CESANA, Italy - Football was Todd Hays’ first love.
And after a 13-year separation, it’s finally lured him back.
Hays has an athletic resume probably unlike any athlete in Olympic history, replete with exploits of bull riding, ultimate fighting and a stint as a standout college linebacker before his evolution as the face of bobsledding in the United States.
Now, Hays’ playing days are done. With a seventh-place finish in the Olympic four-man competition, Hays drove his bobsled into retirement Saturday night — and says it’s time to begin the football coaching career he abandoned in 1993, when the U.S. bobsled team came to Texas seeking talent and found a 6-foot-3, 235-pound star-in-waiting.
“It’s the right time if he’s ready,” his brother, Baylor offensive coordinator Lee Hays, said by telephone from his office in Waco, Texas. “It’s completely up to him on that deal. I think he’s getting anxious to get started with his life. He’s pursued this dream for, what, 12 years? I’d hate to see him give up, but at some point you’ve got to start your life.”
Hays — who announced his retirement Friday, at the midway point of the four-man competition — doesn’t have a coaching job firmed up yet, but he’s hoping to join his brother at Baylor “and start our quest for the national championship.”
He was last around football full-time in 1993, when the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts cut him.
“If he’s going to leave, he’s going to leave with no regrets,” Lee Hays said. “I think he can do whatever he puts his mind to.”
Hays’ teammates have known his retirement plan for several weeks. Some, including USA-2 driver Steve Holcomb, already are speculating that Hays will take a year off, then find his way back to his sleek, black sleds in time for a run at the 2010 Olympics.
And while Hays acknowledges that he’ll still be around the program in some capacity, he insisted his driving days are done, that it’s time to “give someone else a chance.”
“It’s not going to be a sad thing,” he said Saturday night, 20 minutes after he climbed out of a sled for the last time. “It’s just part of life and I certainly can deal with it.”
Hays won an Olympic silver medal in four-man at the 2002 Olympics, and would have won the two- and four-man World Cup driving titles this season with even mediocre finishes in the season’s last race; instead, he skipped both to prep for the Turin Games.
But his time on the Cesana Pariol track hasn’t gone as well as he hoped. Hays was seventh in the two-man race last weekend, and matched that in the four-man race — even finishing one spot behind Steve Holcomb in the USA-2 sled.
Yet one of his biggest fans didn’t seem to care that he was returning home empty-handed.
“Please tell him that we are so very proud of him,” said Alabama offensive coordinator Dave Rader, who coached Hays at Tulsa when the team went 10-2, beating a San Diego State team that featured Marshall Faulk in the 1991 Freedom Bowl. “And I don’t even know how he did today.”
Rader isn’t surprised that Hays — who had 63 tackles and two sacks in his senior season at Tulsa, then briefly was an assistant on Rader’s staff there — wants to get back into football.
“Always thought he might do that,” Rader said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “One of the most intense competitors I’ve ever been around. Very good communicator. Will do well.”
The 36-year-old Hays smiled when he heard what Rader said — then officially began his job-hunt.
“I wouldn’t mind coaching for Alabama, either,” Hays said. “If he’s reading one of these articles, give me a call, coach.”
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