Old Dominion head coach Ricky Rahne remembers the first few months of his new job in Virginia like it was yesterday.
After spending six years at Penn State, Old Dominion named Rahne their next head coach in Dec. 2019. From there, Rahne packed his bags and made the 400-mile trip to Virginia alone.
For the next few months, Rahne spent more time alone than ever. While his family stayed in State College, Penn., he stayed in hotels, including one right by the ODU campus. Then, he moved into a donor’s beach house in Sandbridge, a beach town about 40 minutes away from campus.
According to Rahne, the beach house slept upwards of 25 people; however, when Rahne was there, it was just him, his Playstation, and a daunting rebuild facing him head-on.
“I don’t believe in ghosts, but if they existed, I can assure you that they were there,” Rahne said. “The wind would be hitting everything and all that stuff. It was wild.”
Rahne’s story isn’t unique in the life of a college football coach.
According to Football Scoop data, 24 Football Bowl Subdivision schools hired a new head coach this off-season. FBS schools also hired 106 new coordinators (60 offensive and 46 defensive), marking a significant change in the landscape of coaching staffs.
Moving to a new job comes with a laundry list of challenges. Some of those are expected – like hiring a new staff if you’re the head coach and meeting the players – and some are unexpected.
Among those unexpected ones is finding a house.
Although every coach has a different approach to finding a house, Rahne says he’s learned that finding a home is a “bit of luck.” While some coaches may buy the house of their predecessors, Rahne credits his wife, Jennifer, with finding their current place.
“We were having a problem buying a house, and my wife is the ultimate go-getter,” Rahne said. “So, she started driving around the neighborhood that she wanted to live in. She was kind of down, and she saw a dog. My wife loves dogs, so she got out of the car. She said, ‘Can I pet your dog?’”
Rahne continued: “My wife was sad and the lady could tell. … So, this lady takes my wife to the house. My wife tells her why she’s kind of down, and she goes, “You know what, I know somebody who’s about to move.”’
Brent Dearmon, who was hired as North Alabama’s head coach after one season as Florida Atlantic’s offensive coordinator, has taken a different approach.
Instead of buying, Dearmon has chosen to rent. The decision to rent made getting out of their house in Boca Raton, Fla. easier.
“One of the things that I’ve learned to do over the years in this business is we rent,” Dearmon explained. ““I think my rent [at FAU] started in January of last year. … So, I was able to get out of my rental property there pretty quickly.”
Dearmon’s decision to rent, however, was not their first choice. Ideally, he says, they wanted to buy a house in the area, but they ultimately got priced out by the housing market.
“We looked at buying a house because we have three kids. So a four-bedroom, two-bath house in a good neighborhood, it’s running for $800,000-$900,000,” Dearmon said. “That’s a good chunk of change right there. And then you gotta put 5% down, so you got to have a good amount that you’re willing to give away of savings to drop on just the downpayment on the house.”
The role of a coach’s wife
Regardless of the difficulty of buying a house, the bulk of the move is often delegated to the coach’s partner.
Among the wives who had to experience a move during the off-season was Melissa Mutz. Mutz’s husband, Michael, was named the defensive coordinator at Stephen F. Austin after seven years at Tulane.
“I would say the coach’s wife is the CEO of the move,” said Mutz. “We have to figure out where we’re going to live, who’s going to move us. Schools for kids, churches. We have to do everything because when the coach gets the call, he just goes.”
As Melissa explains, the move from Tulane to Stephen F. Austin was a combination of excitement, panic, and anxiety. The family was excited about the opportunity, but soon, the reality of packing up and moving set in.
“It was kind of exciting, but then anxiety takes over and panic, and you’re like, ‘Oh, my goodness, there’s so much,’” Mutz said.
“And, he left the next day. So everything is left for the coach’s wife to do. And he is not much help because when he took the position, he was going straight into spring ball, and then recruiting, and then camps.”
Like coaches, wives aren’t alone. When Michael Mutz accepted the job at Stephen F. Austin, Melissa said that the other wives on staff reached out to offer advice on school districts and places to live. Melissa also explains that there are multiple groups on Facebook where partners can find answers.
“If you’re going from one staff to another, and the other staff has already been there, then the other coaches’ wives are very helpful in telling you recommendations about the area.”
The move, however, still brings plenty of challenges. One of the more challenging for Mutz was finding doctors.
