Rod Rutherford aims to be good coach, father figure to IUP players
Published: Friday, September 9, 2011
Updated: Friday, September 9, 2011 12:09
IUP receivers coach Rod Rutherford has accomplished a lot in his life.
The Pittsburgh native earned a scholarship to play at the University of Pittsburgh, where he became a two-time All-Big East quarterback. He won a Super Bowl ring as a part of the Steelers' practice squad in 2005 and is quickly moving up the coaching ranks.
All of the accolades are not what motivate Rutherford. It is being a father figure to young football players at IUP and in his hometown of Pittsburgh.
To Rutherford, being a father figure and a role model is the best title he could have.
"It's an unbelievable feeling when you take a young man, who thinks they know everything, and open their eyes to the fact that there's more to it than what they think," he said.
Rutherford, 30, is relatively young in coaching terms, but it gives him an advantage in relating to an 18-year-old player who may not be able to relate to older, more seasoned coaches.
With Rutherford, there is no generational gap between him and the players. IUP Head Coach Curt Cignetti may not be able to relate to the choice of music the players listen to, but Rutherford can because he still listens to it.
"It's easier for a guy to come talk to me than a guy that's 45, 50 years old," Rutherford said. "That's one thing I got in my back pocket right now as a younger coach."
A father figure is something Rutherford did not have growing up. A native of Pittsburgh, he grew up in a single-parent home as the youngest of three children. His mother worked hard around the clock, forcing him to become a man at a young age in a rough neighborhood.
"My situation as a young man, growing up in the neighborhood I grew up in, I never really had that male figure to lay that foundation to help me," he said. "Now as I got older and became more of an athlete and a star, guys came out of the woodworks, but I felt like nobody really did that for me until I got somewhere."
Before he got somewhere, Rutherford learned a lot of lessons and also made some mistakes along the way. He has learned from those lessons and mistakes and hopes to guide IUP players, with his own upbringing being the example.
"My mistakes are for free," Rutherford said. "Whatever I've done cost you nothing. You can listen or take it for what it's worth, but know that I've made plenty mistakes and maybe that will stop you from making the same mistakes."
"I talk to my guys about football, but I try to explain to them that football is just a part of life. It's creating that discipline that you need for once this is over," he said.
Rutherford stresses to his players that even if they do move on to play 10 years in the NFL, they would only be in the mid-30's – what Rutherford believes to be the prime of a man's life – where he should have a family. He said it is then when they would really have to work.
Rutherford took heed to his own advice and found something after his playing days ended in the American Indoor Football Association in 2010. Before coming to IUP, he spent two seasons as a graduate assistant at his alma mater Pitt. He was on the same staff as Curt Cignetti's brother, Frank Cignetti, Jr.
Frank Cignetti, Jr. recommended Rutherford to his brother Curt and he was apparently impressed as Rutherford was hired to the staff eight days after Curt Cignetti was introduced as head coach of the IUP football team.
"It's one of those deals where you never know who is watching," Rutherford said. "If you're doing you're thing and you're doing everything you can the correct way doors will open."
"I felt like [IUP] was a comfortable situation and I was laying a building block in my career as a coach," Rutherford said. "Being with Frank, Jr., it was an easy transition."
Rutherford has made an easy transition from player to coach, but the more important task to him is helping the IUP football players transition from boys to men.