my time.
Q: Tell me something that you've done once and one time only.
I had some champagne at my wedding.
Now 50 sounds funny. I mean, that sounds funny to me. I'm going to be 50. You know, I became a head coach when I was 32 and I was one of the youngest if not the youngest head coach in the country at that time, and it reminds me of a Vince [Gill] song that "some things never get old." You know, you look in the mirror and you see yourself as being younger than you are. You just don't think that you're as old as you are, but I think I can still do an effective job with the guys that I coach, and I would certainly retire before that if I thought that I couldn't relate to them anymore. I don't think relating to them will be the problem. I just kind of see that as being my window and my time, and somewhere in that vicinity my time will be up, I think.
I kind of have this theory that I think that people think that they're 20 years younger than they are. I mean, I don't think of myself as a college student anymore. I just have this thing that I think that people just generally think that. And don't get me wrong. I don't think that I'm 30 either. But if I look at myself coming the other direction I probably feel like, honestly I probably feel like I'm 38 or 40.
Q. How old were you when you realized that life was not fair?
In the fifth grade when my brother got killed in a car wreck.
I don't think there's a lot of sense in sitting around worrying about when your time is going to be up because I don't think that's something that we truly have complete control of. And I think that hardship puts so many things in perspective. You know, I talk to my team a lot of times about the differences between problems and inconveniences. If you lose somebody close to you, that's a bit of a problem, but a lot of the things that we consider difficulties are really just merely inconveniences.
And so I think you can either sit around and mope about what you've lost or you can be grateful for what you have. And, you know, I've always chosen to try to be grateful for what it is that I have. I mean, honestly, I'm not morbid and I don't want to sound that way, but I've lost — let me think here — I've lost two older brothers, a younger sister and both of my parents, so ... I still have two brothers left, but my point simply is that ... that's more than most.
That's, you know, as crazy as it sounds, just part of life and ... so to me, like I said, I choose to be grateful for what it is that I have, and I have a lot. My frickin' cup runneth over with all the great things in my life. So that's just how I see it and how I feel, and whether I'm 49, 59 or 69 or whatever it is, I've been blessed beyond beyond.
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