Andy Birdsong '05
Andy’s whole story is about standing on the shoulders of giants. Many people along the way gave him opportunity and invested in him, and now his goal is to pass that on to others.
A Firm Foundation
Andy grew up in a Christian home and it was important in his family to both understand and live out your faith. Both of his parents instilled in him values that have set the path for his life. It was extremely impactful for him to have these values reinforced at school. “The ability to both question your faith and define your faith during formative years in a safe and supportive environment is something I will never forget about Minnehaha Academy.”
Some of the most impactful moments he had at MA were convocation and chapel. He loved the worship and music, and can still remember speakers and themes that helped him to think about his faith. “MA took secular education and made it impactful for Christianity. That was one of the things I respected most as I think about my time there.”
Better Caught, Than Taught
Andy valued the experience of seeing his teachers live out their values day to day in a way that was caring, compassionate, kind, and resolute in their own beliefs without infringing on a student’s own personal space. “I ‘caught’ living out values in a way that impacts others. If someone wants to talk about faith and Christianity, I’m in. But I can’t walk into a room and say right away, ‘Yo--Jesus saves!’ I learned and was taught a way of living out my values that can impact culture that is real and relevant while also being set apart. That is what I hope is the call upon my life, and I hope my son ‘catches’ that from me.”
Soft Skill: Coachability
All of his teachers and coaches made some sort of impact on his life and poured themselves into him, most notably Lance Johnson. He was the Dean of Students and became the Boys’ Basketball coach Andy’s senior year. Lance hired Andy as an Assistant Coach right after he graduated from high school and they coached together for three years. This was very formative for how Andy looked at the game of basketball, team building, and the importance of culture. Peter Hamburge ‘99, who served as an assistant, had a great impact on him as well.
After Minnehaha, Andy went to Bethel University. It was another environment where he was watching and learning values lived out in a way that were real and relevant. After college, Andy went to Florida State University where he earned a Master’s of Sports Administration and Business. While there, he was also the Men’s Basketball Graduate Assistant. Andy got that role without first meeting the head coach, Leonard Hamilton, but when he finally did, Mr. Hamilton became like a father to him. “If there ever was Mount Rushmore of African American coaches that broke through the college game, his face would be on it. He has been impacting college basketball for 45 plus years.”
Relationships, Mentorship & Opportunity
After Andy finished at Florida State, he aspired to work in the NBA but no one was hiring, so he moved back to Minnesota. While he was home, he got a phone call from the San Antonio Spurs about an internship. Andy had been handing out his resume at the Sweet Sixteen basketball games in San Antonio where FSU was playing. After his first few rounds of interviews, he called Coach Hamilton and told him he was interviewing. Coach Hamilton started laughing, “Andy, why didn’t you tell me?” Andy said “I wanted to do it by myself. I didn’t want to bother you.” And Coach laughed and said “I mentored R.C. Buford 20 years ago!” Andy went on to get the Basketball Operations Internship with the Spurs. R.C. told Andy that the reason he got the opportunity was because he took Coach Hamilton’s word. Andy was with the Spurs for a year, spending a lot of personal time with R.C. and his family. They grew a bond that was “unshakable.”
He then got a job in Atlanta with the Hawks. “I got thrown into an ocean and could either sink or swim.” He became the Basketball Operations Assistant, then the Director of Basketball Operations for a few years, later returning to San Antonio to serve as the Director of Pro Player Personnel and General Manager of the minor league team. This past May, he was offered the position of the Assistant General Manager for the Brooklyn Nets. He and Sean Marks, their GM, were interns together in San Antonio and sat next to each other every day for a year.Sean became like an older brother to him.
His story, at the end of the day, is all about personal relationships and living out your values. Anyone can scout, anyone can run an organization, anyone can impact a bottom line. “The heart in which you do it and the intensity and fervency that you attack daily relationship and daily work--that is what matters. The job itself is the ultimate blend of interpersonal relationships and asset management. If I can be solid in both of those things--which is a very delicate balance--I feel like we can have success in the profession. At the end of the day, I am a sum of many parts, and I don’t take that lightly. I represent all that have poured into me throughout my life.”
Every step of Andy’s journey has been about people investing in him, and him investing in others. God places people in our lives, and God gave Andy opportunity after opportunity for intentional relationship building. Andy says, “You just need to keep your eyes open and your heart open to see what happens. Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Don’t do it to make money, to gain power or influence, just do it because it is the right thing to do. If we could all do that, we would be in a much better place than we sometimes find ourselves.”
To The Students
What would Andy say to current students at MA? “We’re called as Christians to both be excellent and to be set apart. Success is found not just in the championship games, but in the slow burn of daily life and who you are doing it with. If you put all your efforts into one thing--like winning the championship--when you win the championship you realize that you’ll just want to move on to the next thing! If you can’t find true success in the people around you, then I would challenge you that you are chasing the wrong thing.”
We look forward to welcoming Andy home to Minnehaha Academy on November 7thwhere he will share his story with the leadership class, speak in Chapel, and talk with students at lunch.