By Jeff Lockridge • THE TENNESSEAN • October 29, 2010
Rick Logo was in his early 20s and a football player at North Carolina State when he was summoned 6,000 miles away to the South Pacific. The question of his future was at hand.
Instead of continuing the life he knew in the United States, Logo was asked to assume his grandfather's position as a high chief in American Samoa, overseeing an extended family that encompasses hundreds of people on the island and around the globe.
He turned it down.
"I haven't looked back since," said Logo, Vanderbilt's defensive tackles coach in his fifth season.
"Culturally, I probably wasn't qualified to take on that role as my grandfather wished. It would take a lot of years of training. My wishes, and my parents' wishes, were for me to finish school. I was able to fulfill what I wanted to do in coaching athletics."
Logo, 40, is presently focused on stopping the offense of Arkansas (5-2, 2-2 SEC) when the Commodores (2-5, 1-3) visit Fayetteville at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Had he become a matai, or high chief, his daily responsibilities would be vastly different.
"A chief helps organize affairs, especially for the extended family that meets for funerals, weddings, title ceremonies, land disputes and all the political stuff," said Bradd Shore, an anthropology professor at Emory University with an expertise in Samoan culture.
"The chiefs also have a role as members of the fono, an organization that runs villages and districts. A chief is someone who has incredible responsibility. It's not simply power. It means the people can call on you for help."
The son of a U.S. military policeman, Logo called Santa Ana, Calif., home as a child and later lived at several military bases. He attended high school in Columbus, Ga.
Logo's heritage was brought back to the forefront in August, when his mother, Lupe, died at age 61. Logo missed two weeks of preseason practice to deal with the funeral details in Seattle. Samoans from all over attended, including the family's current matai.
"Talk about an event for just one person coming in — cooking for two days to have him," Logo said. "We showed our proper respect. It's an honor for him to fly all the way from the island to be there because of my mom."
Unusual circumstancesIn 1992, Logo was a senior defensive tackle for Coach Dick Sheridan and an N.C. State staff that included Vanderbilt coaches Robbie Caldwell, Jimmy Kiser and Ted Cain. That year Logo received word from the Red Cross about his grandfather's failing health. He was on the first flight to American Samoa."There was a discussion of who was going to be the next high chief," Logo said. "There were people more qualified than I was, and it was carried on to my uncles. But I had the opportunity addressed to me."
Logo's uncanny resemblance to his grandfather played a major role in him being offered the title. Such a decision is made collectively by the family, specifically those who claim to be heirs, but special consideration is given to the current matai's opinion.
It is uncommon for a person of Logo's age at the time to be offered this title. It is just as uncommon for someone to turn it down.
Damon Salesa, an associate professor at the University of Michigan with a background in Pacific Island studies, has a Samoan parent and is a matai himself.
Salesa agreed to a title as long as he could live in the United States and have limited obligations. He said Logo needed tremendous courage to face that pressure and choose his own path.
"I wasn't as strong as him, I suspect," Salesa said. "For me, as for him, this is something that is deeply important. Not just because of the status it gives you, but because it builds a relationship that can never be broken. Even though he declined, it's a sign of how much he means to his family."
Logo's story back then was profiled in Sports Illustrated and numerous newspapers. He was reported to be in line for "the throne" of American Samoa in some articles, terminology that makes Logo smile because there are so many titles on the island.
"That's a poor translation of a Samoan chief into the American imagination," Shore said.
Respect over richesLogo would have led a comfortable life on the island. Family is obligated to support its matai's financial needs as best it can, especially regarding travel. While it might not have been a life all Americans would deem luxurious, it has its perks.Your family will cook for you," Salesa said. "No one wants a skinny matai. People will bring you what they can afford. By Samoan understandings, it's a tremendous luxury to be surrounded by so much respect and love. "And if your family is wealthy, it might mean a Cadillac. If your family is not wealthy, it might just mean the best food in the village on your table. But you're well looked after in all sorts of ways."
Logo, who signed with the Detroit Lions out of N.C. State but never played due to injury, generally avoids the topic of his opportunity 18 years ago.
"You have to pry it out of him because he's such a humble guy," Caldwell said. "But he had to actually get permission to go play pro ball and try coaching and take his name out of succession, which was a big, big thing."
Every season Vanderbilt's defensive linemen make sure they pass down the word on the status that Logo passed up."Whenever we go over to their house, we ask his wife, Folole, 'So, Coach Logo could be a king right now?' " junior T.J. Greenstone said. "She explained the whole situation, and he could definitely have some royalty over there in the islands. But he loves what he's doing here."