The Door to the Left
Director of Player Development Stan Jefferson adheres to an open-door policy that leaves those entering and exiting the wiser

by Danielle Warner
Ohio State Athletics Communications

Some things are just meant to be. Stan Jefferson was meant to be a great listener. It is his ability to understand the needs, hopes and beliefs of others that sets him apart. Believe it or not, the art of listening is just that, an art. It takes practice, it takes experience – it’s a skill. Jefferson has mastered it and thank goodness.

“When you meet Coach Jefferson for the first time, you immediately know he is a friendly person,” Bryant Browning, an offensive lineman entering his senior season with the Buckeyes, said. “He will come to you with a smile and hug and will let you know he’s going to be here with you, be behind you and make sure you do the right thing and meet the right people so you will have a chance to be successful here and go on to live a successful life.”

As the director of player development for the Buckeye football team, Jefferson simply is in the business of serving as an ambassador for youth. It was what he was meant to do.

“I think people who have great leadership are people who have great listening skills,” Jefferson, who is in his seventh year overall with the football program, said. “I try to be a person who listens to what may be the needs of our youth and listen to the needs of people in general. From that, I think you will be able to formulate better answers to those needs as a listener. So, I have always been an advocate of our youth. I try to build a relationship with our youth and try to be a person who will listen to our youth.”

For those who have had the privilege to be privy to Jefferson’s insights, it would be no surprise he is the recipient of the Samella Lewis Professional Achievement Award. The honor recognizes individuals for their professional accomplishments as well as community service initiatives. Jefferson will be formally honored May 1 at the 2010 African American Alumni Awards during the All Decade African American Alumni Reunion Gala in the new Ohio Union.

There is clearly a tone of modesty in Jefferson’s voice when asked about the significance of the honor and his place among the six other African American Alumni Awards recipients.

“When you read about the information about the award and Dr. Lewis, this award is actually about her accomplishments and they are unbelievable,” Jefferson said. “Her accomplishments are unbelievable in general and her accomplishments are unbelievable based upon when those accomplishments were done at that time, so to receive an award of this nature is to me an honor.”

Dr. Lewis was the first woman in the United States to earn her PhD in art history and art. Receiving her master’s degree in fine art from Ohio State in 1948, Lewis has left an impressive print in the field of art history as a celebrated expert on African American and African art.

A world traveler like Lewis, Jefferson has seen and experienced humanity and it has been those moments that have proved critical in his intangible ability to know how to get to the heart of his mentees. 

“He’s always there for you,” DeVier Posey, a third-year wide receiver, said. “If you have any problems, whether academic or football related, his door is always open. It doesn’t matter if we’re on break or in session, he always makes himself available to the players. He truly sticks to his title. He makes you feel like you’re really important. Coach ‘J’ is just a really good guy.

“Personally, he has always been there for me since day one. If I have any problems, if I’m not calling my position coach, probably the first person I’m going to call is Coach ‘J.'”

Among all the globetrotting and interaction with various people, places and things, one thing Jefferson is adamant about is the impact younger generations have had on his role as an educator.

“One of the greatest things about being around youth is youth will teach you a lot,” Jefferson said. “And I have had the opportunity to be around youth all my life in my profession.”

Before his arrival to The Ohio State University campus, Jefferson committed nearly 30 years as a high school teacher, coach and administrator in the Mansfield school district. He was actively involved in not only designing the exterior of a new education building, but he was instrumental in creating a revolutionary “interior.”

“We were going with a whole new design – interior design, in terms of curriculum,” Jefferson said. “And in the process of that, our connection with students was going to change. One of the biggest things I have understood was learning was no longer going to be centered on reading, writing and arithmetic. Learning was going to be the new three’s – a relevant curriculum, a rigorous curriculum and relationship building.”

Jefferson was meant to build relationships. Jefferson was meant to listen. Jefferson was meant to sense the needs of his students, sometimes even before they did. He quickly realized that often what draws students in is their opportunity to release their frustration, their fear, their promises. Simply put, people just want to be heard and THAT can make all the difference in the world.

“He is the father-figure here to most guys, especially to me,” Thaddeus Gibson, a three-year letterwinning linebacker (2007-09) for the Buckeyes, said. “He really helped me a lot through my years here.  He is always there when you need him, either one phone call away or one door away to his office. He is willing to do anything and everything for you and he’s willing to do everything to help you succeed with either school or football.”

“When you’re making change, change comes from the ability to influence,” Jefferson said. “Leadership is the ability to influence and that only comes from when you have built relationships with people. When no relationship has been built, it’s hard to influence people.”

In Jefferson’s nomination letter, head coach Jim Tressel wrote, “‘Coach J’ is an encourager, a disciplinarian, a cheerleader, mentor, counselor and sounding board to each of our players traveling his own unique educational path.”

There is such sincerity to Jefferson that it almost seems ridiculous to sum up his character as such. Perhaps a stronger, more definable word – authentic, earnest, genuine?

Regardless, it is evident Jefferson cares and is a proponent of helping all become better people.

“I will hope people will say he was a guy who was approachable,” Jefferson said when asked what he hopes his legacy as an educator and ambassador would be. “I hope people will say he was a guy who was affable, he was a guy who was willing to listen and help you find solutions and help you reach your next rite of passage.”

On that description, one could envision the many who have been students to this remarkable teacher nodding their heads in resounding agreement and thanking goodness for Coach Jefferson.