One could say that Hailie and Dante Warren share a love for the ‘Yotes, but that would be an extreme understatement.
The two met when they reported to fall camp at USD during the summer of 2007 – Hailie, a midfielder for the women’s soccer team, and Dante, who would go on to later serve as QB1 during one of USD’s most memorable wins in history against the Minnesota Gophers. During camp in 2007, Dante was the first person Hailie met in the dorms, and over the next two years, their friendship continued to grow. Then, heading into their junior year, during those same summer workouts, Dante started introducing Hailie as his girlfriend.
Skip to 2018. Over the past decade, the two got married, made three moves and held many different positions. Their most recent relocation however, will go down as the most unforgettable.
This summer, Dante got the call to be the running backs coach for USD. The two would make the move back to where it all began, but this time as a family of three.
Q: Dante, was it a dream to be called upon this past summer for the running backs coaching position and rejoin a program you once led?
Dante Warren (DW): No doubt. It was almost fate, the way it all happened as far as timing. My two years as a Grad Assistant at [Augustana University] was ending right as we were discovering Hailie was pregnant, and the pressure was high to figure out our next step. To hear that both GA spots were open at USD, I had to find a way to be considered.
After a few interviews, I accepted the offensive GA position, and shortly after starting, the fulltime RB coach spot came open – the same position I coached at Augie. Thanks to Coach Nielson, I was given the chance to work with the backs, and at the end of the summer, he officially offered me the fulltime spot. Hailie and I were both so excited to get settled a little more permanently, just in time to welcome our daughter.
Q: Hailie, you made the move during preseason work seamlessly and wasted no time being involved. You were appointed to the Alumni Association Board as well as the Athletic Board of Control in September. What was the hardest part of the move along with working to become involved?
Hailie Warren (HW): Luckily, this move was something we could do in phases since it was so close, and the university was also very helpful with doing the bulk of our move for us. Thank goodness, too. I was seven months pregnant at the time, and I was really only good for pointing to the room I wanted each piece.
The second we stepped foot back in Vermillion, I started to connect with those I knew still working for the University. Dante had me come in and spend some time with the coaching staff to talk social media and help brainstorm ways to elevate the great work they are already doing. Shortly after that, I was asked to do the same with the Howling Pack team, as well as join the committee in charge of planning the Calling All Coyotes event.
From there, a former teammate of mine – and honestly, one of my first-ever mentors – Brooke Murphy approached me asking if joining the Board of Directors was something I would be interested in. She felt I would be a good fit. I, of course, told her I would love to be considered for it and a few phone calls later, I was appointed to the both Board of Directors and the Athletic Board of Control.
Q: Along with the changes from the move and your new roles, you two also welcomed your first child, Winter Shea Warren, on August 7. She had to be the most special of the changes.
HW: Yes – so many changes and one huge miracle – Winter! Like everything else in our life, the timing could not have been more chaotic and beautiful at the same time. Winter came the week fall camp started. We chose to have her in Sioux Falls, so the entire week leading up to it, I hung out in Sioux Falls at my cousin’s waiting for a movie scene scenario of my water breaking and us rushing to the hospital.
Meanwhile, Dante spent every waking second at the Dome doing football coaching things and checking his phone every few seconds to see if Winter was on her way. Camp started on Monday, August 6. Winter came on the seventh – no movie scene – and Dante was back to work on the ninth. Our lives were instantly changed and she has absolutely become the center of our world.
DW: Obviously, I had a lot on my plate that week with camp starting and Hailie approaching her due date. Trying to stay focused on my running backs, knowing my daughter was about to be here was challenging, to say the least. Luckily, everything went smoothly. Since they decided to induce Hailie, I was able to be there the night before and did not miss a thing. I don’t often cry, but watching Hailie be so strong through the delivery and the instant burst of tears from Winter got me. It is honestly the coolest thing anyone could ever experience. My whole world shifted that night in the best way possible. She’s, without a doubt, my reason why.
Q: What an amazing few days, but it couldn’t have been easy being a brand new family in the midst of summer workouts. How did you two manage family time with practice?
HW: I would be lying if I said this lifestyle was easy, or that we never have hard days. Luckily, after we had Winter, my mom and sisters came for my first week and helped Dante and I start parenthood on the right foot. They cooked, cleaned, handled our yard work and took care of all the little things, so the few moments we did have together, we could just focus on each other and Winter and not worry about keeping everything else together.
