For Tommies football coach, it’s family first

| February 14, 2013 | 0 Comments
University of St. Thomas head football coach Glenn Caruso, center, walks onto the field with his players before the homecoming game against Bethel University in October 2012 at O'Shaughnessy Stadium. The Tommies won 37-0 and went through the regular season undefeated. Photo by Mike Ekern/University of St. Thomas

University of St. Thomas head football coach Glenn Caruso, center, walks onto the field with his players before the homecoming game against Bethel University in October 2012 at O’Shaughnessy Stadium. The Tommies won 37-0 and went through the regular season undefeated. Photo by Mike Ekern/University of St. Thomas

Glenn Caruso to speak at archdiocesan men’s conference March 16

Glenn Caruso courted his wife the same way he coaches football — he set his sights high. He met his future wife Rachael in 1998 while serving as an assistant coach for North Dakota State. She was finishing up her degree in dietetics and nutrition, and they both were serving as volunteers in the Special Olympics.

“We were both in charge of different things and she stood up at a subcommittee meeting one day and started to give her talk about how things were going,” said Caruso, 38. “I said, ‘All right, that’s the lady I’m going to marry.”

“I heard her talk, I could see her positive nature,” he said. “She’s certainly a beautiful gal, but what really shines through is her care for other people and her positive nature, and that’s a big deal to me.”

The two married in May of 2001 and, seven years later, he became the head football coach at the University of St. Thomas. His teams have improved every year over the five years he has held the reins, and the Tommies fell just one win short of a national title last December, falling to Mt. Union in the NCAA Division III championship game.

Caruso will talk about football, and more importantly, family, when he appears at the annual Archdiocesan Men’s Conference in March. He won’t have far to go to make the speech. The event will be held on the UST?campus at the field house.

Setting priorities

Anyone wanting to know what matters most to Caruso need only take a peek inside of his office on the third floor of the new Anderson Athletic Complex. The only visible sign of his job is a Tommies football helmet on a shelf in front of a window, placed behind more than a dozen pictures of Caruso and his wife and kids — Anna, 8, Cade, 7, and Truman, 5.

In fact, anyone who spends any time around the team will inevitably run into Rachael and the kids.

And, those four key individuals came up early and often in a conversation he had with The Catholic Spirit about his team and his values. And, they’ll no doubt be mentioned in the talk he gives at the men’s conference.

“We’ll talk about, in my opinion, why we were put on this earth, which is to raise morally responsible, well-educated kids to hopefully grow up to be great parents, great spouses,” he said. “Our responsibility is to our kids, more so than to any other facet of our life.”

His second priority is his football team, which to him is an extension of his immediate family. The word family serves as a cornerstone of his program.

“For us, the word family is an acronym that our kids wear on their wrist everyday, and it stands for Forget About Me, I Love You,” he said. “It’s the idea that if you’re willing to put yourself second, and a greater cause first, great things can occur.”

That certainly has held true for his team, which was 2-8 the year before he arrived and has had winning seasons all five years of his tenure. The seniors who report to practice next fall have not lost a regular season game. St. Thomas last lost a game in the regular season four seasons ago and has suffered its only loss of the season in the playoffs three straight years, each of those years advancing further than the previous one.

How does he think his teams have managed to keep improving?

Through failure.

“I’m a big believer that failure is something that is also a blessing,” he said. “I believe that. And, I think I am in the vast minority on that. I think most of our society believes that failure should not be embraced, and failure should be suppressed and failure should be at all costs avoided. We went 14-1 this year and I’m pretty sure that I learned more from the one loss than I did [from] any one of the 14 wins.

“I think that we get successively better because when the failure occurs, we don’t try and suppress it, we embrace it. [It’s] the old story of being thankful for the thorns. Everybody can be thankful for the roses. They smell nice, they’re pretty, they’re fun to look at. Everyone likes them. And, we will be thankful for the roses. We’ll never miss the opportunity to enjoy the journey. But, we’re also going to be thankful for the thorns because at the end of the day, that’s probably what helps us build our character more than a pretty smelling flower.”

Important part of team

A beautiful flower with thorns on its stem sums up the situation he faced when he met Rachael. After seeing her and instantly falling in love, he got the chance to talk with her a week later at another Special Olympics meeting. That’s when he sprung his feelings on her — and got poked with a sharp thorn.

She informed him that she already had a boyfriend. Then, before he could say ouch, he shot back that she should go and tell the boyfriend thanks, but she was going to end that relationship and begin another, one that had long-term potential.

“She thought I was just nuts, and I was dead serious,” he said.

Nine months later, she agreed to go out. Today, she not only is his wife and mother to their kids, but an important part of the team.

“She is absolutely the head coach of our operation,” he said. “I say all the time I have three kids but she has four because she’s got to deal with me, in addition to the 8-year-old and the 7-year-old and the 5-year-old. Her selfless nature and her true care for other people is the reason why I am able to do what I do.”

“And,” he added, “she takes a great deal of pride in our team, as she should because even though she is not the one who has the quotes in the paper and she’s not the one who’s picture is up on the website, she is every bit the one that allows us to be high functioning here.”

Although she doesn’t get involved in recruiting players, her offspring serve as an important barometer of a player’s character.

“Our kids are at practice probably twice a week and hanging out with them [players] all the time,” he said. “I believe you can tell a lot about a player by how he handles it when you put your 5-year-old on his lap. You can tell a lot about who that person is and how he was raised and how he deals with kids.”

Aiming high

For Caruso, there is no conflict between football and family. And, that’s a big reason why he is happy at St. Thomas and why he has no interest in moving on in his coaching career, despite that his success surely by now has drawn the attention of colleges higher up the NCAA ladder.

“I’m so confident in what we have going on here at St. Thomas, the idea that I can meld the only two things I really put the vast majority of my time into — my family at home and our family here,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of hobbies. I don’t like hunting or fishing, I’m not a snowshoer, I’m not a guy who vacations all over the place, I don’t drive fancy cars. But the things that I’m passionate about are those two [family and football].”

That said, he is not shy about admitting that, as much as he tries to learn from failures, he nevertheless wants to achieve the ultimate goal – a national championship. “That’s been the goal from Day one,” he said. “And, as long as I am the head football coach at the University of St. Thomas, that will never change. I’m just not a believer in setting goals any lower than the absolute top. I’ve been like that since I can remember, and I will never change that. So, I have no problem saying that’s the goal. It will be every single year I’m the head football coach here.”

Yet, he will not leave his family in the dust as he goes after this goal. He already thinks ahead to his funeral, where he is certain that whoever gives the eulogy will not talk about trophies or championships. Rather, they will talk about the job he did at home.

“I love winning. You’re probably not going to meet a guy that’s more competitive than me,” he said. “But, even though I’m still that competitive, at the end of the day, it pales in comparison to how good of a father and how good of a husband I am.”

 


Men’s Conference scheduled for March 16

Men in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis are invited to attend the annual Men’s Conference, which takes place Saturday, March 16 at the University of St. Thomas Field House from 8 a.m. to noon.

For those wanting an early start, eucharistic adoration begins at 7 a.m., along with the sacrament of reconciliation and registration. The conference officially begins at 8 a.m. with Mass celebrated by Archbishop John Nienstedt. After that will be featured speakers, including University of St. Thomas head football coach Glenn Caruso.

Register online at archspm.org.

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