In 1991, the Florida Gators won 10 games for the first time in school history under second-year head coach Steve Spurrier. The Gators also finished the season ranked in the top 10 for the fourth time in school history.
Defensive back Lawrence Hatch was a key member of that team, tying for the team lead with four interceptions and helping the Gators outscore their opponents by a combined 198 points. He went on to be picked by the New England Patriots in the sixth round of the 1993 NFL Draft.
Now, three decades later, Hatch is an executive vice president for First Horizon Bank in Orlando. He recently sat down with local radio host John Crossman for an interview on his time in Gainesville and life after football.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To listen to the full conversation, click here.
JOHN CROSSMAN: How was your experience at UF?
LAWRENCE HATCH: As an athlete at the University of Florida, it was probably—outside of the birth of my children—it was the best experience that I’ve ever had in my life. Living in Gainesville playing for the Gators. It’s like living in absolute bubble. You’ve got so many phenomenal things that are going on around you and the ability to work, play, build long-term relationships and camaraderie with not only athletes and coaches, but general students. I wouldn’t wish for anything more.
CROSSMAN: Do a little name dropping. Who were some of the coaches and players who were around you in that era?
HATCH: Well, of course, we had Coach [Steve] Spurrier, the old ball coach, Jim Bates. Emmitt Smith had already left, but of course, they used to come back to town all the time. Tre Everett, Shane Matthews and Willie Jackson, just to name a few.
CROSSMAN: That’s some big ones. Tell me, of the best players you played with and against, who stands out?
HATCH: I hate to say this, because he’s a Florida State guy, but Tamarick Vanover was absolutely awesome. He was like a human joystick. Anything that he wanted to do, he could do. He didn’t have the NFL career that he would have expected due to some injuries, but he was a phenomenal talent out there. You just kind of wind him up and watch him go.
CROSSMAN: Any other great college athletes stand out?
HATCH: Danny Wuerffel had just come in. Even though he was young, a little wet behind the ears, we knew just based on everything that we saw in practice that he was going to be an absolutely phenomenal talent. And it turned out that he absolutely was one of the best ever in college. Another one was Kevin Carter. He was an unbelievable size—almost freakish before Jevon Kearse—and one of the best talents out there. He was also one of the sweetest guys out there. On the field, he was a beast. Off the field, he was very level-headed, a phenomenal student.
CROSSMAN: Tell about being drafted by the Patriots. What was that moment like for you?
HATCH: It was surreal. Almost like an out-of-body experience. I’m getting a call from Coach Bill Parcells, who had just come out of retirement—wow. It was an absolutely unbelievable moment. Right after that, I had to say, ‘OK, all of this is over with. Now we need to go to work.’ It’s lifting, running—all those things that you need to do to prepare your body to compete at the highest level.
CROSSMAN: If you had it to do over again, and you didn’t go to UF, who would you have gone to play for?
HATCH: There are two schools, and both of them were in the Pac-10—because I’m a Southern California guy. It would have been either Berkeley or Washington State. And Washington State very specifically because Mike Zimmer was the defensive coordinator at the time. Outside of Jim Bates at the University of Florida, he was one of the only college coaches who discussed life after football.
Sometimes you go into the inner city, and you’re looking at grabbing this talent, and the only thing you’re talking about is performing on the field. But he was talking about performing off the field: go to school, get an education, utilize all the resources that the university has to offer.
CROSSMAN: If you were in the Super Bowl, would your fantasy be to have a pick-6 or a safety blitz and sack the quarterback?
HATCH: Pick-6 all day. And then I would have broke out my Deion Sanders.
CROSSMAN: If you could have had a pick-6 on any quarterback all time, who would it be?
HATCH: Brett Favre. I was with the Falcons and we went up there a couple of times to play against him at Lambeau Field—a very inhospitable place to play. He would put some zip on the ball. And Dan Marino, of course. He was before my time, but he would have been another one.
CROSSMAN: I see you today and I almost have to remind myself about the athlete stuff, because I see you and I think of a bank executive. There’s a jump there, from a college experience and being defined as an NFL player to now being a senior executive. How was that transition from one to the other?
HATCH: It wasn’t as difficult as it seems, even though I’m an African American in this current position. And there’s very few people that look like me in this space, I’ll be honest with you. But I was very intentional about how I processed information—school, the academic piece, that was really very important to me.
When I did get drafted in ‘93, I didn’t have my degree at that point in time. I bounced around, was about five years in the league, had four reconstructive shoulder surgeries. And in ‘98, in Dallas, the doctors told me I needed another one.
At that point, there were a lot of things I wanted to do, and not be able to pick up our son didn’t fall in any of my grand plans. So I went back to Gainesville to finish up my degree. I was one semester short with my coursework and did my internship in the finance division of the University of Florida athletic division. Then I transitioned into banking in ‘99 as a trust advisor, portfolio manager for First Union, and then parlayed that into a portfolio manager with Evergreen Investments as one of their customized portfolio managers. Then just went on from there.
CROSSMAN: I was talking to a friend of mine who was a really successful college athlete at Florida State University, and he said sometimes they’ll have an event to honor these players. Some of them just go home and cry afterward. Some of those guys were so locked in on what was right in front of them, and now their whole life is about, “Will I get into this hall of fame, or that hall of fame?” Here you are with 20 years of promotions. It doesn’t seem like you’ve spent much time looking back. Do you feel that contracts between your trajectory and some of your contemporaries?
HATCH: Great question. In a sense it’s like the juggernaut – not that I’m the juggernaut. But it’s the process of continuing to move forward and understanding that you’re going to come up against obstacles. There are certain times you just can’t retreat. You’ve either got to go through it, or you have to go around it. But you need to continue to proceed, step by step by step.
I’ve always taken that mentality from a very young age when I was growing up in Long Beach, California, in a very impoverished environment. And I knew I didn’t want to live there forever, so you take the next necessary steps to put yourself in a position to be successful. And I think that’s really what I continue to do right now. I don’t look at myself as being exceptional. I just have the mentality of never quit—continue to press on. And I think by doing that, it’s allowed me to put myself in position and to be in front of influential individuals that have helped me along that path.
CROSSMAN: You were able to pivot.
HATCH: Yeah, and if you’re not able to pivot, if the only thing that defines you is that sporting endeavor that you did, and you don’t have anything else to add to value. I think it’s vitally important to read and understand what’s going on in the world. I could talk sports day long, but when you’re in certain environments, there are other discussions that just have to be had. And if you’re unable to have that discussion, people are going to look at you differently. Like you don’t deserve to be here.
CROSSMAN: If I were to fill a room with 60 CEOs who are all white and good guys, what would you want them to know about people of color in business? What would you want them to have in their heads?
HATCH: I think the key thing is to step back and attempt to hear from the perspective of people that don’t look like you, sound like you, or don’t always dive into the same endeavors that you do—maybe on and off of work. Because if you put yourself in a room with like-minded people, whether good, bad or indifferent, there’s really no progress.
And then on the other side of that is the fact that no one wants to be the token. You bring in one African American, one Hispanic, or you do a combination—you get an African American and/or a Hispanic woman, and you check the box. But you put that individual in a position that doesn’t really have senior value to the organization, and their voice isn’t recognized. So that would be probably one of the most important things that I would say. When you’re having these conversations with your team, you don’t want them to all look like you, come from the exact same background. Diverse opinions put us in a position where sometimes we’re uncomfortable, but sometimes being uncomfortable allows you to grow.