The season can be tough on all three of us. We start to miss Dante on the longer weeks – bad, and with the busy schedule, figuring out the best way to stay connected can be challenging, but we have found little things that help us get through it. We take several walks to the Dome to catch Dante for the quick 5-10 minutes between practice and meetings, and sometimes towards the end of the week – if we are lucky – he even invites us to pick up dinner and come eat at his office.
Another perk about being in Verm – the town is very small, so if Dante does have a few spare minutes, he will often pop home even just for a quick hug that will get us through to his often-late returns. We also started having the running backs come to our house on Thursdays for a family dinner. I love getting to know the guys a little better, since Dante is spending most of his time with them – and as Winter gets older, she will have so many “big brothers” to look up to.
DW: Life became about two things for us. Work and Winter. Most of my days were pretty much consumed by football, but we worked hard to fit small visits in throughout the day, FaceTiming if the nights got late, and Hailie filled my office with pictures of Winter to remind me what I’m working so hard for.
Q: Now that you are almost through the football season, what advice would you give a new family adjusting to the coaching lifestyle?
HW: Number one –get a schedule. Now that I’ve I got a better idea of when Dante will be free or what days of the week are less intense, I can plan our visits or dinners around that.
Number two –lean on the other coaching families! We really are all in it together, and if you’re as blessed as I am, you will have an entire group of women to help you through the season.
Number three – make the few moments you do have together as special as possible, even if you are both totally exhausted. Make time for a cup of coffee together in the morning, plan a 20 minute date night at the office – even if it’s just Jimmy Johns. Treat your grocery shopping as a special family outing, play a game of cards before bed – anything to embrace the limited time together and stay connected.
Lastly, manage your own expectations. The guys are working long hours and have a lot on their plate, so constant communication or staying totally in touch throughout the day isn’t realistic, and that’s just something you have to accept and be okay with as a coach’s wife.
DW: There’s never going to be a perfect time to have kids, so don’t stress over planning it. As a first-year fulltime coach and fulltime parent, I have found that long as you adjust your priorities, anyone can handle this lifestyle.
Give your wife your schedule, so she knows how busy you are – and it helps to find the windows of time for calls or visits. Set reminders to call your wife and check in on her and the baby, because the time will get away from you on the longer days, and one phone call or text goes a long way. Cut each other some slack when it comes to staying in touch or getting a lot of time together. You’re both working hard and are exhausted, but it’s all worth it. Just stay focused on what’s most important – family and football.
Q: This team has a family-like atmosphere, how has everyone embraced you two and Winter during the busy season?
HW: I honestly think we have been blessed with the greatest coaching family to exist! These women have done so much to help us adjust as a new family. From setting up a meal train when Winter first arrived, to checking in on ways they can help, spoiling Winter with lots of hand-me-downs – you name it!
Game days can be pretty overwhelming, too. You’re basically taking your child to a 6+ hour circus and trying to stay above water. Before and during the games, the wives really come together and help each other get situated. The office doubles as our feeding rooms or a quiet place escape to, and everyone just gets each other and is there to help. We even have a “Better Halves” club with the other spouses at the university that keeps us all connected, too. Did I mention our workout group? I’m telling you, these ladies have become great friends and are making season not just manageable, but enjoyable, too. I’d be lost without them.
DW: The staff has been there to share stories and advice from when Hailie was first pregnant, the delivery, and once Winter was here. There are a lot of young kids in this group, so all of them have been able to relate and help. They have all really been there for us. Coach Nielson’s wife, Terri, sets up family meals each Sunday where the wives all come with food and we get an hour to spend together during the long hours. That has helped a lot, too.
Q: What does the holiday season look like for your family?
HW: For Thanksgiving, we’ll stick around here and then head to Pipestone, Minnesota, where much of my extended family lives. Then for Christmas, we will head back to Chicago and spend the holidays with Dante’s family. Dante’s mom is an amazing cook, so those few days will be filled with some delicious Creole food and possibly even some bowling – a new tradition we are trying to get started!
My two younger sisters will join us for the Warren Christmas, and then the day after, we will fly to Florida to do the Meyer Christmas with my parents. Winter will get to meet her older cousin Corbin, and my parents got an Airbnb on the beach, so this will also double as our first family vacation.
DW: Around Thanksgiving, I will be getting right into recruiting. We joke that her aunt and uncle’s place [in Minnesota] is our little getaway spot when we need some R&R. Their ranch is quiet, has tons of animals, and if we aren’t getting filled up on great food, we’re sitting by a bonfire or in the hot tub, just relaxing. It’s a perfect way to recharge.