Darren Witcher, the father.
Darren Witcher, the disciplinarian.
Darren Witcher, the tutor.
Darren Witcher, the friend, the mentor, the psychologist, the shoulder to cry on and the best handshake in Westwood.
The guy wears many hats for UCLA in his role as director of player development for the football team.
It is a role that came about organically, after head coach Rick Neuheisel realized Witcher’s role of director of football operations was not capitalizing on his strengths.
Mainly, the ability to talk and to listen.
“They had that position at the next level, and I had the opportunity to go to Seattle and witness firsthand the director of player development for the Seahawks,” Witcher said, smiling, as he always does. “Players are in his office all day long, talking about school any and everything. School, taxes, they’re talking about it. We saw the need at this level, developing young men into men. School, their personal lives, somebody to speak with; whatever they want, I’m there for them.”
Lost in the hoopla of a true freshman playing quarterback is this: That quarterback is 18, away from home for the first time, out of the structure and discipline of mom’s house, with a school schedule that he decides and is charge of enforcing. For many, the transition is full of stress and loneliness. For many, the transition is full of trips to Witcher’s office.
“(College football) is definitely not a job, it’s an experience,” said Witcher, who played defensive back for Washington for four years before a knee injury ended his playing career as a senior. “With experience, it takes time. When you’re coming in as a freshman, it’s going to be tough. You have to get acclimated to the school – the academics, the athletics. You have to take this responsibility on, just like that. You go from 17-18 years old to 27-28.”
That’s half of his job, helping new players get adjusted.
The other half: Helping old players get adjusted.
Only now, Witcher wants to help the graduating players transition to the next phase of life, as 18 players will finish playing for UCLA this year and only a few will keep playing next year for someone else.
Witcher speaks often of the league and he does not just mean The League. He means the next step, the working world, real life.
“This is not the end-all,” Witcher said. “This is preparing you for the league. I always tell guys they’re all going to the league. Once you get here, UCLA, D-1 football, you’re preparing yourself for the league. I say, ‘I’m in the league, I’m just not playing ball.”
Most think they’re going to The League.
Most are wrong.
“I’ll bet you nine out of these ten guys think they’re going to the National Football League, and when you’re thinking that and it doesn’t come about, you’re like, ‘Uh-oh, that was Plan A. I don’t have a Plan B.’” Witcher said. “Plan A – shoot, plan double-A – is to graduate so you can still go to the league. Might not be the NFL – might be a CEO, CFO or COO, those acronyms like the NFL.”
And when a player does succeed, when he comes back without a jersey on but with a shirt and tie, Witcher is satisfied.
“It’s still wins and losses,” Witcher said. “The win, though, is when somebody is getting a D in a class and I tell them to finish strong, help them any way I can, get extra tutoring, or just that word of encouragement, and all of a sudden, the guy gets a B-. That’s a win for me. That’s a big-time win.
“A loss is when you’re not taking care of your business.”
And that’s when Darren Witcher, the father, the disciplinarian, comes in.
Darren Witcher, the friend, the mentor, the shoulder to cry on? He’s not too far behind.