In his 14 seasons as head coach at Texas A&M, R.C. Slocum compiled an impressive resume.
A 2012 College Football Hall of Fame inductee, Slocum has the most wins (123) of any Aggies coach in history. He won four conference championships and never had a losing season in College Station. He also helped oversee A&M’s transition from the Southwest Conference to the Big 12 and had more than 50 of his players drafted to the NFL.
Wins and losses aside, Slocum said the biggest joy he got from coaching was mentoring young men with difficult family backgrounds and helping them earn an education.
“I saw in those players that I coached the same dramatic changes that I saw in my own life,” Slocum said.
Growing up in Orange, Texas, Slocum lived with his mother and step-father in a low-income dwelling. The absence of a high school education meant Slocum’s father made a modest living, though he took night classes to eventually earn his GED. In the seventh grade a physical education teacher asked Slocum to go out for football, which changed the course of his family’s life forever.
“I’ve often wondered what my life would have been like without football,” he said. “I grew up in an uneducated family, lived in a housing project for part of my childhood, and we were poor because my family was uneducated. They were hard at work and honest people, they were just strapped by the fact that there was no education.”
Slocum took a liking to the game and found he had some natural ability at tight end. With the help of dedicated coaches throughout junior high and high school, he became a good enough player to earn a scholarship to McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La. He became the first member of his family to attend college and earned his master’s degree in educational administration in 1968.
Once Slocum entered the college ranks the rest of his family followed. His two younger brothers, M.B. and Daniel, also attended McNeese State. Eventually his two sons, Shawn and John Harvey, attended A&M, with Shawn currently serving as associate head coach at Arizona State. His oldest granddaughter, Tayler, graduated from A&M in May, and the rest of his nieces and nephews have earned college degrees as well.
“You take a family that a couple of generations ago you might have called poor white trash, and all of a sudden we look pretty smart,” Slocum said. “That’s all because of football. I owe everything I’ve ever done to the game, because that’s what opened the door.”
His family’s success story inspired Slocum to join the coaching ranks when his playing days ended. He spent two years in the high school ranks and two years at Kansas State before coming to A&M. Aside from a one year detour to USC in 1981, Slocum spent the rest of his coaching career – from 1972 to 2002 – in College Station, becoming head coach in 1989.
Slocum made it a point to seek players from lower-income families while on the recruiting trail. Knowing how football helped make education possible for him and his family, Slocum helped young men follow his lead and become the first in their families to attend college.
“I’ve had just so many of those guys that when I went in there I could see myself several years earlier,” Slocum said. “It had to do with education and opportunities in families where there was no education and there was usually some poverty. If you take those guys and put them in an environment and polish up on them a little bit, then all of a sudden their lives change.”
In many instances, football did prove to be life-changing for Slocum’s players. He said he still keeps in touch with many of his former players and feels a sense of pride knowing that a college degree has served them well.
“I’m old enough to have seen those guys’ lives change and now to see their kids graduating from college,” Slocum said. “Family trees taking a quantum leap from where they were because of education, which was created by the game of football.”