Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in our series on the Eighmey family of the University of Nebraska Kearney. The previous article explains the roots of their unique relationship as incoming coaches and Devin’s sly pursuit of Carrie.
College sports afford athletes the opportunity to learn teamwork, sacrifice and other crucial life lessons dolled out by their coaches. The women playing basketball at Division-II Nebraska Kearney get a bonus education: marriage.
Head coach Carrie and assistant coach Devin bring energy, knowledge and wisdom to the table, and they also add their experience as the Eighmey family.
They were both hired at UNK within days of each other in 2015, Carrie as the women’s head coach and Devin as a men’s assistant. Carrie immediately caught Devin’s eye, and after some smooth moves and persistence, the two began dating a few months later.
Devin switched to the women’s team to join forces with Carrie before the 2016-17 season, and on Sept. 3, 2016, the two were wed. This will be the duo’s fourth season coaching as a married couple.
“The longer we do it, the better we get at it,” Carrie said.
In their first season coaching together as spouses, there was a necessary feeling out process. Although they’d said their vows in the fall, the two still had only known each other for roughly 18 months. It required adjustments on both their parts to make it work.
“I think in that first year, it’s kind of like you don’t want to step on each other’s toes,” Devin explained. “Will she care if I say this? Is she going to get offended, because we have to go home together.”
After grooming the relationship further and gaining experience as coaches and spouses, they’ve reached a much better comfort level. The two know what to expect from one another, and they know how to voice themselves appropriately and constructively.
And there are times of disagreement, like with any coaching staff and married couple. How the Eighmeys handle those situations is crucial, not only for the sake of their program and relationship, but also for their players, who learn from what they see.
“You get to see a marriage live every day,” Devin said. “For some of our kids, they have that, and for some of our kids, they may have not had that growing up, so I think it’s good on both parts.”
Like all marriages, there are good days and bad. There are times when the two don’t see eye-to-eye on something, and there are times when things don’t go as planned.
There’s nothing wrong with that.
“Everybody has days where something irritates them,” Carrie said. “We don’t claim to be the perfect husband and wife whose marriage is always 100 percent perfect, and we don’t mind that they see that, because that’s real life. Obviously, we’re careful about making sure we’re supporting each other on the floor and things like that, but it’s okay for them to see a marriage and a relationship where too imperfect people are trying to work together.
“Marriage is hard. I think that’s an important lesson for people to understand. Marriage is probably one of the hardest things in life. It’s going to be one of the relationships that you’re trying to make permanent, and there are going to be times where it’s hard and it’s challenging. It’s not always fun, or it doesn’t always make you happy. But at the end of the day, when they can see two people who are totally committed to each other, it’s a really valuable lesson.”
When the Eighmeys recruit, they talk to prospective players and their parents about their relationship. They reiterate the humanity within them, which means a whole host of things.
“We all have stresses in our jobs. We all have anxiety or whatever it may be, and so you have to decide to put things in perspective and have balance, too,” Devin said. “We talk a lot about that with parents of recruits, kids in our program, that we’re people, too. We have regular lives. We brush our teeth. We eat the same way.
“You need balance in life. Carrie does a really good job of that at times, saying, ‘Hey, no phone calls tonight, we’re doing this.’ She is, I will say this, a master griller. She’s an unbelievable lawn care taker, and so we have different roles even at home. I’m not afraid to do a little bit of laundry and those things. We have fun, too. You have to have fun. You have to enjoy it. It’s life. We always say, don’t take yourself too seriously.”
To achieve that balance, the Eighmey tandem will occasionally set aside time where basketball talk is strictly prohibited. It can be difficult for their hoops-crazed minds to come up with another topic, but they know how important it is for their relationship to revolve around more than the rock.
But having that special someone who is equally as passionate about the thing you love most is vital for them. Most couples spend weekdays apart from one another, each attending their separate jobs. The Eighmeys go to the same office and get to strengthen their relationship all day, every day.
“We’ve learned so much about each other so much quicker. We’re seen how each other handle stress and adversity and things not going well, or things going really well,” Carrie said. “Sometimes early in our marriage, it was surprising to see how the other might respond to something, but as we’ve gone through that, we’ve learned a lot about each other. We’ve learned what motivates each other, how to encourage one another. Part of being a great teammate is serving one another and helping somebody out when maybe they’re down or struggling. We’ve been able to really see and understand what the person needs and how they’re best motivated, how they excel, all those kinds of things, and that’s definitely helped us in our marriage.
“On the other hand, being married has definitely helped us be willing to be patient with the other as a co-worker. Sometimes with your co-worker, there’s not that same commitment to another person as there is when you’re married: patience, persistence, being willing to really work together, listen and hear each out and compromise. All those things, we work on them every single day. Sometimes maybe in a normal marriage, those things may only come up when there’s an issue or you only work on that when there’s a circumstance or situation that arises that requires that, but we’re working on our marriage and working on being teammates as co-workers every single day, all day long. There’s definitely opportunity to grow and better in both areas of our lives.”
Before meeting and coaching with Devin, Carrie said the coaching profession could be a lonely one. The obsessive nature of the work can be consuming and leave you feeling isolated.
“It takes so much emotional energy, physical energy. It demands a lot of your time and attention, and if you’re not actually working, you’re thinking about work, and you’re thinking about the kids in your program, about Xs and Os,” Carrie explained about being a basketball coach. “I think prior to being able to do this with Devin, sometimes it’s lonely, because you’re sacrificing a lot of things. You’re sacrificing time with your family, time with your friends and time with somebody you could be building a relationship with, a future spouse or something like that. Prior to that, yeah, I would say sometimes it was a little bit lonely. One of those things where you just kind of keep doing what you’re doing. Obviously, you love your job, but maybe you don’t have much of a personal life.”
That’s gone now, though, as the two have each other inside and outside of basketball. There’s no guarantee of the situation’s permanence, though. Right now, the couple does not have any children, but that is something that could change in the future. There’s no crystal ball to project how their lives with go and any other number of aspects that could affect the future of them coaching together, at UNK or otherwise.
But right now, they have it, and they’re going to relish it for however long it lasts.
“You’d like to have a glass ball and see in the future and know what’s going to happen. We’re open to a lot of different options, and a lot of that is dependent on our situation as a family,” Carrie explained. “We love working together. We love the time that we get to spend together, and we love the program that we’re building. We love that we get to build something together. I think it’s unique and really something special to be able to build something together that we both contribute to and we both feel like we’re really a big part of. We have that connection on a deeper level, because we’re both experiencing all of it together every single day.”