UML Sits Down with Retired NFL Linebacker George E. Koonce Jr, PH.D.
Written by Poindexter on October 1, 2014
Recently UML got the chance to sit down and chat with Dr. George E. Koonce Jr. We see that you have been keeping busy since retirement.
Let’s start out by asking who was your favorite football player growing up?
GK: Reggie White. He was my favorite player growing up. How ironic was it that I was able to be his teammate from April 6, 1993 until 1999.
Were you highly sought after coming out of high school?
GK: No. I had only one Division 1 offer and that was with Appalachian State in Boone, NC. I couldn’t go because I was a Proposition 48 and didn’t have high enough grades and test scores. Proposition 48 required recruits to score a minimum 700 out of a possible 1,600 points on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), or 15 out of 36 on the American College Test, and have at least a 2.0 high school grade-point average in 11 mandatory courses to be eligible. In 1987, the year I graduated from high school, the average S.A.T. score nationally for all students was 906. The average score for blacks was 728.
When did you realize you might have a chance to play professionally?
GK: After my junior year of college at East Carolina University (ECU). When I was a junior one of my teammates was in his senior year. He played the linebacker position and got drafted. I knew that I was better than he was so I thought that if I stayed healthy I would also have a chance at getting drafted.
What’s the everyday grind of a NFL player like?
GK: I was at the facility at 6:30am every morning and meetings started at 7:15am. I know that I had to be on my “A” game at all times. It’s all about production in the NFL. If you couldn’t produce then you were gone.
How was it to play in the Super Bowl and what was the biggest challenge in going back-to-back seasons?
GK: First, it was a dream come true for me to play on such a large stage. The biggest challenge was that you couldn’t sneak up on anyone. Every other team in the league was studying that game so every week you are getting everybody’s best shot. It was pretty tough to say the least.
What made you decide to retire after the 2000 season; you started all 16 games with Seattle and appeared to be healthy?
GK: I certainly didn’t volunteer. I was involuntarily retired. I wasn’t signed to another contract with the Seahawks and none of the other 31 teams made me any offers. In the locker room, the acronym NFL means “not for long.”
How’s life after football?
GK: It’s okay now. However, life after football was a rough transition because I felt like I no longer had a purpose in life. For over a decade, my life was running around on the football field. It took years after my involuntary retirement to wrap my head around the fact that I would not be returning to the football field. So, I had to reinvent myself and I did this by redirecting my purpose in life towards an education platform.
Was the transition from football into retirement difficult?
GK: It was brutal. For some odd reason, I thought that I would play forever or at least be the one to say when I would step away from the game, but for me, that wasn’t the case.
What’s a normal day like for you?
GK: On an administrative level, I arrive in my office at Marian University around 8am and leave around 7pm. Now, I have truly found my purpose in life and that’s giving students an opportunity of fulfilling the American dream of getting a college education…..that’s my purpose.
Do your kids play football?
Is there anything you can recommend to current players on preparing for retirement?
GK: Don’t let football use you. You need to use football. Often times, guys go through the process of college but never complete the academic process. I encourage players in college to dedicate themselves to their academics while they are playing so they are prepared for life after the game. I encourage players preparing for retirement to take advantage of the unique business and networking opportunities that are presented. Social networking is a key ingredient to a successful transition of an athlete.
What are your thoughts of the current state of the NFL?
GK: I think it is in a very precarious place right now. Having veterans in the locker room like Reggie White, the elder statesman, is almost nonexistent. Right now, there are 21 teams in the NFL that have someone on their team who has been charged with domestic violence this year.
Any thoughts on the Ray Rice situation?
GK: It’s a very unfortunate situation. Did the league handle this correctly? I think they got it wrong, but hopefully they can figure it out. They have to make sure that players get proper guidance. The league has a history of protecting the players but they must show more ethical and social responsibility by protecting the spouses, children and significant others.
You received your Masters in 2006 from your alma mater Eastern Carolina University, joined Marquette University as Senior Associate Director of Athletics (my wife’s alma mater) in 2007 and received your Doctorate. How did you decide to return to Milwaukee after receiving your Masters? After Marquette you became the A.D. at University Milwaukee-Wisconsin (I thought we’d get a local college football team) and now you have made the move to Marian University in Fond du Lac. Is this how you imagined retirement?
GK: I felt that the best opportunities for me to reach my potential were to return to a place where people admired and respected by brilliance and talents. I have been able to grow as a scholar here. As for retirement, I don’t consider myself retired. I would like to work until the age of 75.
What’s next on the radar for Dr. Koonce?
GK: Dr. Koonce is looking to continue his education and learn and grow. I am looking forward to pushing myself to levels that I only dreamed of as a young boy growing up in Eastern North Carolina. For starters, I have my first book coming out this winter, Is There Life After Football. I have several more personal milestones that I would like to achieve and I have no plans of slowing down anytime soon.
Our online publication covers a wide variety of topics. We cover fashion, technology, music, automobiles, hobbies etc. How would you describe your fashion style?
GK: I like traditional and classic style.
If we picked up your MP3 player, what type of heat would we find and what would it say about you?
GK: Throwback. I enjoy listening to artists like Anthony Hamilton, Mary J. and Jill Scott.
Are you a tech junky, if so, what’s your favorite piece of tech you own?
GK: Not at all. I am technology illiterate.
Do you interact on social media, if so what’s your poison of choice? Twitter? Instagram? Facebook?
GK: Yes. Facebook. I enjoy posting daily motivational and encouraging messages to my FB family and friends. I also see this as a way of giving back. I do it with the hope that my messages will help others. I get a sense of extreme personal satisfaction when I receive positive feedback and responses to my FB posts.
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
GK: A morning person.
Perfect vacation? Relaxing beach getaway or Las Vegas high rolling?
Bow tie or necktie?
Scotch on the rocks or a beer?
GK: Bourbon on the rocks – Basil Hayden’s
Grass or turf?
GK: Grass, because it’s easier on the joints.
In closing, UML would like to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share with us and our readers. You are a inspiration to males and athletes, there is definitely a life after sports. Please stay in touch and if there’s anything you would like us to share on your behalf on our site or social media be sure to reach out. Thank you again.