Liberty Co-Defensive Coordinator and Defensive Line Coach Vantz Singletary is the nephew of Hall of Famer Mike Singletary. Vantz says their relationship is much more like brothers than the typical uncle-nephew relationship.
“Mike and I are much closer than nephew and uncle,” Vantz said. “He’s really my mentor. My mom got divorced at a very early age. That allowed her to move back home with her mother while Mike was still finishing up high school. So, that kind of put me with him (a lot). We did so much (together), and I really admired him because he really became my dad that I never got a chance to know and be around. He became my big brother, my mentor, my confidant, my everything.”
Vantz learned at an early age from his uncle the value of relationships. “The most important thing, Mike had a passion for Christ at a very young age. With our grandfather being a Pentecostal pastor, some of that rubbed off on Mike as a minister. So, he got a chance to share a lot of scripture with me, and direct me and let me know what was important as far as getting an education, family, and a relationship with Christ.”
The Singletary’s grew up in Sunnyside, a community in southern Houston. Drugs, and crime run rampant in Sunnyside, but Vantz admired his uncle as he was able to make something of his life through the game of football. “I saw Mike do it (make something of his life), and I said, ‘you know what, I can do it too.’ (Mike) encouraged me to do it. I just wanted more out of my life and have a chance to go to school.”
After following Mike as a star football player at Worthing High School in Houston, Vantz had a lot of offers to go anywhere in the country to play football. He had the chance to follow Mike’s footsteps to Baylor, but chose a different path. Vantz originally signed with Texas A&M coming out of high school, but was forced to go to Blinn Junior College to improve his grades. After Blinn, Singletary again had numerous offers, and eventually chose Kansas State. At Kansas State, Vantz met another man that impressed upon him the importance of relationships.
“My position coach at Kansas State, Kevin Ramsey, was my mentor. He reminded me a lot of my uncle, demeanor-wise, and just how he went about doing his business. He always had a special interest in me, he and his wife. I stayed in touch with him. I liked how he did things, the way he coached, and how he related to the young players.”
After a brief stint with the Philadelphia Eagles, Ramsey and his uncle both pushed Vantz to pursue coaching. He began his coaching career at Trinity College in Deerfield, Illinois in 1992. Since then, he’s made coaching stops at Southern, Hawaii, Chattanooga, Buffalo, the San Fransisco 49ers, and Kansas, before joining Coach Gill at Liberty in 2012.
“Being around a lot of good men who gave back to me at all the different universities, a lot of older coaches I looked up to and admired how they went about doing things. Not only with the players, but with their own families. How passionate they were, the time they spent away from their families being with us, and then opening their homes up to us, really said a lot. I’ll always be indebted for that. The relationship (with those coaches) I still garner, admire, and respect.”
Drawing from each of these relationships, Singletary has learned that building a relationship that lasts beyond football is more important than teaching the actual game. “My success has always been about relationships. Of course, I’m going to teach them the fundamentals and the techniques, but it’s more important that they know this is truly who I am. I’m opening my home up to them, and I’m here for them.”
At Hawaii, Vantz picked up the nick name The Father of Love. He says he loves the relationships he builds with his players. Coach Gill has also made note of Singletary’s relationship-building qualities. “I think he has tremendous relationships with his players,” Gill said. “He’s loyal. He loves his players. He understands how to teach and develop his players in every aspect of their lives. He’s just a tremendous asset to our program, a tremendous person. I love his family and everyone that’s involved (with him). He’s done some tremendous things.”
“I really enjoy the relationships, and the development,” Singletary said. “Watching not only them become boys, but also developing into young men, become married, and start a family. I hope what I’ve done with my family will rub off on them, and they will continue to cherish and pass that on to their kids.”
Singletary stays in constant contact with his players. Calling them at 1 in the morning, or texting them at 3AM when he’s going to the restroom, “Hey, I love you. I appreciate you.” Singletary says there’s a time to be tough on his student-athletes and a time to encourage them. “You can be tough on them, but you also still have to put your arm around them. You still have to reach out to mom and dad or whoever the ones are that really value them.”
Having so many mentors and solid relationships to rely on during difficult situations really helped Singletary as his brother passed away a couple weeks ago. Vantz was able to lean on Coach Gill and some of the other coaches on staff. His bond with Gill has grown as they’ve been together now at 3 different schools (Buffalo, Kansas, Liberty) for a total of 7 seasons.
“I’m grateful for this opportunity (to coach at Liberty). I’m going to go out and give (Coach Gill) my best, not only him, but the coaching staff, our players, our university, our fans. I want them to know that I’m putting a really good product on the field week-in, week-out, that they can appreciate and value.”
He’s been able to do that as the Flames have had one of the best defensive line units in the Big South under Singletary. He’s also developed some standout players including Chima Uzowihe who is the school’s and Big South’s career sack leader. Sophomore Juwan Wells is on pace to break all of Chima’s records.
“I’m very grateful in my walk in life because it’s such a marathon, it’s not a sprint. (I try to) really appreciate each and every day, whether it’s a win, loss, tie, just got to continue to trust the process and the people that you’re around.”