Minter's time behind mower well spent

The Cincinnati Enquirer

One of the reasons Rick Minter is a football man is that he never had enough time for baseball.

While other boys were refining their hitting strokes or blowing out their elbows, Minter's childhood summers were spent behind the busiest lawnmower in Texas.

''My brother and I had 25 or 26 lawns to mow, and then he took a job and I did them by myself,'' the University of Cincinnati football coach said Wednesday afternoon. ''At the end of the summer, I'd have $500 or $600 in a shoe box.''

Minter's younger brothers must have thought him a boob. Upon inheriting the lawn business, they promptly cut half of his customers and raised the rates for those they retained. They would make as much money with half the work.

Twenty-five years later, the memory still rankles Rick Minter. The Bearcats' obsessive boss has never fully accepted that other men are not so highly motivated. His ambitions are made of pretty stern stuff.

Nine days before his team's season opener against Tulane, Minter was worried about the work ethic of his teen-age sons, and the widespread sloth he sees in society. He has kept his nose so near the grindstone for so long now that it could serve as a knife sharpener.

''I've got a tremendous desire to be great at everything I do,'' he said, sipping confidently from a can of Diet Mountain Dew. ''I'm propelled by that.''

In a profession densely populated with driven personalities, Minter makes some of his peers seem like slackers. He replaced the meticulous Tim Murphy before the 1994 season and immediately impressed the players with the increased urgency (and length) of practice.

''It's 911 all the way,'' former Bearcat linebacker Reggie Hudson said.

Sticking to the plan

Minter spent so many nights on campus that season that he later said his biggest regret was buying a house. He saw to the slightest detail of UC's football operation, down to the particulars of how his players would celebrate victories on the road. Yet in spite of his dedication, and defensive skill, the Bearcats finished 2-8-1.

Another man might have wondered if his efforts had been wasted. But Minter has always seen effort as an end in itself. When he launched his lawn-mowing empire, it was without first considering how much to charge.

When the first customer inquired about the fee, eight-year-old Rick Minter wondered if he might have 50 cents to split with his brother. The neighbor laughed and paid out $3.

The real payoff in cutting grass, Minter believes, came in the development of his character. He made it a point to complete every task he undertook, and he came to persist in sports when there didn't seem much point.

He earned his football scholarship at Henderson State (Ark.) as a walk-on, and went on to become a three-year starter.

''I got tired of hearing this: 'Rick might not be as fast as anybody, and he might not be as strong, and he might not be as big, but he finds a way.' That drove me harder.''

A worthy 'cause'

Rick Minter has never let up for very long. He regularly refers to UC football as a ''cause,'' as if the extra-curricular activity were an enterprise of critical importance.

Football coaches tend to get carried away with their own rhetoric - ''Self-interest is self-destruction,'' Minter tells his players - but at least this one has already practiced what he's now preaching.

Growing up in a large, blue-collar family, Minter was expected to pull his weight from an early age. He was driving illegally at the age of 12 to serve his far-flung lawn-mowing clients and was expected to spend the proceeds on school expenses instead of shiny bicycles and sports equipment.

He didn't complain, because he didn't know enough to complain. That was the way things were. Rick Minter would tell you now that the work was its own reward.

''I always had a desire with every little project that I didn't quit until I was done,'' he said, proudly. ''I wonder if a guy today would have that same get-up and go.''

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published Aug. 22, 1996.