“The hardest things are finding doctors for those of us who need to see doctors regularly and having all of your medical records switch,” Mutz said. “That is such a pain because you get somewhere, and you finally find doctors that are able to help your condition, especially if it’s rare. And then you have to go to a brand new place, find doctors, and explain your situation.”
There was also the small task of packing up their current house and leaving an area they grew familiar with.
“When our house went under contract, it got really real because this is where I brought my babies home to; this is where they had all their firsts,” Mutz said. “We had a lot of health issues. So, I had a transplant while we lived in this house. I went from being very sick, not sure if I was going to make it, to finding health and another child.”
Overall, most coaches share the same sentiment about coaches’ partners.
“I think there’s gonna be a special place in heaven for all the coaches’ wives to hang out for all that they put up with,” Dearmon said.
Telling the Kids
Above anything else, though, the toughest part of the move for the family might be telling the kids.
With younger kids, telling them about a major move can bring a mix of emotions, especially if it’s the first time a coach is moving away from a staff.
When Rahne told his two kids they were moving to Virginia, he remembers a mixture of excitement and tears.
“They both started cheering and were really excited. And then almost instantaneously, they also both started crying,” Rahne explained.
“You got to remember that all their friends were the other kids of the coaches that I was with at Penn State and Vanderbilt. That was nine years in a row that they were with basically those exact same families. And so all sudden, they started realizing that the only friends they really ever could remember, they were about to leave.”
Rahne continues to explain when he realized that his kids were struggling to adjust. At a lacrosse game in Virginia, Rahne realized that his oldest son wasn’t giving the effort he often did. Rahne remembers his children breaking down because they missed their friends, a moment he calls “heartbreaking.”
“You work your whole life for an opportunity like this,” Rahne said. “And then to have the things you care about most in the world be sad. That was a little heartbreaking.”
According to Rahne, the most emotional moment of the process was when his kid’s friends held a parade during COVID to say goodbye. Before that, Rahne admits that he didn’t get time to feel many emotions because his responsibilities took over.
“I think the emotional part is, is with the kids and your wife because they don’t have all of that stuff that they’re doing all the time,” Rahne said. “You’re just you’re constantly go, go, go, go, go trying to catch up. And you never feel like you ever get caught up. So, I never had time to feel to myself, ‘Okay, yeah, now I’m sad.’”
The move can be even harder when the kids are born in a place. When Melissa Mutz and her husband told their oldest son they were moving to Texas, he immediately assumed that everyone he knew was also moving.
“He was excited. If we went to the grocery store, he got a kick out of telling everybody he was moving to Texas,” Mutz said. “But then he’d go down the list and say … everybody’s coming with us. And so, it didn’t quite register to him that [his father] would be coaching for a different team.”
Dearmon’s path, however, differs from Mutz and Rahne. Dearmon has moved every year since 2020, so his two kids were a little more familiar with the process.
“They got so used to us moving out in my profession that I think it’s turned into more of, ‘Oh, it’s that time again,’” Dearmon said.
Dearmon has realized that the constant moving has impacted how his oldest son reacts when they move to a new place.
“My son doesn’t really open up much to people anymore when he gets to a new place,” Dearmon said. “I almost think he worries about making friends because we move too much that he really doesn’t open up to people as much as he used to when he was a little bit younger.”
Rahne also realized that his kids struggled to open up after the move, but after COVID-19 restrictions began to be lifted, they began to open up more. Rahne credits a few things for that shift, including their participation in team sports.
“My youngest son plays hockey, and once he was able to find a hockey team that he really liked and got around the kids … I think that helped him out and made him feel comfortable,” Rahne said. “My older son, he was invited to play on a basketball team with a bunch of kids who went to a charter school around here, and he really liked the kids.”
While there’s no handbook to moving, Rahne believes the biggest piece of advice is to exercise some patience with everyone.
“I would say to be patient with your family,” Rahne said. “That will probably be the biggest one because it is going to be hard on them.”
Mutz agreed, mentioning that the families should enjoy where they’re currently at, and take the entire process day by day.
“Enjoy your current position, where you’re at now, and make all the memories you can make. Take a lot of pictures,” Mutz said. “And then, when it comes time to move on, give yourself some grace and just breathe. There’s going to be some long nights, and there’s going to be some stressful times, but it’ll all work out in the end.”