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Basketball Coach Fights For His Dream Of A Division I Job

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Each week, Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.

Elwyn McRoy is an assistant men's basketball coach at the University of Texas-Pan American. He's worked for 12 different college basketball programs since 1997. A recent piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education tells how he's skipped meals, slept in cars, and lived thousands of miles from his wife and kids to work in an industry with short contracts and high turnover.

But McRoy tells NPR's Rachel Martin that despite the challenges, he was practically born to be a coach.

"Both my parents were coaches," explains McRoy. His mom coached tennis and track, and his dad coached football and wrestling. "I don't think [coaching] was a matter of if, it was just a matter of when," he says. "It's always been in my bloodlines."

McRoy got into coaching right after he graduated from Cleveland State University. He made $300 a month working for his former high school coach, then at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, and lived in the dorms.

After about the fifth year coaching at the junior college level, says McRoy, he realized moving up would be harder than he anticipated. "I couldn't seem to get a break at the Division I level. ... Every place I had been I had helped win, helped bring in good players. But it's about who you know."

And he's endured some serious ups and downs. In 2010, he made it to the assistant coaching level at Iowa State — a dream job for a kid who grew up in Big 12 country, and a dream that came with a salary bump. But it turned out not to be a good fit, and after less than a year, he was let go.

"To fall from being a Big 12 assistant, to having to go back to work at Hutchinson Community College, that's about as far as you can fall," says McRoy. That following year, "living in the dorms, eating dorm food, it was a far cry from making almost six figures."

McRoy says his wife has been a "trooper through all of this," standing by him while he chases his dream. He stays in close contact with her and his four daughters when he's on the road, and right now, he's happy.

"I'm loving being employed. ... I don't know if I could have asked for a better person to resurrect my career than [Texas-Pan American coach] Dan Hipsher," says McRoy. "I'm learning a lot of things from him. I feel very blessed, every day."

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