On and Off the Turf: Scott Abell is a Winner
Slightly more than 3 years ago, Davidson College issued a release announcing a press conference to introduce the new football coach. On a January day, News of Davidson, other members of the media, and a number of local alumni filed into the Red Ventures Room in the Vance Athletic Center. President Carol Quillen introduced Scott Abell and shared why she thought he was the perfect pick for the Wildcat head coaching position.
But before I get into details about Coach Abell, let me provide some narrative historical context.
Full disclosure, I’m a Wildcat fan. I like Wildcat sports. I have been a fan since I arrived on the Davidson campus in the Fall of 1983. I have photographed Davidson sports since the Fall of 1983. Most of those college yearbook photos are in black and white, while my current images are digital.
Though my 26-year Navy career impacted my ability to regularly attend Davidson sporting events, it afforded me the opportunity to be one of a handful of Wildcat fans to attend some of the ‘Cats games in far-away places – including a volleyball game in Hawaii and a men’s basketball game in Los Angeles. The latter featured a very young Stephen Curry and the Wildcats in the Wooden Classic. But let’s get back to more recent history.
In Spring 2017, the Sports Information office reached out to ask me to cover the Spring football game with the specific intent of photographing one of the new assistant coaches. I took a couple of cameras and wandered the sidelines and endzones, capturing photos of the assistant coach while also taking several hundred photos of the scrimmage.
The Spring game is a fun event. In addition to lots of family members in the stands, prospective players and their families are on the sidelines. It’s an even more family-friendly event than a regular season game – and regular games are pretty darn family-friendly. Remember that fact as we hope to move into a post-COVID, vaccinated world.
As I took pictures that Spring Saturday morning, I became somewhat disheartened at part of the experience. I heard a LOT of profanity. Now, a reminder here – I spent 26 years hanging around salty Sailors. I’m pretty sure I have heard most every profane word and/or combination of words that have been uttered. However, the use of profanity to the extent that I heard on the sidelines that day was – at best – disappointing. I have never felt that using an abundance of profanity is helpful coaching. When I got home, I talked with my four-sport collegiate athlete spouse, and she confirmed that profanity was never a motivational coaching technique.
Fast forward a year. Coach Abell had arrived in Davidson in January. The Spring Game in 2018 was less than four months into his tenure. He was coaching a team that he hadn’t recruited. And yet, what I experienced – what I saw and heard on the sidelines of that game was essentially the antithesis of the game one year before. I sensed transformational change. Coaches were coaching with positivity, encouraging players to focus on teamwork. They ended huddles with “WE.”
And just in case I thought it was only my imagination, I sought out confirmation of my assessment. I talked with a couple of other Davidson athletes – senior scholar athletes in other sports. They confirmed my suspicions. They shared that their peer senior football players were so impressed with the changes that they were disappointed they would not have the chance to play for Coach Abell.
Leadership matters. And Scott Abell is a leader. He is a leader for his players, and he is a leader for his coaches.
Football under Coach Abell has also been fun for the fans. And while I’m willing to suggest that any win is fun for Wildcat fans, I can’t overlook the ‘Cats 91-61 win back in 2018. It was a football game with a basketball score. The game had been moved up due to impending rain and winds of Hurricane Florence, and the limited crowd on hand for the mid-week game saw one heck of a football game. The game set records for scoring, rushing, touchdowns, and blocked kicks.
Now, as the headline suggests – Scott Abell’s leadership has been felt off the sidelines, as well. And that means beyond football.
Coach Abell also started a new effort to thank season ticket holders. Rather than putting season tickets in the mail, Coach decided that he and his team captains should personally deliver some of the tickets. We saw pictures on social media the first year he did this, and the following year we got the phone call. And on a Saturday morning, Coach and the six team captains of the 2019 team showed up to deliver our tickets. Class act!
When the team traveled to San Diego, Abell saw to it that the team spent some of their off the field time visiting the Navy SEAL training facility in Coronado. The team took the time to reflect on the sacrifices of former player Joshua Harris – a Navy SEAL who died in Afghanistan. The following season, Abell and the Wildcats hosted Josh’s team at a home football game, presenting the family with a game ball.
As the coordinator of a program that provides housing for homeless neighbors (pre-COVID), I need volunteers to make our program work. So, when I had some challenges finding volunteers to help set up and take down our beds, Coach Abell came to mind. I reached out to him to see if he thought some of his players might be interested in helping. After all, a bunch of physically fit football players could make short work of what would take a group of mere mortals roughly an hour to accomplish.
When we started the Roof Above season in the Fall of 2018, Coach Abell’s players made the difference. And perhaps even more importantly, they had fun doing it.
Not only did the players show up on Thursday afternoon and help set up the beds, they started a competition to see who could set up and make up the beds the fastest. That’s right, they not only did the heavy lifting work, but they also picked up the fitted and flat sheets and made the beds. Full disclosure, some of them asked us not to tell their parents that they had these particular skills.
On Saturday mornings, members of the team showed back up to take down the beds. (Yes, college students/scholar athletes volunteering on Saturday mornings.) And this, too, turned into a real competition. I regularly started the stopwatch as they began to dismantle 12 twin beds and arrange all the pieces and parts in a storage room. It is a process that has to be done methodically in order for everything to fit.
The speed with which the football players undertook the efforts was only exceeded by their level of commitment. Several of the players were there week in and week out. They took on leadership roles as new players showed up – teaching their teammates how to get the job done right, and quickly. This was teamwork off the field.
And as he stood there with members of his team one Saturday morning, Coach Abell said “consider our support a lifetime commitment.”
We hope our Roof Above program will be able to safely return either later this year or next year. If it does, Coach Abell is on speed dial as we look for volunteers to help us help our neighbors in need.
I’ll close by reiterating that Coach Abell is a class act. My News of Davidson colleagues and I wish him and the Football Wildcats all the best as they head to Jacksonville, Alabama to take on the Jacksonville State Bulldogs in round one of the FCS Football Championship. And beyond the football field, we thank Coach Abell for being a genuinely positive force in our community.
Go Coach Abell! Go Cats! You make us proud – on and off the field.