In his first meeting with the Texas Longhorns running backs, Michael Haywood talked about a lot of things. One of his phrases was particularly insightful as a predictor of the kind of running back he is looking for.
"I want guys who are willing to share," Haywood said.
"What does that mean?" he was asked.
"Sharing means that if your teammate is carrying the ball, you are willing to step up and block that linebacker or that defensive end," he said. "If you are not willing to do that, you'll be standing over on the sidelines with me. If that's what you want, it's okay with me to have a couple of big guys standing there with me."
If you took all of the good traits of all of the good running backs Haywood has encountered in his 15-year college coaching career, it is not hard for the Notre Dame graduate, who has spent his last eight seasons at LSU, to articulate the most important one.
"It's character," he said. "If you have character, then you will have tenacity and a chance to succeed as a person and a player. It is about a work ethic.
"I told the players, 'I am in the dream business and I am here to help you fulfill you dream.' Check your egos at the door and be willing to go to work'"
Haywood comes to Texas with impressive credentials, a ready smile, a compassion for people and a passion for the game. He has tutored running backs who have been extremely successful in college and who have gone on to good careers in the NFL. Most of all, he has shown an ability to inspire his players to produce.
"The word coach is a broad title," he said. "A coach has to be a lot of different things to different players. To one, he may be a mentor. To another, he may be a father. To another, a big brother. It is a coach's responsibility to figure out how best to relate to your players and then do it."
In returning to the state of Texas, Haywood is returning to his home. He was born and reared in Houston and attended St. Thomas High School. His mother's family lives in Bastrop, and as a kid, he spent many summer days at Barton Springs Pool in Austin.
"Did I ever dream of coaching here?" he asked. "Not then because I never thought I would be a coach."
When Haywood was finishing his high school years in Houston, he was highly-recruited and briefly considered coming to Texas.
"They wanted me to play wide receiver, but I wanted to be a defensive back," he recalled.
The year was 1982 and the Longhorns' boat was pretty full of defensive backs. Two of them, Jerry Gray and Mossy Cade, earned All-America honors in 1983. In the recruiting class with Haywood was Richard Peavy, who might have been the best of the lot had a knee injury not short-circuited his career.
So, Haywood chose to take his talents to Notre Dame, where he played as a receiver as a freshman, but played the next three years as a defensive back for the Fighting Irish.
He majored in government and communications and really never even thought about professional football until his final season ended with a serious knee injury in a game against Miami (Fla.).
"I had planned on being a businessman," he said. "I played football for the fun of it, but when I looked at pro ball, I realized I could have fun and make a lot of money doing it."
However, that's when fate stepped in. His knee was so badly injured he could not pass the physical for the NFL.
While working on a graduate degree at the University of Minnesota, he took on the duties of a grad assistant coach, and late in the year, he got a visit from his head coach.
"What do you want to do with your life?" the coach asked. "I believe you should try coaching as a career."
"One month later, Jim Young at The United States Military Academy at West Point hired me," Haywood said.
That was in 1989.
"I loved it and I realized I had a passion for the game and that I had the opportunity to help young men improve their lives," he said. "It was a chance to help them find their dreams."
Still, coming to The University of Texas — back to within 30 miles of where he played at his grandparents' house — seemed a stretch. He had a good run as an assistant at Army (1989-90), Ohio (1991-92) and Ball State (1993-94) before he joined Gerry DiNardo's new staff at LSU in 1995.
"I never thought about Texas because I never anticipated, with their lack of turnover in staff that I would have the opportunity," he said. "But God has a plan. When I called my mom and dad, they jumped for joy."
When head coach Mack Brown decided he was going to realign his offensive staff, he took a short list of potential running backs coaching candidates to defensive coordinator Carl Reese, who along with defensive tackle coach Mike Tolleson, had coached with Haywood at LSU.
Reese's recommendation confirmed what Brown was already thinking.
"He is a loyal guy who is going to do everything it takes to win," Reese said. "He is a team guy and coaches his players hard and tough and he teaches them to be physical. He has recruited in Houston ever since I've been at Texas and I have really admired how he works."
For Haywood, the chance to coach at UT touches deep at his roots, at the tradition of Longhorn football and the opportunity to continue working with Texas high school coaches.
"What a fabulous opportunity," he said. "I have the opportunity to coach at this great place and to work for a guy I consider to be one of the nicest men and best head coaches in college football and it is an opportunity to work with a quality staff."
All of that, Reese says, reflects that Haywood does exactly what he says he teaches his players.
It is the difference between a healthy ego and diseased conceit.
"He is a good solid guy," Reese said. "He is polished and very confident, but he does not let his ego get in the way of being part of the team."
Which, after all, is all that Haywood asks of his players.