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Troy Vincent: A winner on the field and off

Troy Vincent isn't suprised the Dolphins are struggling this season. He knows the Dolphins don't have a great quarterback and in the NFL, it's practically impossible to successful when your quarterback play is inconsistent.

""When you look at the state of the league, when you don't have consistent quarterback play, I'm not surprised," Vincent said this week. "I never forget when I came to the Dolphins and Danny [Marino] shared with me, 'You win in this league, Troy, with consistent quarterback play so you'll have a chance to win here every week.' He was talking about himself at the time. But as you develop as a professional you look around and see that when you don't have the quarterback play, and the quarterback down there is gone for the season now, and it's up in the air who's going to be behind the center, you're going to have challenges. It's tough to win in that situation. And over the last few years it's been that way in Miami."

Vincent played for the Dolphins from 1992 when Don Shula made him the No. 7 overall selection in the draft until 1995. He went on to play for the Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins in a career that spanned 15 seasons.

Today, Vincent is the NFL's Vice President of Player Engagement, formerly the league's player development organizaton. And from that perch Vincent deals with current and former players every day, trying to make sure they prepare and succeed in football today and their lives when the games and careers are finished.

"My sole responsibilty and purpose is to help those young men to transition -- those coming from college into the pros as rookies and then help those that are transitioning out," Vincent says. "Let's identify what you want to do with your life and identify the skills you learned as a professional athlete and put those to work as you go into the next phase of your life."

Vincent is arguably the greatest cornerback ever to play for the Dolphins. And the stories he shares of his first days with the Dolphins are priceless.

"When I came in I remember coach [Don]Shula picked me up in his Crowne Victoria and, fortunately at the time, the club was filled with veterans and he said to me, 'I'm going to drop you off when we get to St. Thomas and there's a gentleman I want you to go see. He will teach you how to be a pro. It's number 56. I want you to go to his locker and introduce yourself.' It was John Offerdahl," Vincent said. "And at the time I was embraced by John. But coming in from coach [Barry] Alvarez at Wisconsin I already knew football was a game, it wasn't a career. It wasn't something I could do the rest of my life. Coaching you can. Playing you can't."

(Can you imagine Don Shula going to Miami International Airport and picking up his first round draft pick in his own personal Crowne Victoria? Classic.)

"It was a Crowne Victoria," Vincent repeats. "I was sitting in the back seat. He said to me, 'Son, I can only hide for you for two years.' I said, 'Hide me? What do you mean hide me?' He said, 'I can hide you for two years and after that the league will find you. The league will know who you are and will expose your greatest weakness. But if you become a student of the game, you'll play this game as long as you want to.'

"And that was my first conversation with coach Shula. I was so surprised and taken aback, I'm looking out on 836 and thinking, 'I can't believe the coach said he's going to need to hide me.' But what he was trying to instill is that your athletic ability will only take you so far. But if you make a commitment, and that's why he wanted me to engage with John Offerdahl, because he will tell you what you need to do to be a pro, then things can be diferent. And I had no idea what he was talking about. But once I got in the league I found out what he meant because everyone is talented. And those that make the additional sacrifices Monday to Friday are the ones that really give a team a chance to win on Sunday. I want to say it was the greatest words of advice that any coach has shared with me."

Vincent is 41 years old now. He's got a family. He's a success. And he's the made with advice for current Dolphins players. Yes, the players he knows are winless and obviously professionally hapless now.

"Continue to believe in your coach," Vincent says. "Come back [from the bye weekend] refreshed, recharged as you start the second part of your season. It's not over. Continue to believe in your coach. As a former player and the head of Player Engagement, engage ... The club has many resources. You have to engage so that we can assist you both on and off the field."

Vincent has overseen the changes in the player programs. It was necessary because while the programs to help the players had evolved and the services had evolved, and even as the league evolved, the office of player program services had not evolved. Vincent brought about that change.

"It needed a new facelift," he said. "It needed a new look and feel and quite frankly new objectives."

Some of those objectives?

Develop a better student athlete.

Develop the best group of professionals on and off the field.

And create a lifetime fraternity of men who are successful in society that happened to play professional football.

"We've seen it grow," Vincent says of his Player Engagement Organization. "... I would probably say we have a little over a third that truly maximizes the resources at the club level and league level."

Vincent obviously wants all players to embrace the programs that are available to them. He gets graduates of programs to come back and talk to current players about the advantages of using the resources. He even has ways of reaching out to players' significant others to get them to encourage the men s to seek the resources available to them.

"At some point in time, none of them know when their careers will end," Vincent says. "There is no policy or instruction when the game will end for any of us. We want you to begin to think about what life will look like after the pads are off. As professional athletes, we're often high-strung. We're often our own worst enemies. We don't like thinking about tomorrow. But tomorrow will come with or without us. And we want to make sure they're prepared."

I have a theory about NFL players post-retirement. Most fall into one of three categories: There are those that go into coaching on some level or another. There are those that go into the media on some level or another. And there are those that are broke about five minutes after their career ends.

The middle class, the folks that go on to open businesses or work in industry, are few and far between.

"Those are the guys we want to reach most," Vincent said. "We concentrate our efforts on the every day guy. We have an array of programs to introduce the men to the business world and the entrepenurial world. Just because you played the game doesn't mean you're going to be great coach or great commentator. Most of our service offerings are for the every day guy."

To me the most impressive program Vincent's office has is the tuition reimbursement program. The NFL pays the player to go back to finish his education. The league even pays for post-graduate education. That covers books, tuition, everything -- up to $15,000 per year. That is available while the player is current and up to three years after he's out of the game.

"Most of our players, about 45 percent of our population have their degrees. One of our degrees is to get that to around 60 percent which is far more than any other sport. It's double actually of any other sport."

Obviously there are down and out guys. Vincent sighs deeply when I asked him about them. He obviously has a place in his heart for those guys because many suffer from post-career medial issues. Many more deal with emotional problems, including depression.

And Vincent understands because he, too, dealt with a form of depression after leaving the game.

"I probably had a phase of that," he says. "When you read about the symptoms ... Look, we're prideful individuals and no one wants to be tied to that stigma. That's a stigma. That depression is weak. Depression is not weak. It's what am I doing? What's my value in society? What value do I bring to my family today? I would say after reading about it, studying it for so many years, being on the other side of the table, being 24, 25, 27 years of age and never talking about it growing up, but now understanding the signs and knowing the medical research, I would say I had my phase.

"We're seeing high levels of men not transtioning well. And we see depression set in. And they don't understand it's depression. They're just looking. They're trying to identify who they are. Where they want to be in life. What we look at when we say, down-and-out, we try to assess the individuals where they are. I was there once, that individual that after 15 years, now I had to transition to another life. It's adjustment. I'm still adjusting.

"I'm coming to work every day. Happily married But I'm still adjusting to life after football. The locker room comraderie [is missing]. I miss going into a locker room and being on that same schedule that I saw for 15 years. Traveling on a plane. The meetings at night. The strategy. I've had to shift that skill set to the place I'm working now. But I'm still adjusting."

I would tell you Troy Vincent has been more than successful at making the adjustment. He was a winner on the field and has become a winner off the field. Now, he's trying to spread that culture of success to current and past NFL players as Vice President of NFL Player Engagement.

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