Married to Football

A behind the scenes look at being the head ball coach’s wife, with Sara Doeren

From the outside, being married to a Division 1 head football coach seems glamorous: good paycheck, traveling to games and meeting interesting people. But what’s life really like when you’re a coach’s wife? I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I met with Sara Doeren, wife of Wolfpack Head Coach, Dave Doeren, and she agreed to give me a behind the scenes look at their lives. I can tell you I did not expect to pour an entire glass of tea on her. In slow motion, the drink toppled over. The lid popped off and like a cruel perfectly aimed tea cannon, the icy liquid cascaded directly onto Sara’s lap. I was mortified. Through nervous laughter I apologized and offered to pay for her dry cleaning. 

She laughed too: “I’m a Mom of three boys! I don’t wear clothes that need dry-cleaning!” And with that auspicious beginning, Sara opened the door to her home and her heart about the good, the bad and the sometimes bizarre of being married to football. 

IMG_9679Are there any rituals or superstitions for game day?

Dave used to have lucky shoes, lucky socks. There was one time, when we were dating, I thought his lucky shoes were in the Goodwill pile, and I donated them. When Dave asked where they were, I had to go to the Goodwill and ask them to search through their bins to find them. That was embarrassing! But after a while, you have to leave without the shoes and the outcome is exactly what you wanted, you realize, “I guess I didn’t need those.”

Now, Dave has to get up and go for a long walk with a cup of coffee that he rarely drinks; he just walks. And whether it’s me, or the boys, we have to go. That’s part of it, you have to go for a walk every game day. It could be 10 degrees out and you’re just walking in the parking lot. It’s not a weird ritual, because it’s just a walk, but it’s every game day.

After a game, is there anything special you do?

Most big games, a handful of recruits will be in town that will have dinner at our house, win or lose, which (after a loss) is not always fun. When Dave comes back, he just has to relax. He’s been so focused and so “on” during the game for five intense hours. He just needs to sit back, so he’ll come home, get a few minutes to get himself together and then we’re entertaining. I’m really fortunate because all of the coaches are amazing. It’s never just Dave and me entertaining 12 kids and their families. It truly is a family atmosphere.

Do you cook for recruits? 

No, we cater. I am a terrible cook. I’m just going to put that right out there. I’m horrible! But even if I was a great cook, I don’t think I could pull that off, I mean being gone all day and then coming in and flipping that [switch]. I don’t know how people do that.

What are some unique challenges you face as a mom?IMG_4859

We’re in a profession that is entertainment essentially. But it’s not entertainment for us. It’s our livelihood. You need a winning record to keep your contracts going. I don’t know if social media has spun this out of control or what, but people think they can say the most bizarre things. I’m OK if it’s to me but when they start getting my kids involved…that’s the hardest part. I can shelter my kids, but I can’t completely shelter them.

How do you handle it?

For the most part, the kids have really great friends, the ones that can say, “Good game, I’m glad we won, want to go play baseball?” We have had to teach them to turn the other cheek early on, and it’s a little sad that you have to do that over sports but it goes both ways. We had a great teachable moment because when we beat Carolina they went into school excited and went right to their (Carolina fan) friends and talked it up, but the next year when Carolina beat us and it came back to them, they realized it didn’t feel so good.

Youíve used the word “bizarre” to describe things people have done, can you give us some examples?

Honestly I try to block them out. We were in Wisconsin, and my son had a teacher who said, “I wish I could help you out but you’re Wisconsin, and I’m Michigan State.” My kid came home and said, “Ms. So & So said she won’t help because she’s a Spartan.” I’d say, [incredulous] “Wait, is that true?!” So, we scheduled time to talk to her, thinking for sure she was kidding or my son misunderstood. And she said, “It’s just really hard. Every time I see him… I just really don’t like the Badgers.”

Wow.

There have been times we bid on houses and people would refuse to sell to us because they were fans of the opposing team. In one city, we stopped getting our newspaper. The deliveryman was a fan [of the opposing team].

What’s the most fun part about being a coach’s wife?

Bowl games are great carrots at the end of a good season. You don’t want to be home for Christmas. Every year people ask me, “Where are you going for Christmas,” and I just say, “I hope not here!” I love that time of year. I like not knowing where you’re going to go but you’re going to go somewhere fun. Dave’s busy because they still have practice but the bowl schedule is just completely different. You’re doing fun activities throughout. Also, traveling to sports venues I’ve never seen before is neat. Not everyone gets the opportunity to hop on a plane and do that.

Anything that you want people to know?

Our lives are like any other, just maybe under the microscope a little. A friend and I were talking and she made the best analogy. Her husband had been working on a deal for two years and it fell through. He came home disappointed and then the next day, they got up and went out for pizza. She told me: “Dave has a disappointment, and everybody knows about it. The disappointments my husband has are very private.” I had never really thought about it that way, but that is truly what it is.

What do you think is hardest for people to understand about your lifestyle?

I can’t tell you how many times people ask, where’s your husband? I’ll say, “He’s coaching football.” They either get it or they don’t. Luke was bitten by a dog and had to get reconstructive surgery. It was a Friday before an away game. We met with the doctor, understood the plan and he kissed me and said, “OK, I’ll see you after the game tomorrow” and he left. The surgeon just looked [shocked], “Is he really leaving?” I said, “Yes, he has to; he has a game.”

What is your favorite part about being in Raleigh?

It’s just such a beautiful city. I absolutely love the trees and parks; it’s just so lush. Dave takes the kids hiking and fishing. The fact that we can get to the lake, the mountains and the beach so quickly is awesome. You can do all those things just a couple hours away.

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