Businessman gives back by coaching high school football players

By Hebe Bauza….

Bobby Vernon donates his time coaching the defense for the Felix Varela High School Vipers.

Every day, Bobby Vernon, president of UK subsidiary Howden Americas, develops strategies, analyzes information and comes up with creative solutions to drive his business forward. On most weekday afternoons, however, you won’t find him in the office, as he swaps his business suit for a pair of shorts and a tee shirt and does exactly the same thing; only this time it’s on the football field for Miami’s Felix Varela High School Vipers.

Vernon, a graduate of Georgetown University where he played football for the Hoyas as a free safety and cornerback, has spent the last 17 years in the business world, successfully starting several companies and serving on the board of directors for three firms. In 2009, he decided he wanted to spend more time giving back to the community and after a chance meeting with Viper football coach Matt Dixon it became obvious to him how to do just that.

There are over 5,000 high school athletes playing for the 33 public high schools in Miami-Dade County and there is a shortage of experienced coaches. Historically, coaching positions are often filled by teachers who enjoyed the sport, had the time and wanted the salary supplement. Unfortunately, with many of the cutbacks made in the Florida public school system, less money is available to attract and retain those teachers as coaches. Consequently, programs often must make do with fewer and, at times, less experienced coaches.

In early 2009, Varela’s Coach Dixon began looking to add coaches to his staff and in his search he found one in the most unexpected of places – the corporate board room.

When Vernon was approached by Dixon, he accepted without a second thought.

“Football has had such a large and positive influence on my life,” Vernon says. “It helped me get a college education and many lessons my coaches taught me on the playing field have served me extremely well in life off the field. I want to share this with as many players as I can so they too can get as much out of this sport as I have.”

Vernon brought not only his football experience, but also his strategic thinking to the game. He plays a key role with the Viper defense, including coaching the secondary and designing many of the defensive schemes. And the results have come quickly; the Vipers finished the regular season strong, securing a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

Fellow defensive coach Ken Dodd, who began coaching in the county in 1979, says Vernon is a valuable asset. “Bobby is a great coach,” says Dodd. “In addition to his own college playing experience, he visits with college programs in the off season and brings what he learns back to our team, which is very valuable. The players have a lot of respect for him and really respond to his teaching style.”

Vernon’s passion and dedication for the sport is highly regarded by the players he trains. Undray Clark, who recently committed to play for the University of Maryland, has high praise for Vernon.

“I respect Coach Vernon a lot,” says Clark. “He knows football and gives a lot. Not many high schools have coaches like him. He not only teaches us football skills, but life skills are a big part of it too.”

In addition to sharing his skills, knowledge and time, Vernon donates his coaching salary to the Varela Football Booster club, which helps fund clothing, equipment, and educational needs of the players. This financial help goes a long way in today’s difficult environment.

Vernon hopes that perhaps more people like himself will consider donating some of their time and resources to public school athletics, becoming coaches, mentors, and role models to these student athletes.

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