Ryan McNeil doesn't wear either of the two national championship rings he won at the University of Miami. Those are put away. The 37-year old former Canes defensive back, 11-year NFL veteran and successful entrepreneur wears one ring that ultimately represents both -- his 2006 UM Hall of Fame ring.
"I don't wear [the national championship rings] and I'll tell you why," McNeil explained to me in a phone interview Friday. "Once you go to the next level, your focus and hunger is on something else -- a Super Bowl ring. The only regret I have about playing professional sports is not winning the Super Bowl. So many guys I know have Super Bowl rings. When [former Canes] Darren Smith, Kevin Williams and Russell Maryland went to Dallas and won Super Bowl rings, it was like wow -- that's what I wanted. That's something that's special. I don't know if I might eventually have one of my own one day, maybe as a coach or involved in management."
If you know anything about McNeil, nothing he said should surprise you. Since the day he stepped on UM's campus, the Fort Pierce native has always strived for more. And that's part of the reason McNeil is where he is today, living a successful life in Atlanta after retiring from pro football in 2003. He has his own publication, OT Magazine, and is the President and CEO of the Professional Business & Financial Network. Both businesses, among other things, try to teach athletes how to make a successful post-retirement transition from sports into the business world. I caught up with Ryan Friday to talk about his latest editorial in his magazine about the heavy dose of reality recently drafted athletes will encounter soon enough. It didn't take long, though, for us to start talking about the Canes, Randy Shannon and much more.
Q: I know its been a couple years since The Herald has caught up with you. Tell us what's new. Married? Kids? Where are you living?
A: (Laughter) I'm not married yet. Hopefully that will happen sometime soon. But I live in Atlanta now, been here for four years since I left Miami. I wanted to live on the East Coast so I could be near home in Fort Pierce and Miami. I have one daughter who is 11 now. Other than that, life is great.
Q: I've got to ask you the Dan LeBatard question -- the one you don't want to ask out of shyness, but Dan can because he's Dan. Are you making more money now than you were as a player?
A: [Laughter] That is a Dan question. I think revenue wise, I'm not making as much. But its an investment. Anytime you make an investment, you have delayed gratification. I haven't made as much money doing this as I did as player, not yet. But it's close. To be honest, sports is something I love. The media space has been intriguing to me because I've learned so much. The more I'm in it, the more avenues I'm finding having tremendous amounts of potential. i think i'll stay in the media space for awhile. We launched the magazine in 2004 as a business and lifestyle magazine with 360 degree viewpoint of athletes. We talk money and finances, health and fitness, charity and philanthropy. Its basically the complete 360 degrees of it and we circulate it among all pro athletes. Female sports and male sports.
Q: You went from being a second round draft pick of the Detroit Lions to having an 11-year pro career in which you played for six teams and actually led the league in INTs in 1997. As successful as that was for you, I have to imagine what you've done afterward is about successful as it gets for guys out of the league? Basically, you are teaching other guys now how to do it through your magazine.
A: I think a lot of other guys enjoy success as well. I think success is defined differently by everyone. A lot of guys have been very successful in life after sports. I think I'm a bit of a risk taker being a cornerback. So, being an entrepreneur was a natural for me. I see a lot of opportunity in terms of sports. I've got a lot of connections in sports. I thought I could leverage that and make a little money as well. Its one of the things I surveyed, researched. I thought it would be a really sound investment. But there have been other guys who have done well in real estate. To be honest, though, it's not an easy business at all. It's more difficult thaIn I thought it would be. The work itself, though, I have one of the easiest jobs in media. My job is to tell the positive stories of other athletes. As I take this journey I'm understanding the business more and more. I'm learning the things to do. I'm starting from the ground up. I've never been one to shy away from work.
Q: In your latest editorial, your taking your message to a different level. You are actually targeting guys just getting into the league, not out. What inspired you to send a message to those guys?
A: I always write my editorial page in my magazine. It was something I was thinking about and flashing back to my time when I was drafted and my team. I was thinking you could almost cheat being at the University of Miami, going pro and how maybe some guys took that for granted. It was almost a given you'd have an opportunity to play professional sports. Yeah, you still had to do what you had to do and you could make it. But I think as a whole, the one ting I realized is how ill-prepared guys are going into the league. At Miami, our expectations were always to play at a high level. When you have Michael Irvin, Bennie Blades, Alonzo Highsmith, come back to the U and work out with you, you have a huge appreciation for what to expect and strive for at the next level. But you aren't ready for disappointment or the other struggles. I see guys who are athletically gifted, but aren't prepared for what else comes along with being a pro athlete. Being a professional athlete is not eating at a restaurant a-la-cart. You got to take everything that comes with it.
Q: What else comes on that cart maybe that guys aren't ready for?
