NFL, CFL star and local hero Billy McBride offers inspiration
I recently had the pleasure of being able to sit down with Billy McBride, a YMCA Youth of the Year winner at age 17 (he had a car and an apartment by then); NFL draft class of 1979; and six year CFL defensive back and wide receiver. McBride, now employed at Amherst College, gives back to the Amherst community in more ways than I can recount. I asked McBride a series of questions, and his answers blew me away.
Frenette: What is your current job title, and what are some of your responsibilities?
McBride: At Amherst College, I’m the Associate Director of Athletics – Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Director of Club Sports, and a Senior Coach for the women’s basketball team, and I have frequently (for the last six or seven years) lectured about [famed painter Francisco] Goya in art history classes, after traveling to Spain to conduct research on him.
Frenette: What are some past jobs you have held?
McBride: Prior to Amherst College, I was the athletic director in New York City at the Allen-Stevenson School, a private all-boys school located on the Upper East Side in New York City. I coached baseball, lacrosse, football, basketball, and wrestling.
Frenette: You went to Texas Southern University as a two-sport athlete. Can you tell me how you balanced the load of two sports and school?
McBride: I actually went there on a basketball scholarship. And a situation occurred where the defense coordinator at the time convinced me that I wasn’t Walt Frazier, I wasn’t 6’4”. So I should come out and play football instead. So I did, and it was a blessing in disguise. Both sports were kind of intertwined.
Frenette: Can you tell me what you studied during your time at TSU?
McBride: When I went into college, my major was social welfare and sociology. And at the time, I thought I could pull it off, but it was very difficult. I went from social welfare to physical education. Then I went into recreation, which led me to recreational therapy. I graduated with 155 hours, when all I needed to graduate was 132 hours.
Frenette: How did you balance the two aspects (sports and school) of college?
McBride: At the time, the focus was more on the athlete, as opposed to the academics, but my football coach [emphasized the importance of] my academics as well as being an athlete. He came into my life as a coach but he left my life and his last days on this planet as the father figure I never had.
Frenette: After your time in college you were drafted to play for the 49ers. Describe your time there. How did you move out there and how were the training camps and practices?
McBride: I was drafted in 1979. Joe Montana and I were rookies together. People aren’t aware that I was not excited at all about being drafted, because I was initially a basketball player. The goal was to go to California and I’d never been to California. Athletics allowed me to go to places I never would have imagined going. Being a 49er was unique in itself because I got a chance to meet my so-called hero when I was growing up, who was OJ Simpson. We sat across from each other in the locker on the way to camp. We used to sit together and talk and laugh, and we had a blast.
Frenette: How was the transition from the NFL to the Canadian Football League, and what was the difference?
McBride: I got the money from San Francisco, went to Canada, and ended up playing six years, but I played different positions. I played wide receiver, running back, defensive back, punt return, kickoff and held for extra points. Eventually, I went to the Hamilton Tiger Cats. First, we negotiated a contract. During my first couple of days of training camp, I was a defensive back, but the Saskatchewan Roughriders needed a receiver. They heard about me being a good athlete because I had played basketball. If you don’t multitask in Canada, you will get cut. Also, the field is much bigger, and they only have three downs. It’s a passing league so it was all about quickness and speed. The teams gave me two playbooks, an offensive playbook, and a defensive playbook.
Frenette: After your football career, what did you do?
McBride: I went to New York City. I was trying to get another shot in the NFL. I tried out with the New York Jets, and they told me “don’t quit your day job.” I knew that was it for pro football. I stuck around and stayed in New York, and after that, it was acting, because all of us did commercials. Then one day, I saw something in the New York Times that had to do with being an administrator for the Allen-Stevenson School. I was like, “let me try this,” because the cash cow was drying up. Allen-Stevenson led me to Amherst College, and I’ve been at Amherst College for 32 years.
Frenette: What is your Influence on the youth and young adults in these programs you are a part of?
McBride: When I relocated to Holyoke, I contacted a person who was in charge of youth sports, Lubold. Next thing you know, I worked with Westbrook (a youth football coach) and we won a championship. I took over basketball, the Suburban League in Holyoke, and that first year, we won a championship. It was about giving back to what was given to me because outside of my immediate home, there were extended family members, organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, the 4H club, and the YMCA [that had been there for me].
Frenette: What is the message or are the messages you want to spread?
McBride: The most beautiful thing I’d like to talk about is loving yourself. I like to say this to students: “How can you grow into your crown if you constantly bend over? It’s going to fall off. When you walk into the room, add to the room.” I also tell them to bring your best self, be authentic, and compromise on strategy but never on your principles. Have that innate ability to embrace possibility. Never be afraid to ask questions, and don’t be afraid to fail, because after failure will come another opportunity.
Frenette: Do you have anything to add?
McBride: You’re giving me hope that I’m doing something right, you asking me to be here for this interview. Giving also helps the giver. And as long as I have the opportunity to continue to do that, I’m gonna be good.