May 6, 2013
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN — You can call Karibi Dede an inspiration.
"The kids at my high school call me 'Dr. D.'"
He also hears "coach," because he is one; and "doc," because he was just awarded his doctorate Saturday in Auburn when he and more than 50 other former and current athletes received their degrees.
Dede, who was an Auburn linebacker from 2002-06, never forgot his roots or his education. Now a high school head football coach and special education teacher in Woodridge, Va., Dede is hoping to impart his love for football and learning to his students.
That's why it's OK to call him "coach." Or "doc."
"A lot of people ask me which one I prefer. I think both are a great honor," Dede says. "I think coach is a mentor, is an inspiration, and is a coach and a teacher; and someone who has influence with young people. It is a great opportunity and a calling. Being a doctor is someone who has mastered the craft in their field; and somebody who has risen to the highest level of education. I tell my students: 'When I finish coaching, I'll still be doc.'"
This is Dede's first head coaching job. He's back in his hometown after juggling his work toward his PhD while serving as an Auburn quality control coach.
"I was learning ball, I was working hard, it was a lot of sleepless nights," he said. "I was burning the candle at both ends. All night long I'd be writing my dissertation and doing my course work and preparing papers; and all day long I'd be doing football to go out and win games. It was a very unique path for me."
Dede traveled a more unique path than that. He said he didn't take his education seriously enough in high school and didn't have the grades to sign with a big-time school when he had finished. He attended Hargrave Military in Virginia for a semester before enrolling at Auburn.
"I wasn't focused on the things that were beneficial to my future," he says.
He found his calling at Auburn. He played and coached at Auburn, coached in high school and has taught special education.
"Education is a passion of my mine. And coaching is a passion of my mine," he says. "The job I have now is an opportunity to fulfill two things that I worked really hard towards. I think it's a culmination of my efforts on and off the field."
Getting the message
It took Dede awhile to get his own message.
"When I was in high school, getting the big picture wasn't there for me," he said. "During football season I made sure I was eligible. After football season I didn't really put much into it. I really fell by the wayside. I was on the brink of not being eligible. Then, my senior year I got seven A's and one B because they told me, 'If you don't, you can't play football.' But because my final transcript didn't get cleared by the NCAA until June, a lot of schools passed me over. At Hargrave I got straight A's and that opened the door because they knew I could academically perform at the collegiate level."
Auburn signed him. Dede says he was lucky.
"I tell my kids that you don't really want to go down the road I took," Dede said. "My senior year in high school I knew if I just applied myself I had the intellectual ability to be successful. So many people say that, but sometimes they wait so long they never get a chance to prove that to people. I took the road less traveled, but I don't wish that on any of them. I hope they'll do it right the first time around."
Dede was redshirted his first year. He had his bachelor's degree by the time he was a senior, so he enrolled in the master's program for his final year and kept going.
"Before I knew it, I had my master's," he said.
He was an assistant coach at Auburn High School by then. Then his university called again.
"When I first got the opportunity to come back, Gene Chizik, Jay Jacobs and Tim Jackson all gave me a very unique opportunity, and that opportunity allowed me to pursue my doctorate while being a graduate assistant for football. It wasn't your typical path."
And it almost didn't happen.
"When I did my interview for the doctoral program, they asked me if I was still going to do football because they said the two were incompatible," Dede said. "I told them 'no' because there wasn't a position at Auburn. But Coach Chizik called me and offered me a position as graduate assistant. I was ready to turn down the position. I said, 'Coach, I just got admitted o the doctoral program.' He said, 'Karibi, don't worry. The two are compatible.' He said push forward and have the courage to do it."
Still, Dede wondered. There aren't too many head coaches who have a Ph.D. But he knew one did, former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne, so he asked him for advice.
"I had a lot of the questions, like, 'Did people see you as an academic or a scholar, or a football coach?' He knew where I was coming from. He told me to stick to my guns and be a football coach, go out and work hard and show people you know the game; and never look at it as a negative and it will help you in every way."
On the job
A lot of experienced head coaches wanted to be the head coach at Woodridge this season. Dede got it, bringing along former Auburn linebacker and graduate assistant Travis Williams.
Dede was impressive during his interview. Woodridge athletics director Jason Koch told the Washington Post that Dede "knocked our socks off with his interview. We just feel like he’s going to be a wonderful leader with our kids. He’s got it all."
Dede says he didn't worry about the other applicants. He simply wanted to tell his vision.
"You don't know the other candidates who are out there," he said. "I did the interview, and I felt as if it was mine to lose. I always take that mentality because it shows you are confident. I felt I was qualified for the position, although I lacked experience. But I didn't believe that put me in any sort of deficit.
"I know I haven't seen every situation, but at the same time, I bring a lot of passion and energy to the game. You learn as you go."
That is the message.
"After I get my handle on this first season," he said, "I'll go back to writing, and publishing in the scholarly realm."
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