One Big Tiger Family
Sept. 22, 2011
Story: Derek Wilcox
Gatorade squirted off the cup and onto 2-year-old Hayden Grant's Memphis Tigers soccer jersey.
"Need some help, Hayden?" said men's soccer athletic trainer Joshua Wood. Wood reached down and pushed the button while Hayden held the cup.
"I need to get a drink for my dad," said Hayden, as he pulled the cup away from the spout, this time squirting Gatorade on Wood.
Hayden only took a few steps before stopping to tell a couple of interested players that the drink was for his dad.
Men's soccer coach Richie Grant bent down and waited for his son to reach him, watching Hayden navigate his way through the players. Hayden made sure to inform each player that the drink was for his dad as he reached up to slap five with them, spilling a little more each time.
"This is for you, Dad," said Hayden, handing Richie the near-empty cup.
For Hayden, Tigers soccer is life. Not just because his dad is the men's head coach, but because his mom is too, an assist for the women's squad.
Jodi Grant has been has been a part of women's soccer at Memphis since the program's first year in 1995 as a player. This fall marks Jodi's 12th season as a women's soccer assistant coach and Richie's 13th season as men's soccer head coach - and their third season as parents.
Jodi and Richie were married in 2006. They welcomed Hayden to the family in January of 2009 and a daughter, Katelyn, in March of 2011. For Richie, Jodi, Hayden and Katelyn, being a part of the Memphis Tigers family has a literal meaning.
"These soccer programs do portray a family-oriented feeling," Richie said. "We don't mean to, but it's natural because the two programs are so close."
When the women's team returned to campus after winning last year's conference tournament championship, the whole men's team was there, welcoming them home at 12 a.m. Both teams are the other's biggest fans and they always cheer each other on at games.
Richie and Jodi frequently have groups of the student-athletes over to their home for a barbecue or to watch a big soccer game on television. The players from outside the U.S. get to experience a good old-fashioned Thanksgiving with the Grants, something Richie remembers doing for the first time at his own coach's house when he was in college.
You'll never hear negative criticism about one team from the other, from coaches or players. The coaches share ideas with each other about what's working on the field and what isn't.
But how do you raise two young children when both parents are coaching college soccer?
"Obviously family is our top priority, but I have a great passion for coaching and a great passion for the Memphis Tigers. With all that, and help from those around us, especially people within the program, we've been able to make it work so far," Jodi said.
Jodi said women's head coach Brooks Monaghan has been accommodating to allow her to take her baby with her on the road.
"We have a real sense of camaraderie in this program because of him," she said.
That doesn't mean the Grants haven't had to make sacrifices. Jodi voluntarily moved from 1st to 2nd assistant (part-time) when she had Hayden.
"My family has to be number one for me. I've taken a step back in a lot of ways in the program and have been very careful to not let the program hurt from that in any way. We've just done things differently a little bit so that we can make it work," she said.
Before Richie and Jodi got married, Jodi was looking to take the next step toward becoming a head coach.
"I still really wanted to have a career and I was brought up to be a loyal person and to be happy with where you're at. I've just grown to love the Tigers, and would find it hard to be somewhere else after being here, playing here and coaching here," she said.
But as Richie laughingly said, "Jodi stayed at Memphis because of me."
From August through November, Richie and Jodi are pulled in every direction. Their schedule is nonstop. They said the interview for this story is about the only time they get together.
"But we love it," Richie said. "We don't look at camp and the season like we can't wait to get it over with. You don't do anything to get it over with. You do it because you love it. You stay in the moment."
Women's team manager Carly Bykerk is one of the many who help watch the kids during practice and games.
"Hayden is such a bundle of energy," Bykerk said. "All the girls love having him around."
According to Bykerk, Hayden has a crush on midfielder Natalia Gomez-Junco.
"He changes crushes every week," said Gomez-Junco. "He just likes my name I think."
To Richie, having the kids around the players is more than just fun.
"You put the players around children, and they can be unbelievable," he said.
To some of the players, seeing Richie and Jodi being parents has changed their perspective of them as coaches.
"To have two little kids and then to work and dedicate as much time to us as she does - it's an example of how to balance family and work," Gomez-Junco said. "She's a happy person."
Richie has found that coaching isn't all that different from parenting. Both Richie and Jodi's parents were their own childhood coaches, so to them, coaching, teaching and parenting are all related.
"To have kids myself has changed my perspective on the players that I've coached, because you see them as somebody else's child. It mellows you in a good way and you see them in a different light," he said. "It isn't just purely about winning or what you can get out of them. There's much more of a well-roundedness now to what you're trying to do with them."
Jodi said it takes the same virtues to be a good coach as you do to be a good parent, and that hopefully being a coach will help her be a better parent.
"The patience that you need is number one. Hard work. Perseverance. You just want to sleep, but you can't. You just get on with it, keep going when they're running around you," she said.
Richie said there's more to being a coach than yelling instructions from the sideline.
"It's not just what we do with them from 4 to 6. Sometimes they're watching you a little closer when you're away from them, the way you respond to the texts, the emails when they're struggling," he said.
He said being a parent helps him appreciate the life lessons taught through soccer a little more.
"You throw your kids into college and into fraternity settings, and you don't necessarily have support. But as student-athletes here, they have coaches, they have captains and they have teammates to go on the road with them and help them deal with peer pressure," he said.
If there's one thing Jodi and Richie teach the most, in word and by example, it's passion.
"Go do something that you're passionate about," Richie said. "Don't just go make money, don't just get a job. It's all about helping the players believe in that on the field, and in life."