Though an NFL career was not to be for Eric Hyman, his football days were far from over when he finished playing in 1973. Following his brief stint as a defensive tackle with the New Orleans Saints, Hyman immediately entered the coaching ranks as a graduate assistant at Furman. He spent nine years on the staff and earned his master’s degree in education administration. That led to various administrative roles, including stints as athletic director at Virginia Military Institute (1984-90), Miami University (OH) (1995-98), TCU (1998-2005), South Carolina (2005-2012) and currently at Texas A&M. Hyman, an all-conference defensive tackle at North Carolina (1968-73) who was selected to play in the Hula Bowl, has always kept the game close to him. In this exclusive interview with FootballMatters.org, Hyman reflects on the impact of his high school coach, the changing nature of collegiate athletics and the parallels between the game of football and running an athletic department.
Eric Hyman: I was on a Pop Warner team when I lived in Berlin, Germany. My dad was stationed in Berlin in the military. We played five or six games a year. We traveled to West Germany to play at some of the other military establishments. That was my first exposure to football, as like a 10 or 11-year-old.
FM: When did you make your way back to the States, and how did you make your way onto North Carolina?
EH: I was only in Germany for three years. My dad got stationed at the Pentagon, so I went to high school at Mount Vernon in Alexandria, Virginia. When I was a freshman in high school I was 6’2” and 180 pounds. I said to the coach, ‘I want to be a fullback or a tight end.’ He looked at me up and down and said, ‘Son, you are a tackle if I ever saw one.’ I never got out of putting my hand on the ground, as much as I wanted to do something else. Eventually I was recruited out of Mount Vernon to go to North Carolina.
FM: How significant were your coaches in your development, not only as a football player, but also as an individual?
EH: I wouldn’t be where I am today without the kind of mentoring I got from my high school coach, Jack Miller. He was very near and dear to me. He was just a sweet person. He taught me so much in life, and I don’t think I would have made it to where I am today without him. He was so giving and he taught me some principles of working with young people. That’s one of the reasons I got into coaching, and from there I got into administration because of making an impact on a young person’s life, which is what he did to me.
FM: You tried out for the Saints and then you immediately got into coaching. Was that because you had influential coaches such as Coach Miller and you wanted to teach other young people the game as well?
EH: There’s no question about it. I’m very blessed to have had him coach me. I was lucky enough to have him be a chapter in my life. Everybody knew on the team that he had our best interests at heart, which to me was a key ingredient and a characteristic I took over in student-athletes I coached: Make sure that you have their best interests at heart. It’s not how much you know, it’s how much you care.
FM: Getting into coaching, how did that lead you on the path to administrative roles?
EH: At one time I wanted to be a head football coach, and I had some opportunities to move on as a defensive coordinator. I ended up not doing it. I got my graduate degree in administrative education. As time went on my direction philosophically and professionally changed and headed more towards going onto the administrative path. The administrative path was more conducive to what my long-term goals and objectives were. My interest toward becoming a head coach began to wane, and my interest toward getting into administration began to skyrocket.
FM: How have you seen collegiate athletics change in the last three decades?
EH: It’s much more difficult today to be a student-athlete because of the visibility and because of all the social media. You’re so scrutinized. If you make a mistake it becomes national headlines. Another thing is the expectations have skyrocketed. As an administrator you have to manage expectations and define what reality is, like when you’re asking an 18-year-old kid to come in and be the starting quarterback of a football team. It just takes a while to understand the ropes. But the expectations that people have are much higher than what is realistic.
FM: You were hired as Texas A&M athletic director on June 30, 2012. The next day, July 1, A&M officially joins the SEC. You were thrown right into the fire it seems.
EH: Obviously being in the SEC for seven years at South Carolina, I think that was one of the things that interested Texas A&M. My roots are in Texas. My sister went to A&M; my son-in-law went to A&M. I’m familiar with the state of Texas. But on the flip side of it, I also knew the SEC, having worked at South Carolina for seven years. It was ironic because I had no clue I was coming to Texas A&M, and we had discussions in the SEC about A&M. In those discussions I was sitting there as the athletic director at South Carolina, talking about whether Texas A&M should join or not, what the strengths and weaknesses were. Lo and behold, six months later I’m at A&M. So I think it’s rather ironic. But I think one of the reasons they hired me was to help with the transition of Texas A&M going from the Big 12 into the SEC.
FM: Are there certain philosophies or processes that you took from football that you use in your day-to-day administrative roles?
EH: There are a lot of things I try to do from my coaching and playing days. I believe in running a department like a team. I’ve always said teammates make team members better. We’re all on the same team. It’s not my team, it’s our team. When we work together with each other we have a greater chance to be successful. Is it always going to be perfect? No. Life is not a game of perfect. But life is full of experiences and successful people learn from the experiences. If you’re playing defensive back and the wide receiver does a head fake and runs a post pattern and catches a touchdown, that’s going to happen. If they do it time and time again, what’s going to happen to you as a defensive back? You’re going to be on the sidelines. All those examples I try to use as analogies, and some of the fundamental things I talk about are all based predominantly on my coaching experience and my athletic experience.
FM: What role has football played in your life, and what does the game mean to you today?
EH: It has had a huge impact on me, and it has had an impact on me for many reasons. One of the reasons is because you learn failure, and from failure you learn to determine the things that it will take for you not to fail. You get knocked down. That’s life; you’re going to get knocked down. What you do is dust yourself off and pick yourself back up. Hopefully you learn from getting knocked down. It’s the same thing as a football player. You get pushed and you find out what you can do physically and mentally and how far you can be pushed. People can be pushed a lot farther than they think they can. You relate that to running an athletic department.