Interview with Bob Kent '92
Bob Kent anchored the Columbia defensive line in the very early 1990's (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics Dept.)
Bob Kent was a force at defensive tackle and a bright spot during the lean early years of Coach Ray Tellier's tenure at Columbia. Kent burst on the scene as a sophomore in the 1989 season, recording two sacks in the Lions lone win that year, a big 25-19 upset of the Cornell Big Red in Ithaca. It was Columbia's first road win in more than six years.
During his three varsity years, Kent was always one of the team leaders in tackles and sacks, and in his senior season he was named second team All-Ivy, a remarkable achievement on a team that gave up about 25 points a game, (note that NONE of Columbia's defensive linemen made first or second team All-Ivy last season despite never giving up more than 24 points in ANY GAME).
Bob Kent was a classmate of mine, and while I only had rare occasion to even say "hi" to him on campus, I followed his progress closely as a football fan. While taking classes at CU during the summer of 1991, I frequently would notice Kent practicing his stance and other footwork all by his lonesome on South Field. I was particularly glad to see how his hard work paid off during the season the following fall.
Bob Kent was not your typical Columbia student. He came to CU after completing two postgraduate years at Milford Academy in New Berlin, NY. Prior to that he graduated Pope John XXIII Regional High School in Sparta Township, New Jersey. Bob's background was more working class he often worked as an ironworker during breaks and was a fourth-generation member of the iron workers union.
Kent's three-year varsity won-loss record was a stark 3-27, but he was a lot more successful in love than he may have been on the field. He married his classmate, the lovely CU cheerleader Clare Deegan just two months after graduation. Clare got her MBA from the University of California only four weeks after giving birth to her first child in 1998. They currently have three daughters ages nine, seven and five.
Kent eventually went to law school in San Francisco and earned his J.D. in 1998.
And then one day, Bob Kent decided he wanted to join the Air Force. He felt the time was right in April 2000 and finished training in August 2001... just one month BEFORE... well, I think we all know what happened one month later that made being in the military much different than it had been before.
Bob's first assignment was in Germany, but when the war in Iraq began, his entire 4th expeditionary air support operations squadron moved to Kuwait. There he successfully led a ten soldier unit charged with finding, tracking and targeting mobile targets.
Since 2004, Captain Kent has been at Hurlburt Field, FL, first working as the chief of intelligence before switching to special operations in 2005. He plans to leave the military in the coming weeks.
Needless to say, I was delighted when Bob contacted me via email earlier this week to say he is a fan of this site and I was even more happy when he agreed to do this interview:
JAKE: Your career path has taken some unique twists and turns. Why did you first turn to the law and then join the military?
Bob Kent: The short version is that I wanted to work for the Justice Department and did all the things that you were supposed to do: law school, internship with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, etc. After graduation I went through the hiring process but when I made it up to the final round, the government announced a hiring freeze. The prospect of working in a law firm for a few years did not really appeal to me and I was able to convince Clare that I should join the military for one four-year tour. However, after I graduated from intelligence training the September 11th attacks happened and we decided I would stay in for a while.
J: How would you describe your experience in the Air Force? Was it what you expected?
BK: Overall, I would describe my Air Force experience as great. But, like playing college football, it was over before I was ready. With regards to my expectations, all of my preconceived notions and stereotypes about the military were shattered. Where I grew up, kids who got in trouble were often given a choice between the military and jail, and I thought that many of the people in the military would be troublemakers or kids who couldn’t get another job, get into college, etc. Needless to say I was wrong. Ninety percent of the people I encountered were amazing. They were hardworking and patriotic and joined the military to make a difference.
Bob Kent and Family (Credit: Kent family)
J: You qualified for some highly specialized duty, did your experience as a sports competitor help you get an edge in the tough selection process?
BK: I went through Air Force Special Tactics/Combat Control training and my sports background helped me in two ways. First, I was used to functioning as part of a team and was very comfortable with the teamwork aspect and second, I knew that I was not going to die from physical stress and exertion. This gave me a slight edge, (Combat Control has about a 95% washout rate in the first six months), because I was used to being in a team environment and working in close physical proximity with other men. Also I was used to stressing my body. A lot of the trainees that I worked with were young men right out of high school or college without a sports background who had to learn how to function as part of a team in addition to everything else.
J: Have you come in contact with any other Ivy athletes in the military?
