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PROFILE: Money doesn't buy him love

By Jacob Kamaras
On October 24, 2006

  • While he coached at St. Anthony High School, Darren Erman, above, slept each night on this air mattress on the floor of his friend's New York apartment. Photo by Jennifer Szymaszek/The Associated Press. Rachel Marder

The median salary for graduates of Northwestern Law School is $125,000. And Darren Erman, who graduated from there in 2000, was making $150,000 a year working at Latham and Watkins, one of the world's most powerful law firms, in Chicago until 2003.Fast forward to 2006: Erman is volunteering as an assistant men's basketball coach at Brandeis.

His salary: $0.

"I think he is absolutely out of his mind," his boss, head coach Brian Meehan jokes.

In a society driven by material acquisition, Erman doesn't conform.

"I just don't have opportunities to accumulate material things," he says. "Sometimes on pay day I wish things would be different, but I love where I am. If I didn't, I would go back into law and make money."

Nevertheless, giving up law wasn't easy for him.

"It was a difficult choice since I had a comfortable life," he says. "I liked my job, but didn't love it. A large portion of your life is work, so I might as well love what I do."

But the 30-year-old native of Louisville, Ky., who also currently works as a skill-development coach for Boston Celtic forward Brian Scalabrine, had little choice in what to be passionate about growing up.

"All we have in Kentucky is basketball and horses," he says.

Erman didn't choose horses.

As an undergraduate at Emory University, Erman was a student-coach for the men's basketball team. Then, after sampling the world of corporate law, he felt unfulfilled. So he quit to become an assistant basketball coach and environmental science teacher at St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, N.J. The school is situated in a down-and-out part of the city and is constantly threatened by bankruptcy. Erman's salary was $25,000.

While coaching there, he lived on the floor of his friend's apartment in New York City, sleeping on an air mattress. Now living in Waltham, he has "upgraded" to a small studio apartment. But Erman takes his financial constraints in stride.

"I have a small apartment, but a tremendous life," he says.

Even though he was paid less in New Jersey, Erman's work was no walk in the park. His typical day at St. Anthony consisted of waking up at 5:30 a.m., teaching science until 2:30 p.m. and running basketball practice from 3 to 7 p.m. His hard work was rewarding: St. Anthony had a 30-0 record and finished ranked No. 2 in the nation during Erman's first season. Adrian Wojnarowski wrote a best-selling book about this story, The Miracle of St. Anthony, in February 2005.

"It was great to overcome adversity," Erman says. "The kids weren't great in the classroom, but they were the most disciplined kids in the country on the court."

Erman credits that discipline to legendary head coach Bob Hurley, father of former NBA player Bobby Hurley. St. Anthony has won 90 percent of its games and 24 state championships under Hurley's tutelage.

"To say coach Hurley is among the top high school coaches is a disservice to him," Erman says. "He is one of the top coaches at any level."

After two years at St. Anthony, however, it seemed like Erman would return to the corporate world. He was offered a job as a sports agent in California. But then, Scalabrine, who had just signed with the Celtics, asked Erman to join him in Boston. Erman accepted and moved to Waltham.

Then, the Emory alumnus returned to his University Athletic Association roots in pursuing the Brandeis job. An academic scholar and a student of the game of basketball, Erman says he appreciates what the UAA has to offer.

"The UAA is strong in all sports, and the kids are real student-athletes," he says.

When Erman offered his services to Brandeis, Meehan couldn't refuse.

"I told [Erman] that we didn't need another guy on our coaching staff," Meehan says. "But by the time I was done meeting with him, I asked him to stay and help us."

Entering his second year at Brandeis, Erman has already made a significant impact.

"He brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the program, and a strong desire to help kids get better," Meehan says.

Erman's passion for coaching can even be characterized as obsessive.

"When I coach, I am very intense," he says. "When we lose, I am up all night. When we win, I don't appreciate the victory since I am preparing for the next game."

And like he revered coach Hurley, Erman remains in awe of his new boss.

"[Meehan] is as good a coach as you will find and I am extremely lucky to learn from him every day," Erman says.

"He always gets the guys to play extremely hard. If we lose, it is not because of a lack of effort or preparation."

Erman has also now realized-reassuringly-that he is not alone in passing up a chance at corporate wealth for a more fulfilling career.

"I made a financial sacrifice by quitting law, but I did not do anything special," he says.

"Everyone in the athletics department at Brandeis could have pursued more lucrative careers. All the administrators and coaches here go out of their way for students. They all made the same sacrifices that I did, but I just took a different path."

Not that Erman regrets his winding career path, even after absorbing three expensive years of law school. But one thing is certain: In the future, he will only do work that he loves.

"[Erman] realizes that what really becomes important in life is having a job you enjoy," Meehan says. "It's not all about making a lot of money.

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