He'd always known what he wanted, even if getting it didn't play out quite the way he meant it to. He always wanted to coach, even when he was playing, even during that first golden season at Georgia Tech, when every pass he threw connected and even the pros seemed like a possibility.
He loved his wife, his daughter, and the game of football, in that order. He knew how lucky he was. Most men go their whole lives without having a dream come true: he was thirty-eight and he was looking at everything he ever wanted.
But sometimes he wondered if it was worth it. Sometimes he wondered if he wouldn't be happy working in an office: the kind of job you walk away from at the end of the day, that didn't follow you home and fuck with your family. He wondered whether he'd sold his soul, coming back to Texas, to wide-open spaces and prayers before games and politics he tried not to think too hard about.
He did two tours in Iraq during Desert Storm, when Tami was pregnant with Julie and he knew his football career was over. It wasn't so different from east Texas: sand and oil wells, crumbling towns, fundamentalism and desperation: all the things he thought he'd left behind, going away to college and swearing he'd never go back.
His first coaching job, afterward, was as an assistant at a tiny liberal arts college in New England, a school with actual ivy growing on the buildings. People heard his accent, Marine Corps layered over Midwest. They looked at him like he was a different species entirely, a half-bright redneck with a rifle rack in his truck, and no respect for women or minorities or books.
He made them like him, because he was a kid and he wanted to keep his job. He let them see that he was as smart as they were, that he agreed with them about the death penalty and affirmative action and gays in the military; he introduced them to Tami, who was beautiful and clever and funny even if she did say y'all every other sentence. He got used to the green fields, the white winters, and despite himself he missed Texas so fiercely it surprised him.
He missed the easy familiarity, the kindness, he'd grown up with--and of course, the belief that no sport was more important than football. So when people finally noticed that he was good at what he did, when he started to get offers for jobs that paid enough to feed a family, when he had actual, bona fide choices, he chose to go home.
He didn't realize what exactly Texas entailed, until it was too late. He didn't realize that he'd be working for a town, not a school. He didn't realize he'd care so much about the kids. He didn't realize just how seriously they took football, when there was nothing else left. He didn't mean for it to be forever.