I never imagined I would fall in love with a TV series about a high school football team in Texas. Each winter when college bowl season rolls around, my family and friends know to expect another of my rants about how semi-professional sports have no place in our educational system. (A reprise follows during March Madness.) I resisted watching Friday Night Lights until last summer, when a friend persuaded me to give it a chance. My husband and I watched the pilot episode on Netflix and promptly went on an FNL bender, running though the first four seasons in just a few weeks. Last Christmas I gave him a “Riggins 33” jersey as a joking reference to our mutual crush on FNL heartthrob Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch). When the fifth and final season ended, we both went into a Friday night funk.
FNL co-stars Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton are again up for Emmy awards in their roles as Coach Eric Taylor and his wife Tami. The series ended on a high note for the long-suffering yet resolutely spirited Tami; as the closing music swells, we see Tami striding confidently across the leafy college campus where she is now dean of admissions. Though it’s not unreasonable to quibble with Tami being plucked from obscurity for such a big cross-country promotion, it’s nevertheless heartening to see woman successfully relaunch her career after a lengthy hiatus as a stay-at-home mother and wife.
This spring I attended the iRelaunch Return to Work Conference in Boston, organized by career planning experts Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin. Co-authors of Back on the Career Track and relaunchers themselves, Carol and Vivian have astutely capitalized on the growing demand for practical advice and networking opportunities for the legions of women (and a few men) seeking to jump-start their careers after taking time off.
Watching the final episode of FNL, it dawned on me that Tami Taylor’s professional trajectory would make a fun addition to the real-life success stories on the iRelaunch website.
Relaunch Success Story
Dean of Admissions, Braemore College
My husband Eric and I met in college; I was a cheerleader, he played football, and we were both raised in conservative families in Texas. We fell madly in love and got married while we were still in school. Our beautiful daughter Julie was born right after graduation, and I stayed home with the baby while Eric began his career as a high school football coach. We moved around a lot for his job, so for the next 13 years I was full-time mother and coach’s wife. Around the time Julie started high school, we finally settled in the small town of Dillon, Texas. I was starting to get restless at home, and Eric’s coaching salary wasn’t quite enough for us to buy a nicer house, so I was real happy to land a job as a guidance counselor at the public high school where my husband was head coach. I’ve always been a real good listener, and I found I loved counseling kids from all different backgrounds and helping them with their college applications.
I’d had been back at work less than a year when I found out I was pregnant with our second daughter, Gracie Belle. I was pretty torn up about whether to put her in daycare or quit working, but when I was offered the job as principal of Dillon High I knew it was important for our family’s future that I keep working. Unfortunately in my first year as principal I got caught up in some very ugly politics about the advice I gave a student who got pregnant and later had an abortion. I got fired and my husband’s coaching contract wasn’t renewed, and we both ended up working over at East Dillon High, with me back as a guidance counselor. I swear, it felt like two steps forward, one step back for both of us.
Then, last fall I attended a big conference for educators where I spoke up about the negative effect so much standardized testing is having on students. Afterward, out of the blue, I got a phone call from a private college up in Pennsylvania, wanting to fly me up to interview to be their new dean of admissions. I guess they were looking for a fresh perspective and they liked my ideas, because they offered me the job! I was over the moon, but I almost didn’t take the job because, wouldn’t you know it, Eric was offered a great five-year contract to coach Dillon’s new “super team.” If you know my husband, you know he can be stubborn as all get out and that he doesn’t much like to talk about his feelings, so it was pretty tense between us for a couple of weeks.
At Christmastime, Julie and her 19-year-old boyfriend Matt came home from college and threw us for a loop by getting engaged. Eric and I took them out to dinner to try and persuade them not to rush into marrying so young, and he started up lecturing them about how “marriage requires that you listen, really listen to each other and the greatest of all things, which is compromise.” And then Julie was real sweet and told us how our marriage had always been such an inspiration for her. Well, that did it. I excused myself from the table and when Eric followed me outside I said, “We have compromised, both of us, for your job, and now it’s time to talk about doing that for my job because otherwise what am I going to tell our daughter?” I told him, “It’s my turn, babe.”
Compromise is especially hard for my husband because, after all, there’s not a lot of room for compromise on a football field – not if you want to be on the winning team, that is. Buddy Garrity and the Dillon boosters were leaning on him real hard to sign the new contract before the State championship game, and Braemore was still waiting on my final decision. I’d pretty much given up on the idea of accepting the Braemore job and had taken Gracie Belle to see Santa Claus at the mall. Eric tracked us down and surprised me by saying, “It’s your turn. Will you take me to Philadelphia with you?” It was the best Christmas present I ever got!
I love my new job. Moving up north has been a huge change for our family, but it’s so exciting for me to have a leadership position at a great college. Eric is coaching at the local high school, and while it may be quite a few years before his team will make it to the playoffs – let alone win a state title – I think we both can be real proud of the work we’re doing. Juggling two demanding careers isn’t easy, but I think we both feel like winners now.