Gophers football coach learned patience from autistic son

Photo by Charles Hallman Gopher Asst FB Coach Brick Haley

Brick Haley brings his three-decades-plus experience and passion to the Gophers football team. He joined the coaching staff as an assistant in January.

Haley’s coaching experience, which began shortly after his college playing career at Alabama A&M concluded (1985-88), has mainly been on the defensive side of the ball at 10 different colleges as well as a couple of years in the NFL (Chicago, 2007-08). He got his start at Enterprise High School (Alabama) in 1989.

“It was kind of a surprise to me,” recalled Haley.  “I was a communications minor, so I always thought that I’d be a camera guy and things like that. Then one of my coaches that I played for in college said, ‘Hey, they got this high school job opening up you should apply for.’”

His former coach knew the coach there; the freshly graduated young man interviewed for the opening and got hired. Ironically, “A week later I got an offer from one of the TV stations there in town,” recalled Haley. “So, I chose a path to coaching instead of going into television.”

Along his coaching journey, Brick said there were naturally some adjustments he had to make as he progressed. “I think it’s always an adjustment period where you’re dealing with a different element of individuals,” he explained.  

“High school—there’s the growth level there and the maturity level. Then in college, it gets a little bit more mature. And then in the NFL it was grown men, and the approach that you take there is that they were coming to work every day. That was their job and they had families. They had a whole different approach, and the maturity level was very much higher.

“As you move up the ladder of this profession,” said Brick, “you see so many different phases of the game. The details are probably more detailed in college than it was in high school, more detailed in the NFL than it was in college. 

“But it all goes back to the same thing. It’s taking care of the little things and being elite at the things that you do. I think that’s one thing that has been really inspiring to me since I’ve been here,” said Brick of his current coaching position with the Gophers.  

As passionate as he is about his coaching, Brick is equally as passionate about raising awareness for autism and his Brick Road to Success foundation he and his wife started several years ago. It annually hosts a golf tournament for that purpose, among others. The Haley’s have three sons, one of whom has autism.

“My son A.J. is on the spectrum. He’s functional,” says the proud father of his son, now in his early twenties. “There’s so many misconceptions of [autism]. It’s not that they can’t learn. It’s not that they’re not smart. They’re actually some of the most brilliant people in the world.

“For me…one of the things that I had to learn was patience,” said Haley. “And I think my son helped me become a better coach. I had to be patient with him and do the things that I needed to do to make him understand how things would go. I’ve seen a lot of things…through this foundation that have been earthshaking to me, and that includes how smart [persons with autism] really are.”

Asked if his next move is to be a head coach one day, Haley responded, “I did [want that] at one point in time. I don’t know if I aspire to be a head coach right now. As I was a younger coach, that was something that was really, really important to me. And I had an opportunity to interview for a job, but it didn’t pan out. 

“The thing that you want to do is, you got to be better, not bitter,” concluded Haley.