BK: I’ve met two, both from Princeton and both in special operations. The first is a female intelligence officer who rowed crew and the other is an enlisted combat controller who was on the swim team.
J: Has your military career been tough on your family, or is watching that new show "Army Wives" on Lifetime actually harder to endure, (I know it is for me, but my wife controls the remote)?
BK: While there are positives and negatives, a military career is tough on your family and mine was no different. There is a huge cultural adjustment. Prolonged absences and uncertainties put a ton of stress on your spouse. Clare has been amazing through my entire career but I know it was hard for her. For instance, last year I was away for seven months and she had to deal the kids, the finances and everyday life by herself. We haven’t watched “Army wives”, but Clare will not watch other shows that portray military family life such as “The Unit” because it hits too close to home. The career field that I cross-trained into has about 300 men in it and while I was away at training they held funeral services for five of them at our base.
The kids were also affected by my career. Clare tried to keep things as normal for them as possible while I was away but they still missed me. Also, no matter how much you try to insulate them, (we never let them watch the news), they pick up on everything. We were living in Germany when I deployed to Kuwait prior to the invasion of Iraq. My oldest daughter Audrey was five and a few weeks after I left, Clare found a box full of bottle caps, tin foil and small pieces of metal under her bed. It seems she had recently read one of the "American Girl" books and got the idea to collect scrap metal for the war effort. This was before the invasion started.
We also had a ton of positive experiences. We were able to live in Germany for three years and traveled all over Europe. Although my children were very young, (my youngest, Finna was born in Germany), they loved living overseas and still talk about going back. When we told the girls that I would be leaving the Air Force they were upset. Apparently they are proud of what I did.
J: What's a day in the life of the Kent family like now?
BK: I am currently on an extended vacation, (90 days), and we live in the Florida Panhandle so I would describe it as a tropical honeymoon with three small children.
J: I wonder if some of the challenges the military has been facing, and the criticism it takes in the media, remind you of what it was like to be a Columbia football player in the early 90's. Any similarities?
BK: The media criticism of the military does remind me a little of the criticism the team received during the early 1990’s in that it is derisive criticism and does not offer any solutions. This is especially true of the criticism that has come from the Columbia campus in recent years. However, while few critics can offer any advice that can help a losing team win, involvement and participation in the current conflict by Columbia students, alumni and professors could improve the situation. If you don’t like current policy, get involved and do something to change it.
J: What do you want to do next and why?
BK: My dream job would be a career in risk management for a corporation like Templeton Thorpe or in risk assessment/mitigation for a company such as Control Risk Group or The Ackerman Group. I am interested in risk management because it seems like a natural progression from what I have done so far. I have a diverse background and I enjoyed aspects of each job. A career in risk management will allow me to utilize some of my legal skills, some of the analytical and area assessment skills that I developed as an Intelligence Officer and some of the think outside the box, “shoot, move and communicate” stuff that I learned in Special Operations.
J: What drove your decision to do post-grad study at Milford Academy after leaving Pope John XXIII in New Jersey, and how different were those two schools?
BK: I went to Milford Academy because I wanted to play college football. During my junior and senior years at Pope John I was recruited to play football by a number of colleges. However, after my senior season, I had surgery to repair part of my pelvis that I broke during my junior year and I was on crutches for a few months. Not surprisingly, most of the offers disappeared. When the coach at Milford gave me a call I decided to go and it worked out for the best.
Pope John XXIII is a regional high school with an excellent academic reputation and a solid football program. Around 99% of their graduates go to college. Milford Academy is a football factory for athletes who are not ready to enter college, most because of academic deficiencies. They have a ton of alumni who have played Division 1A football and in the NFL. Not so many in the Ivy League.
J: Tell us how you decided to come to Columbia and the recruiting process.
BK: Coach (Joe) White recruited me out of Milford Academy and after visiting the campus on a weekend visit, I jumped at the opportunity to go. Columbia was a dream school for me, and it really sold itself. I was a native New Yorker, (my parents did not move to NJ until I was in middle school), and the opportunity to go to an Ivy League School and play competitive football in NYC was too good to pass up.
J: You used to work as an iron worker, how did that happen and what was it like?
