What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
My old football coach at Florida State, Tom Nugent, said, “Never prostitute your integrity to get a job or keep one.” It’s stuck with me ever since. If you have to prostitute your integrity, get out of that job as soon as possible, because if you don’t, it will catch up to you. You’ll get ahead, but it’ll be temporary.
You’ve called yourself the “luckiest guy alive.” Why is that?
I’ve got good health and a great family. My wife and I have been married 59 years, I’ve got four children, 10 grandchildren. I’ve had two careers — one in coaching and one in television — and I’ve gone through it without sacrificing my integrity. I’m proud of being a head coach for 17 years without once having an NCAA investigator question any of my players.
Your father was an Italian immigrant. What did his experience give you?
It gave me everything. When I was 17, the Dodgers tried to sign me to a $5,000 contract to play shortstop. My dad said, “You are going to get a degree and make something of yourself that way” — it was a turning point in my life. I went to Florida State, got a B.S., an M.S., and an honorary doctorate in the humanities.
What has watching football all these years taught you?
Never give up. It hit me when I had a stroke six years ago. I did speech therapy and all that stuff. It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Getting clobbered by Michigan and Ohio State wasn’t as tough as battling through a stroke. I made a living talking on national television, and I couldn’t talk! But I had a goal to get back to work on television again.
How should a man handle getting old?
Whaddya mean “handle it”? You just go with it! You gotta just be what you are. You can fight all you want and it ain’t gonna change. Like me, I’m 80. The only people who want to be 80 are 79.
What’s the secret to being a good loser?
Have a sense of humor. Be compassionate, understanding. Have the proper perspective. It’s not the end of the world.
What can Americans learn from their obsession with big sporting events?
After it’s over, forget it. You should make it important, do the best you can, and move on to the next one. That’s one good thing sports teach you — you win a few, you lose a few.
You coached a season in the USFL. How does coaching pros compare with coaching college?
In college, the players play for you, but in pro football, you work for the players. If they don’t like ya, you’re done.
What’s the best way to motivate people?
By listening to them. People talk too much and don’t listen enough. You’ve got to listen to people to get them to respect you.
What kind of college roommate was Burt Reynolds?
He was so good-looking I used him as bait. He’d walk across campus and bring back two girls, one beautiful and one ugly; I got the ugly girl. His ugly girlfriends were better than anyone I could get on my own. We were a dynamic duo: I had the car, and he had the looks.
What role should humor play in a man’s life?
Society equates strength with a stern attitude and humor with weakness, but I believe it’s the opposite. I’ve never believed humor to be a sign of weakness. Humor will get you through a lot of situations.