Byline: Gene Frenette
When Rich Haddad was fired in 1991 as Jacksonville University's basketball coach after four seasons, he didn't give much thought to pursuing another line of work until he got a tip from legendary coach Lefty Driesell, then midway through a nine-year run at James Madison University.
"I thought about going back to coaching, but when I called Lefty, he asked how old I was," said Haddad, then 38 years old. "He said, 'You should look into another profession. Everybody knows you can recruit players and you can always get back in [coaching]. Go make some money, and if you're not happy doing it, you can always come back.' "
Driesell's advice, coupled with a scene Haddad had seen repeated many times at the Final Four coaches convention, prompted him to look for employment outside his profession.
"I would see great coaches begging to hang on and get jobs with young, upstart coaches," Haddad said. "I decided right then, if that was ever going to be me, I wasn't going to do that. I wouldn't put my family in jeopardy that way."
So a couple weeks after his JU termination, Haddad took a psychological work evaluation, which determined that his profile made him a prime candidate to sell insurance.
In less than one year, after moving his family to Greenville, S.C., and proving himself by initially working for a meager $300 per month as an insurance salesman, Haddad secured his own State Farm agency. He estimates his agency now has more than 6,000 policies, providing Haddad a lifestyle far different than the one he had trying to climb the coaching ladder.
"Coaching taught me everything," Haddad said. "It taught me how to work, how to put myself in other people's shoes, and listen to them. I don't regret one minute of coaching. It taught me how to be a successful businessman.
"I have the best life there is right now. I come and go as I please. I play golf four times a week. We've done very well. This is a very similar skill set to coaching. I'm coaching my staff, but I still sell. I have a team [of four agents]. In the sales process, you're back to recruiting again."
Those who knew Haddad well, including Bob Wenzel - he hired him as his JU assistant before Haddad took over as head coach in 1987 - attest to his recruiting acumen. He was instrumental in convincing NBA draft picks Otis Smith, Ronnie Murphy, Danny Pearson, Dee Brown and Tim Burroughs to play for the Dolphins. Though Haddad's four-year record at JU was an underachieving 41-75, his teams were decimated by defections and injuries, including star player Sean Byrd, who had his career ended by chronic knee problems. Haddad believed JU was on the verge of turning things around before then-president Jim Brady relieved him of his duties.
"When I think of Rich and his time here, he was a fabulous recruiter," said Wenzel, now an administrator with The Bolles School. "It wasn't just the sales part. Kids liked him, he was funny and entertaining, but he also had a keen eye for talent. He could spot guys that weren't on everybody's radar. He had a good feel for people."
Haddad's recruiting skills and willingness to put in long hours turned out to be a perfect segue into the insurance world. …