BK: I worked as an ironworker on and off for about 14 years, starting when I turned 18. I became an ironworker because I had access and it was a great way to make money for school. Mostly I worked summers between school and weekends when I wanted to supplement my income and get out in the fresh air. At the time, the union I worked for was a father and son local, which meant that if your father was an ironworker, and if jobs were available, they would hire the son. I was a fourth generation ironworker and because my father and grandfather had excellent reputations, I had a job whenever I wanted one.
Ironwork was a lot of fun and a great character builder. Climbing columns and walking across steel beams helped put the pain of studying for exams in perspective. The work was hard and very dangerous but it attracted the best guys, real characters that you usually only read about in pulp fiction. Additionally, I often worked directly for my father, which I came to appreciate more and more over time.
J: In a game program from the 1991 season, you were quoted as saying you came to Columbia to play football, "especially against Yale." Was there any real bad blood between you and the Elis?
BK: It was more like a personal rivalry. I was recruited to play football at Yale and the coach who recruited me told me that my acceptance was a sure thing. This was fairly early in the year and I foolishly decided not to apply to any other colleges. When I received a rejection that April I had a typical Irish reaction and decided to make the Elis as miserable as I could if I ever had another opportunity to play against them. So I always looked forward to playing against Yale. However, I was friendly with several of the Yale players and have tremendous respect for Coach Coza. I would not have disliked the team so much if I hadn’t wanted to be part of them in the first place. But I still like to see Yale lose.
Kent lines up against Brown, 1990 (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics Dept.)
J: Your senior year was filled with near-miss losses to Harvard, Fordham, Cornell and Brown, plus a very good showing against eventual league champion Dartmouth. Were the 1991 Lions the best 1-9 team ever?
BK: I really don’t know how to compare the quality of 1-9 teams. I remember my senior year it really felt like we were on the cusp of turning the program around. Obviously we never did, but part of coach Tellier’s genius was that he was able to sustain that feeling throughout a losing season.
J: You and your wife Clare were college sweethearts... in fact, some of your relationship seems right out of the 1950's, as you were "the football player" and she was "the cheerleader." Obviously, there's a whole lot more to two Ivy League college grads, so would you like to blow that stereotype up, or was the truth just as "storybook" as it sounds?
BK: Well, obviously there is a lot more to anyone than what you see on the surface, and Clare and I are no exception. For instance, Clare graduated at the top of her class from Haas/Berkeley Business School but also loves to bake. But as far as our romance goes, it is pretty much as “storybook” as it sounds. It was the first week of school when I saw Clare for the first time. She was on the opposite side of the quad, coming out of Hartley and I can still describe what she was wearing. We started dating in October of that year and I have been crazy about her ever since. On July 10th we celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary and I can honestly say that it feels like we were just married. For me, the best thing about Columbia will always be that that is where I met Clare. Clare makes me believe in the myth of romantic love. I know it sounds incredibly sappy. Even Clare and I realize how it looks and maintain a sense of humor about our relationship. The attached photos should make everything clear.
This is why you shouldn't have thrown out your Underoos
J: Athletes are taking some criticism in the student papers and online publications at Columbia these days, was there any hint of that when you were at CU?
BK: There was always a little, but not to the extent I see now.
J: I've seen you at some Columbia games over the years, how closely do you follow the team and do you keep in touch with your old teammates?
BK: I follow as closely as I am able. I go to games whenever I can. Once I took a military transport to Dover AFB in Delaware and rented a car to make the second half of a game at Baker field. I read whatever is published about the team and particularly enjoy reading your blog and receiving the e-mail updates that Coach Wilson has started sending out.
Although I do not do nearly as good a job as I should, I do keep in touch with several old teammates, particularly Jim Daine, Bob Walcott and Kiernan O’Connor. Most recently, I had an opportunity to visit with Coach White and his family while they were vacationing in Pensacola Beach. He looks exactly the same and is doing great.
J: I remember seeing you practice alone on South Field every day during the summer of 1991. It seemed to pay off as you made 2nd team All-Ivy that fall, but was there a more organized practice and training schedule for the players in the off season?
BK: There were no organized practices allowed in the Ivy League during the off-season at that time. We did have a weightlifting and running schedule during the school year, but only a handful of players trained at Columbia in the summertime. One of the positive changes that Coach Tellier and his staff made was encouraging players to stay at Columbia during the summer to work and train. I have read that Coach Wilson has a similar program. I think this will really help Columbia develop future players (and help the players develop their resumes.)
