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October 18, 2010

Former player Ro Waldron transitioned from playing and coaching to business

By: Jimmy Robertson

Ro Waldron

Often, what one learns while in the coaching profession actually serves one well in the workforce.

So after years of selling 17- and 18-year-old kids on attending his schools as a football coach, Ronayne “Ro” Waldron found selling real estate to prospective buyers and developers to be an easy transition.

Waldron, a terrific offensive lineman first for Jimmy Sharpe and then Bill Dooley back in the late 1970s, has parlayed the communication skills he honed from six years of coaching following his graduation from Tech in 1981 into a lucrative career in commercial real estate. Today, Waldron serves as a senior vice president for sales and leasing at McShea & Company, Inc., a company in Gaithersburg, Md., that provides commercial real estate services and support.

“Coaching was fun, but I didn’t have a burning desire to stay in it,” Waldron said. “I decided to get out and I wanted to stay in this [suburban Maryland] area. I was always good at sales, and a guy gave me a chance.”

Waldron never envisioned a career in real estate during his playing days at Tech. In fact, his vision centered on football.

He grew up in Silver Spring, Md., as the son of legendary high school coach Doonie Waldron, who led St. John’s College High to five Metro championships in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He became an accomplished high school standout and visited SEC powers Georgia and Alabama before committing to Tech following a recruitment spearheaded by Sharpe and assistant Danny Ford.

“My father was a coach in this area, so I got exposed to the coaches at Tech,” Waldron said. “I visited Alabama and Georgia, and when I visited Virginia Tech, I just felt at home with the students and fellow athletes. I fell in love with the place.”

Waldron redshirted his first season at Tech and played sparingly as a redshirt freshman along the offensive line in 1977. That season turned out to be Sharpe’s last, as the school fired him and named Dooley the head coach. Waldron became a three-year starter under Dooley, blocking for the likes of Roscoe Coles and Cyrus Lawrence, the school’s all-time leading rusher.

“Those three years under Dooley, that’s when I really made my move playing-wise,” Waldron said. “I liked Dooley a lot. I liked the way he did things, and he was excellent to me.”

Paula & Ronayne Waldron

In Waldron’s first three seasons, the Hokies had losing records. But things turned around his senior season in 1980, as Tech went 8-4. The Hokies blitzed Virginia 30-0 that season and rolled West Virginia 34-11. They closed out the regular season with a 21-6 victory over VMI and received a bowl invitation from the Peach Bowl – the school’s first bowl invitation since the 1968 Independence Bowl.

“That was a new deal for us,” Waldron said, citing the invitation as one of his greatest moments at Tech. “It was the culmination of a lot of hard work. Then I remember playing in the Peach Bowl and sitting there at the end of the game. I didn’t want it all to end.”

Tech fell 20-10 to Miami in that game. The ’Canes were led by quarterback Jim Kelly, who went on to enjoy a Hall of Fame career with the Buffalo Bills.

After graduating in the spring of 1981 with a degree in physical education, Waldron decided to stick around at Tech as a graduate assistant under Dooley. After a year, he landed a full-time gig with Jerry Claiborne at Kentucky, where he served as the assistant coach for offensive guards and centers.

Waldron was part of a huge turnaround at Kentucky under Claiborne. The Wildcats went 3-9 in Claiborne’s first season, but then went 6-4-1 the second year, going to the Hall of Fame Bowl and falling to West Virginia. The third season, the Wildcats went 9-3 and beat Wisconsin in the Hall of Fame Bowl.

They also went to Knoxville and beat a pretty good Tennessee team that season.

“They had Reggie White [NFL Hall of Famer] and we beat them,” Waldron said. “It was in 1984. I remember it because that’s the last time Kentucky has beaten Tennessee.”

Waldron learned a lot from Claiborne, but after three years with the legend, he decided to strike out on his own. At the age of 28, he took the head coaching job at Catholic University, a Division III school outside of Washington, D.C.

In doing so, Waldron became the youngest head coach in America.

“I wanted to get back closer to home,” said Waldron, who hired his father as the quarterbacks coach. “The opportunity presented itself and I grabbed it. I thought I had all the ingredients to be a head coach.”

Unfortunately, after two sub-par seasons, Waldron became the youngest former head coach in America.

“I like to tell people that I got out because of health reasons – the alumni got sick of me,” he joked.

Waldron then took a job with McShea & Company, Inc., in 1987 and has been there ever since. He and his wife, Paula – a Virginia Tech grad herself – live in Silver Spring and have a daughter, Grace, who is a recent graduate of the University of Maryland.

Waldron still maintains a huge interest in football and he’s found a way to combine that with another passion – writing. He puts together a weekly blog entitled “Words of Encouragement” that combines things that he learned while coaching and playing with the sports events of today. He sends it out through an e-mail list of clients, friends and former teammates and uses it not only as a way to satisfy his writing fix, but also to keep in touch.

“Deep inside, I’m a frustrated writer,” he said, laughing. “I’ve always liked writing, and it’s [the blog] kind of taken off. I do spoofs on daily life and just whatever I can dig up. It’s a lot of fun and it’s a way to keep in touch with people.”

He still keeps up with his alma mater, usually coming down for a game at least once a season. Despite the Hokies’ early-season struggles, he remains excited about the program.

“I could always see the program going up,” Waldron said. “But Coach Beamer has taken it to unprecedented heights. As a former player, that’s exciting just to see the direction things are going.”