The Oregon State coach on ditching a lucrative finance career, taking over a losing team, and being the President's brother-in-law
After playing basketball at Princeton and in Manchester, England, I got my MBA and spent several years at Morgan Stanley (MS) in Chicago. When they wanted to move me to New York, I left for a boutique firm. I was going through a divorce and couldn't leave my two young kids. My plan was to put away enough money to pay off the house and my kids' college educations, then maybe teach and coach high school basketball.
Out of nowhere, Bill Carmody, one of my old Princeton coaches, got the job at Northwestern and asked me to be an assistant coach in 2000. I could get in on the ground floor of a [NCAA] Division I basketball program and stay in Chicago, but it paid about one-tenth of my finance salary. My financial goals hadn't been met yet, and the divorce made the decision harder. My children were facing a major shift, and now they would have to go from having a fancy house and fancy vacations to none of that. It turned out they couldn't care less. They just wanted to know I was going to be around. But the deciding factor was opportunity: This chance probably would not come up again.
I became head coach of Brown in 2006. The tough choice was coming to Oregon State in 2008. I was inheriting a mess. Oregon had been so bad for so long, four or five other coaches had turned it down. The reality, however, was that it was a Pac-10 school, and the kids could use my help more than the kids at Brown, who were already pretty driven and accomplished. I felt I could make more of an impact in Oregon.
People know Mike Krzyzewski or Tom Izzo. People wouldn't know Craig Robinson if I wasn't the brother-in-law of the President. It gives me a little bit of brand recognition and helps with recruiting. I tell my players that everybody's watching what they do. It brings more pressure, but that's life. I also tell my players what my parents told me: Don't pick your career on the amount of money you make. When I got a chance to buy all the stuff I wanted, I discovered it didn't mean a thing.