I drove to Campbell University, taking backroads all the way. On the artificial turf when I pulled in was head coach Mike Minter, the former Carolina Panther safety. I don't think Minter yelled in the two-plus hours I was there. He talked. He taught. He encouraged.
Minter will make his debut as head coach Saturday at Jerry Richardson Stadium, named for the Panther owner for whom he played. Daily Minter's phone rings daily if not hourly. The calls come from friends and acquaintances who want tickets for the Charlotte-Campbell game. Minter kept 12 tickets and they are spoken for.
Minter, 39, is a bigger celebrity in Buies Creek than he was in Charlotte in the 10 years he played for the Panthers. When the school wanted a speaker to address incoming freshmen at the Medallion Ceremony -- freshmen return the medallions when they graduate -- it chose him.
"He's not a novelty act," says athletic director Bob Roller, who hired him.
In other words, Roller didn't hire a well-known football player. He hired a coach.
He expects Minter eventually to lead Campbell, which awards no football scholarships, to the playoffs. He also expects Minter eventually to move on. By the time he does, Roller believes, the program will ascend to a level it has not in the six seasons since football was started.
Minter sits in his office not far from a picture of Muhammad Ali knocking out Sonny Liston and says, "I am where I'm supposed to be. I'm home."
Friday morning he and his team will make the three-plus hour drive to his former home in Charlotte.