A: I think first and foremost, I think of any professional sport as a business. i think the perspective is still viewed is it's a game. But its a business. It's serious fun. I always tell the rookies all the time, have fun, but treat it as a business at the same time -- that way you won't have any surprises. You can really take advantage of the head start you have from the get-go, from the social standpoint, being a role model for the people where you are from. Because it's an unwritten rule. You are a role model whether you choose to or not. They have to keep in mind the dynamics are different and the consequences are different. The NFL has a program where they have actors and actresses come in and act out and life choices, decision, consequences. You got to be careful of each decision you make. You want to have as many positive experiences as a professional athlete. To me, it's really a time to grow up. College is a time to have fun. It's an incubating period going into adult hood. Now, you got to be an adult. That's one thing a lot of young guys, whether its basketball, football, hockey, you got to position yourself to act like an adult. I think a lot of the younger guys are trying to do that, but there are a few who share a negative light not only with themselves, but their teammates. Pro athletes are connected and I kind of try to share with them that they should think about themselves as a brand. You should be careful about your brand.
Q: Now that you are in Atlanta, do you still make the time to come to the U and spread that message?
A: I don't visit the campus enough. I haven't been able go back to Miami lately. I have these business endeavors that take up a lot of time. But I still try to make it back every now and then. I catch about 3 to 4 home games and when they play Georgia Tech here. I've got to support them, especially since Randy [Shannon] is the coach. I want to support him as much as possible. i think he's the right guy for the job. I think he handles the pressure and expectations better than anybody else. And I'm excited about the 2008 recruiting class. I keep up. I think its important to go back to the talk where the mystique fits in. At UM, we always played at a high level. Then, its about carrying yourself as a gentleman in the community.
Q: Then, I'm sure this past season and the one before was tough for you to watch. Any thoughts?
A: Let's be honest: that's not Hurricanes football. I think Randy would be the first to admit it. That's not what's expected. The reality is it has to change. What's more disappointing than anything else is knowing where you been and where you want to be. The record could have been totally different with five, six, seven plays going the other way. But that's everywhere. I think randy did a great job recruiting though and I assume a lot of young guys are going to play this year. What the guys need to remember is what it means to wear The U. I remember Bennie [Blades], Melvin [Bratton], coming back and saying 'You cant take the field wearing the U and expect teams to lay down.' I got there, was recruited in Jimmy Johnson's last year. I redshirted, but we practiced just as hard as the seniors did. The work ethic, the expectations, There were outlines for you. There were no margins for error. It was simple: this is how we do things and why we do things. The results spoke for themselves. I think that's what we'll get back to this year. I think we're moving in the right direction. I think sometimes it takes a setback to get things in order. I think that setback was last year. Don't get me wrong. I thought [Larry] Coker was a great coach. But its always special when you have one of your own become a head coach. I think that's very unique. I think all the guys I spoke to want to support Randy for that reason. We expect to have a winning season and participate in a major bowl game this year.
Q: You've mentioned a few of the former guys. Any you spend more time talking to these days than others?
A: The guy I try to keep up with the most is college roommate Coleman Bell. He and I were like brothers. I hung out with Stephen McGuire a week ago in New York. Lamar Thomas and I talk at least once every couple weeks. Gino [Torretta] and are close too. He lived with me when we were in Detroit together. Darryl Spence and i are tight. I see Melvin Bratton here in Atlanta, so we each other quite often. It's hard not to go into any place and not see anybody from UM. i just saw Willis [McGahee] at a Hawks game. if you don't see somebody for one or two years, you catch up and the feeling of the brotherhood is still there.
Q: You got to know Randy Shannon when you were a freshman? What's the best Randy story you can give me? And what have you seen from him over the years and now that's he's grown to become the head coach of the program?
A: I see the maturation of a player to a coach. I was able to see it there as a freshman. When he was a senior, he was there to tell you what to do. We went through the whole process, being the new kids on the block. Randy was always a teacher. He was one of the ones who taught me about covering. It's funny too because I remember saying to myself, 'This guy is a linebacker, what the heck is he doing trying to teach me about covering?' [Laughter]. But he went to the league and came back still being a teacher. The thing that I love about Randy is he doesn't forget where he's from and he understands everybody is different and that you can't teach everyone the same. I think that's what he'll do more of this year. You can see it in his demeanor and his mannerisms. He was the kind of guy who would get on you right away. He has more patience now than he did as a teacher and player. I think you need to have that as a player and a coach. I really don't have a great Randy story. I just remember as freshmen we had our own lockerroom, a small little dungeon hole at the Hecht Center and the upperclassmen dared us every couple times to come out.
Q: Maybe I can get you to give me the best teammate story. Come on, its been a couple years.
A: [Laughter] I can't break the code. We honestly truly care about each other. Thing is we a close knit group and breaking the code would cause trouble [laughter].