J: How would you describe your overall experience at Columbia from 1988-92?
BK: While I am sure that there were some negatives, I tend to remember all of the positives. I had a great experience at Columbia. It is a wonderful university in the greatest city in the world and it attracts a brilliant and diverse student body. I met my wife at Columbia and the best friends I have today I met while attending Columbia. The ideas that I was exposed to at Columbia help me in my endeavors to this day. If anything, I wish I had done more and learned more while I was there. But there are so many opportunities at Columbia, it is impossible to experience them all in four years.
J: What game from your Columbia days do you remember most and what game would you most like to forget?
BK: I remember the Harvard game my senior year the best. We played at Harvard and the weather was perfect. It was a very close game but the team played extremely well and we were very hopeful when we left Harvard stadium. Personally, I remember being very excited after that game and believed that we would win the rest of our games that season.
(*Jake's Note: Columbia lost that game 21-16, despite having a 1st and goal at the four with about two minutes left in the game. Four tries yielded nothing and the Crimson held on).
As far as forgetting, the Penn game my junior year was a personal low for me. I remember being very excited about that game because I was going to play against (future NFL All-Pro center with the Kansas City Chiefs), Joe Valerio, one of the league’s best offensive linemen. During the first half of the game, I did a great job against Valerio, (at least that‘s how I remember it). However, in the second half I committed an extremely flagrant personal foul and was ejected from the game. This game served as a turning point in my career. Prior to this game, I had a history of committing personal fouls. However, this incident, along with some much needed mentoring from Coach White, made me realize how useless, selfish and counterproductive penalties were. I do know that I never intentionally committed another foul.
J: What was your daily schedule like during the football season?
BK: I usually woke up early and went to breakfast and then to morning classes. I used to schedule all of my classes in the morning or early afternoon because we had to catch the bus to Baker field at around 2:30. Then I would go to practice until 5-5:30 and then catch the bus back to Columbia. I usually went to the cafeteria for dinner and then studied and went to bed. A couple of times a week we also had to lift weights and watch game films. I also found time to hang out and do typical college student stuff.
J: What were your impressions of Coach Ray Tellier and his staff?
BK: Coach Tellier took over as head coach during my freshman year and he immediately started to make changes for the better. He brought in a great staff, many of whom are successful head coaches for other college football teams today. Eventually Coach Tellier was able to build the team he envisioned and had the best team in recent CU history. But what I remember best about Coach Tellier was that he managed to make us believe that we were working towards the future of CU football and were the foundation of what would one day be a great team.
J: Who did you consider to be the best players you played with while at CU?
BK: The players that I remember as having the biggest impact were the linebackers. I was very fortunate to have three great linebackers play behind me: Bart Barnett, Galen Snyder and Des Werthman. I remember Bart as being a great leader and Des went on to be an Ivy League legend, (and made the best hit I ever saw when Keith Elias called his name and pointed to the hole he was going to run through), but I think Galen was the best player I was ever on the field with. Galen was consistent, smart, fast, tough and hard hitting and would probably have been a stellar player in any league. During his junior and senior years he was definitely the heart of our defense.
Although we had many talented players at the offensive skill positions, the offensive player who I felt made the biggest contribution was the OG Brad Hutton. Brad was an anchor on the offensive line and a great captain our senior year. On the field, he could play with anybody and practicing against him definitely made me a better player. Additionally, he is a very classy guy and always exhibited great sportsmanship. His accomplishments are even more impressive when you consider that he was the youngest player on our 1988 freshman team, (I think he was 16).
The most intense player was Mike Holt. He was a fierce competitor and an all around great guy.
J: Have you had a chance to see this current team play, and do you have any thoughts on their success last year?
BK: I was only able to see the current team play on video last year. On paper, they seemed like any other Columbia team but obviously they were something special. I believe that there was lot of parity, talent wise, in the league last year, (with some exceptions). So I would have to attribute their success to Coach Wilson and his staff. Under Coach Tellier, I saw first-hand how a coach can turn a program around. I would love to see Coach Wilson build on his success. The hardest thing at Columbia seems to be building and sustaining winning teams. Maybe Coach Wilson can do it, I certainly wish him the best. If the football fairies are reading this, 20 years down the road I would love for Columbia to be a perennial Ivy Football powerhouse. It would also be great to attend their games at a new stadium in downtown Manhattan.