People get to the NFL in all sorts of ways. Ben McAdoo drove his Daewoo.
It was February of 2003. McAdoo had just finished a season as an assistant coach at Fairfield and was going to be an assistant coach at the University of Pittsburgh the following season. But before that, he wanted to meet with Mike McCarthy, a fellow product of Western Pennsylvania who was a bright young coach in the pros and was attending the scouting combine in Indianapolis.
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So he packed up his playbooks, gassed up the Daewoo, and off he went. From Connecticut to Indianapolis. Through a snowstorm.
“I remember driving in West Virginia over the hills trying to figure out if I was on the road or not,” he recalled. “It was one of those type deals. Everyone was in a state of emergency, and I am trucking through. It took me about 26 hours.”
The year after his odyssey to Indy, McAdoo was hired by McCarthy to be a lowly quality control coach for the Saints. He followed McCarthy to the 49ers and eventually to the Packers.
Two years ago, he set off on his own and became the offensive coordinator of the Giants. And now he has reached the pinnacle of the profession, having been named the 17th head coach in Giants history.
“We talked on the phone that evening, and the next day at lunch, I was coming back from the workouts and Ben was sitting in the hotel lobby waiting for me,” McCarthy recalled of that first encounter. “He drove all night just for an opportunity to sit down and talk football. That’s my first impression of Ben McAdoo, and to see what he’s put himself in position for is no surprise. He’s tremendously dedicated not just to his family but to the coaching profession.”
Said McAdoo of that drive: “You got to do what you got to do sometimes.”
For him, though, sometimes is pretty much all the time. And those who have known him the longest — longer than McCarthy even — recognized early on that if McAdoo wanted something, he was going to work for it.
THE BAG MAN
McAdoo was about 11 years old when Rick Foust first noticed him.
“He was kind of a round little guy,” the longtime head coach at Homer-Center High School said in a telephone interview with Newsday.
But that wasn’t what stuck out most to Foust.
McAdoo wanted to play youth football but was over the weight limit for his division. “I would drive over to the high school in the morning and Ben would be out in a big green garbage bag running,” Foust said. “He had to lose this weight.”
That was the first indication to Foust that McAdoo would not allow anything to stand in his way. Eventually McAdoo became the starting left tackle on one of Homer-Center’s championship teams. Ironically, he was undersized for the position because he had trouble putting the weight back on that he had lost in the Hefty bag.
A year after he graduated from the program, he was back as an assistant coach for the 1996 Wildcats, working with Foust while attending nearby Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
But even then, his eyes were upward.
“You could tell at that time that when he set his mind to something, he worked hard to get there,” Foust said. “Ben as a kid, as a football player for us, he’s always been very goal-oriented and very driven. He will, I’m sure, turn every stone. He’s probably already laid out a plan for where he’s headed and what kind of changes need to be made [with the Giants].’’
“You could tell he had his mind set on where he wanted to go,” said Joe Bernard, the head coach at Fairfield who hired McAdoo for the 2001 season and now the offensive coordinator at the University at Albany. “The way he approached every day and how he prepared and his organizational skills, he was one of those guys, early in and late out. You knew he was destined to continue to rise through the coaching ranks for sure.”
At Fairfield, Bernard said the assistant coaches had tiny cubicles. When he left his office every night, although he couldn’t see over the partitions, he knew someone was back there working.
“I’d say, ‘See you tomorrow, Ben,’ and he’d say ‘All right, Coach,’ ” Bernard said of the blind back-and-forth. “He was continually trying to get himself better as a football coach, not only doing his job but continuing to learn from other people and progressing his knowledge of the game.”
HARD WORK PAYS OFF
For a brief period of time, McAdoo’s path did deviate. After getting his master’s degree and spending a season as a graduate assistant at Michigan State, he considered law school. But after one year away from coaching, McAdoo realized how much he missed it. So he went back to it.
Not the glamorous stuff such as calling plays and recruiting players, but the exhausting behind-the-scenes work that goes into a football program. Cataloguing film. Charting plays. Making photocopies of game plans. It was bliss.
”When you are doing the quality control-type work and the type of work that no one else in the building wants to do and you are thoroughly enjoying it, you realize you made the right decision,” he said. “I was excited for the future.”
So were those from his past who have been along for the ride, the ones who have followed him from his days as the pudgy son of a coal miner in a garbage bag all the way to New York City’s biggest stage.
“A couple of years ago, we had an outstanding run with our season and he sent a few messages our way, wishing us good luck and to keep up the Wildcat tradition, which he was obviously a great part of,” current Homer-Center football coach Greg Page said. “I read it to our kids. I told them: ‘This is tremendous, somebody from our small town.’ He’s not forgotten.”
Homer City is about 40 minutes away from Pittsburgh.
“Growing up, there was a little bit different than a lot of people around here can be familiar with,” McAdoo said. “Work ethic was important, grit. Sticking together.”
McAdoo played a lot of sports, not just football.
“I’m not going to sit here and say I was great at any of them,” he said. “I was never the pretty girl in anything I did. I always had to work for what I wanted.”
Foust said old pictures have been circulating on Facebook between family and friends showing McAdoo as a player and as a young assistant coach on his staff. Foust’s son, Eric, was an assistant with McAdoo and now is a coach at Shippensburg.
“I’m sure when he gets a chance, he’ll say to some of his players, ‘You know, a guy I used to coach with is now the head coach of the New York Giants,’ ” Foust said. “It’ll be a big thing for everybody.”
And, Foust said, a testament to the kind of people who come out of that coal dust-covered corner of the country.
“I’ve coached kids who are farmers and they’re still farmers, I’ve coached kids who wanted to be policemen and they’re still policemen,” Foust said. “I’ve coached a person who was an FBI agent, a person who went to the CIA. Kids who are doctors. And now I’ve coached a guy who is a head coach in the NFL. You look at it and you understand that these kids have a motivation to them, they have a place that they’re looking at. There are strong family ties in Homer City and Ben’s family was strong, and their support of him was 100 percent. That’s probably a lot of what you see here, and that’s what people see in him.”