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JAMIE H. VAUGHT: Vic Adams, Now Acting President At Gateway, Recalls His Early Football Days At UK;

If you hold a leadership position at workplace, there is a good chance that you also played sports in college.

Several academic-oriented studies have concurred that student-athletes in college or even high school are given opportunities to develop several skills such as team-building, communication, confidence and leadership, and many of them broadened their skills and eventually became successful at work. For instance, look at former Presidents like Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Dwight Eisenhower who played college football.

And you can add Dr. Vic Adams to the list.

A former University of Kentucky football standout during the late 1980s, Adams (pictured, right) has over 20 years of experience in workforce, community and economic development at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College where he is vice president and chief workforce officer as well as the director of SKCTC’s Middlesboro campus. He has held several leadership positions at the college and community organizations in the tri-state area of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.

But Adams, who completed his doctorate in Community College Leadership from Mississippi State University, is moving on to bigger things and he recently has been named the interim president of Gateway Community and Technical College in northern Kentucky. He is expected to stay at Gateway until June 30 or when a new school president has been chosen. And Adams will not be a candidate for the Gateway presidency as he will return to Southeast after his temporary post ends.

Gateway has campuses located in Boone County, Covington and Edgewood.

Adams is enthusiastic about his new career opportunity.

“I’m really excited about it,” he said from his Middlesboro office. “I look forward to working with the faculty and staff at Gateway to provide quality educational and workforce programs to meet the needs of the communities we serve.”

Looking back, it really was UK coach Jerry Claiborne who had a big influence on Adams, a three-year starter, and his Wildcat teammates, grooming them to be outstanding citizens in the their communities. Adams is now very thankful for having a once-a-lifetime opportunity to play for Claiborne, who was later inducted into College Football Hall of Fame in 2000.

Well-known Kentucky sportswriter Earl Cox once wrote in The Cats’ Pause in 1989, “Vic Adams is an unusual young man, a smart one at that. Combine his attributes with the character of Jerry Claiborne and we have an interesting story.”

At the time, Adams had severe neck impairment and was forced to skip his senior year, prematurely ending his collegiate career. Claiborne invited him to stay on the football staff as a student coach. He also advised the youngster to finish his degree and get a job since he already had a wife and a baby.

Adams, a defensive lineman, had his best game in 1988 when the Wildcats upset Coach Vince Dooley’s Georgia club 16-10 at Commonwealth Stadium. “(It was) one of the best games I have ever played,” he said. “I think I had about 15 tackles. It was my last year (of playing football).”

UK coaches, including Claiborne, at the time said Adams was a true leader and that many of the players looked up to him. They added that he was very mature for his age.

Said Adams of Claiborne, “He was a man of integrity and strong moral values that we don’t see often enough in today’s sports venues. Coach was the type of man that any person would be proud to call a friend and mentor. He made sure that we conducted ourselves as responsible young men, often reminding us that we represented not only the university but the entire state of Kentucky when we traveled to stadiums around the country.

“We always traveled in ‘a suit of clothes’ as he called them. Coach Claiborne would say, ‘Men, you don’t get on that bus without a proper suit of clothes on, and make sure you don’t forget your tie.’ The coach often would make that comment to us during every Thursday evening in a pre-road trip meeting.”

The personable Adams, who starred at Middlesboro High School, agreed that Claiborne indirectly has guided him and many of his teammates on a right path in becoming a good leader in the future.

“Coach Claiborne is all about doing what's right, doing what's best and you're a winner. You condition yourself to that. You hear it and then you condition it.

“You begin to, in fact, lead your life that way. You try to do your best and coach led by example. He was such a good man … honest, hard-working and dedicated. You saw the stress that he was under. And how he dealt with that stress.

“All the things I've learned about hard work and dedication now came from coach Claiborne. He just was so focused on what he was going to do and I guess that coach had a lot of effect on who I've become now.

“Not only me, but looking through my LinkedIn and Facebook pages, so many of my teammates are very successful – doctors, lawyers and investment bankers. You know the list goes on and on. So it was a whole group of us who has become very successful. Part of it was because of Coach Claiborne.”

As you may know, Claiborne (pictured, below) was a UK graduate who played halfback for legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant during the late 1940s before beginning his coaching career. He became the head coach at Virginia Tech and Maryland, leading the schools to nine bowl appearances when there weren’t that many bowls back then.

Then UK called Claiborne, who was selected the nation’s Coach of the Year by the Sporting News in 1974, and he returned to his alma mater in 1982. He stayed at Kentucky for eight years and did an admirable job at a place that is popularly known as the graveyard for football coaches. His overall record as the Wildcat boss was 41-46-3 with two bowl appearances. In 1989, Claiborne’s team captured the College Football Association’s Academic Achievement Award for having the highest graduation rate of 90 percent.

After the 1989 campaign, Claiborne retired with a lifetime record of 179-122-8, which was good enough for fourth place among the active college coaches in wins at the time.

“Claiborne was an old school coach who knew just how much ‘honey and vinegar’ to give a player to get the most out of him,” said Adams. “And if you made a mistake, Coach had a uncanny ability to walk up to you and put his arm around your neck, and talk to you in a way that you didn’t really know if he just jumped on you or praised you, but you know what you needed to do.

“Coach treated everyone firm but fair. A fierce competitor, just ask anyone who dared to enter the racquetball courts at the Nutter Center (on campus) for a ‘friendly’ game with coach. I left that court many times with strawberry bruises on my backside. ‘Don’t ever look back, Vic Adams,’ Claiborne would say. ‘You don’t want a shot to the face.’

“As much as he prepared his players for battle on the gridiron, he prepared us more for life after football. Many of the programs that Coach Claiborne started or fully supported at Kentucky with regard to academics have been replicated at many colleges and universities across the country.”

After playing for Claiborne, Adams also had a couple of longtime administrators in higher education who provided guidance as he prepared for various academic positions. Helping Adams were Dr. Bruce Ayers, who is now president emeritus at Southeast, and Dr. Keith Bird, now chancellor emeritus at Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS). Adams said they were instrumental in his leadership development over the years.

Asked to compare the pressure of a 20-year-old player with the game on line in a packed stadium and an administrator who is handling a multimillion-dollar budget with possible budget cuts, Adams -- who has a pleasant personality -- had a sensible response.

“I guess at the time both of them are equally as stressful,” he said. “So I can remember being a player and all the stress. The stress of going live like the football game and getting ready for a football game.

“But, as an administrator now, it's difficult because as you know most of our budget is salaries. Roughly 80% of our budget is salaries. When we get significant budget cuts, in most instances it means personal. So there's really no comparison. It's because you're affecting peoples’ lives, possibly for the rest of their lives. When you start trying to deal with budget cuts, the things you are facing are significant.

“Although as a 20-year-old I thought it was very stressful. But really and truly what we are facing now is much more stressful than what an athlete would feel.”

During his spare time, Adams enjoys working on the family farm with his two grown sons, fishing in nearby lakes and ponds, hunting and cheering on his Kentucky Wildcats.

Needless to say, Adams -- a young-looking grandfather who is married to high school sweetheart Desiree and they already have several grandchildren -- is certainly ready for new challenges down the road.

Just like the early days when he had to meet numerous challenges on the field and stop the opponent from running wild.

Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at

Photos by Jamie H. Vaught

Photo by UK Athletics

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