Sit back and listen to Sadaat

  • JOHN SLEEPER / Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, September 27, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

Assistant coach can sell the virtues of Western

By JOHN SLEEPER

Herald Writer

BELLINGHAM — Payam Sadaat can really talk up a football program.

He sells Western Washington University’s academic reputation to recruits. He sells the Vikings’ winning NCAA Division II football team. He hammers away at the 86-percent graduation rate. He can paint a picture of Western’s gorgeous setting on woodsy Sehome Hill. He uses "dignity" a lot. "Comfort."

He does so with a mix of wide-eyed intensity and smooth, effortless grace that puts a recruit at ease and makes him dream about wearing the school’s blue, silver and white.

"Let’s take the money off the table, because that’s not the way we should do business, anyway," says WWU’s recruiting coordinator, linebackers coach and special teams boss. "Let’s talk about schools. School for school. Let’s talk about the coaching character. Let’s talk about the environment of the team, the environment you felt when you visited. What did you feel when you went on your recruiting visit?

"Was it warm? Was it cold? Who made you feel more at home? Who made you feel more comfortable?"

Oh, he’s a master in a living room, all right.

Sadaat is near-hypnotic when he talks up Western’s virtues. So much so that you forget that he lost part of is left arm and very nearly his life in doing something he freely admits was beyond stupid.

A visible disability? At first, yes. You can’t help but notice. And Sadaat seems not to care. He gestures with it. He slaps it for emphasis. But soon, the visitor doesn’t care, either. It’s comfortable being around Payam Sadaat.

It happened in the spring of 1993. Sadaat and Washington State teammate Harvey "Buddy" Waldron came up with the idea to build a pipe bomb and set it off in a Pullman field.

They never made it there. The bomb exploded as they were driving down a residential street. Both were critically injured.

Sadaat eventually recovered. Buddy died two days later.

More than a few, mindful of Sadaat’s name, tried to connect the tragedy to other bombings around the country, including the one at the World Trade Center weeks before.

Sadaat was cleared. But then he had to learn to live with the tragedy. Of losing a friend. All because of an incomprehensible lack of judgment.

In a way, the accident didn’t change Sadaat. Out of Santa Monica (Calif.) High School, he walked on at Washington State without even visiting and battled to become a prominent linebacker. He was single-minded. Stubborn. He had to be to move up the ranks.

"I established myself as someone who’s not going to quit," he said. "I also had that same headstrongness as what made me ignorant enough to make that decision to make a bomb. That same headstrongness gave me the ability to stay there. The ability to make a bomb kept me there. It yinned and it yanged me."

Sadaat was who he is long before the accident. The stubbornness helped him survive. The traits that got him this far, he hopes, will carry him throughout his lifetime and help him reach what he wants.

The change via the accident is singular. And it is for the best.

"What it did was it dropped the ignorance," Sadaat said. "Hopefully, I won’t make any dumber moves in my life. But that’s what happened. When I reflect on it, I think the ignorance dropped out and something else came in. Maybe it’s this passion I have for coaching."

It is the same stubbornness that led Sadaat to become the American record holder in the shot put, upper arm division (45 feet, 5 1/2 inches). The same trait that carried him to a fourth-place finish at the 1998 World Disabled Championships in Birmingham, England.

"I never put the shot until I lost my hand," he said. "I’ve never wanted to play the piano more than I do now. I never swung a golf club until I lost one hand. I never swung a tennis racket until I lost one hand. I never fished until I lost one hand. I have no clue why. It could be my mind. It could be the adaptation of the mind, the door that I opened by losing a hand, not by my senses but by my vision.

"Maybe all the crossover makes me want to try things. I can catch much better now with one hand than I did with two hands. It’s weird."

His athletes refer to Sadaat as a player’s coach, someone easy to talk to about virtually everything.

"He’s really meant a lot to me, confidence-wise," said WWU linebacker Wayne Parker, a Mariner High School graduate. "I really didn’t think I had much confidence before him. I wasn’t taught to read the run and stuff. I was just out there. I didn’t know what to look at. He taught me what to look for. I think he’s helped everybody a lot."

It’s easy to like Sadaat. It’s just as easy to be amazed by him.

"When we throw footballs at him, he catches them," safety Erik Totten said. "When I’m back returning punts sometimes, I throw them at him. I mean, I’m gunning them at him. And he catches them with his nub."

Sadaat wants to catch on with a coaching staff at the highest level. That’s even given the fact that high-level coaching is a cookie cutter brought on by a timeless Good Ol’ Boy network that has set its own standards.

One that has its own ideas of acceptable race and physical disability.

Sadaat talks about Jay Dumas, a former standout WSU receiver who’s now a grad assistant in charge of running backs at WWU. Dumas is black.

"We lived together; we played together; now we’re coaching together," Sadaat said. "It’s funny. Through all that experience, we have almost the same coaching philosophy. He has his minority. I have my disability. We walk the same paths. We share more common things because of living and playing together and going through certain things together. We can coach Division I athletes."

If that particular path is difficult, it’s no more difficult than the one Sadaat already has traveled. For now, though, the job is to sell the program. Do it with dignity. With honesty. Part of the job is to tell the academically-borderline recruit that it won’t be easy.

"Consciously, I have to live with bringing a kid in here who may not be able to succeed," Sadaat says. "I’m not going to have that on my conscious. I’m not going to go into a mother and father’s living room or a single mom’s living room or a single father’s living room and say, ‘Hey, your kid’s going to get a great education here,’ and he gets bounced out after two quarters.

"I’m not going to live with that."

There he goes again. Just sit back. Listen.

And dream.

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