After more than four decades as a strength coach in professional and collegiate athletics programs, Brad Roll is making a tangible difference in young students’ lives.
Roll began his career as a graduate assistant at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. He flourished in his field of strength and conditioning, moving through a series of roles at university athletics programs and then spending 20 years in the NFL, working with six different teams along the way. “I’ve had many ups and downs, from victorious championship games to getting fired, and I’ve experienced every emotion in my career,” Roll says. “I know what it’s like to work hard, set goals, and dedicate your life to your job.”
DRAWN TO EAST TENNESSEE
In 2016, Roll left the NFL and went to work with a peer at West Point. That’s when he got a call from the University of Tennessee football program. They wanted a coach to come and work with sports science and GPS tracking for the football team, and Roll said yes.
A few years later, he was offered an opportunity to work with UT’s Olympic sports program. Today, he works with the men’s tennis and women’s volleyball teams. “I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun and valued the relationships with the athletes more than with these teams.”
Head Volleyball Coach Eve Rackam Watt says Roll has become much more than a coach for the program. “His commitment to excellence has helped cultivate a championship mentality on our team,” she says. “Our players have become mentally and physically stronger through his leadership, and he’s been an integral part of our success.”
Men’s Tennis Head Coach Chris Woodruff, who’s known Roll since the early 1990s, agrees. “Brad is a terrific individual who is fiercely loyal to those he helps,” says Woodruff. “What stands out is his broad vision for improvement and a relentless work ethic.”
REMEMBERING A GENEROUS FRIENDSHIP
Roll is hoping to reward and encourage a student along similar lines with a new scholarship he is funding. The scholarship, named in memory of Roll’s friend, Bob Slater, is earmarked for students who have been involved in the athletics program at UT as undergraduates and wish to pursue a graduate degree in the Haslam College of Business.
When Hurricane Andrew ripped through Florida in 1992, Roll was coaching at the University of Miami. “I lost my house in the storm, and my friend Bob Slater and his wife were kind enough to take me in,” he says.
Slater and his wife became Roll’s best friends, and Slater also became Roll’s investing mentor, showing him what investing over a long period of time could look like and helping set him upon a similar track. “Through his advice and generosity, I’m financially in the place today to create a scholarship in his name.”
Roll has specific goals for the scholarship, including awarding someone who has already paid the price of learning how to study and how to succeed as an undergraduate. “I want to help someone who’s proven their work ethic and consistency,” Roll says. “I have a vision that this scholarship will help the rising students I’ve coached move forward, hopefully stay in East Tennessee, and start their own businesses.”