The prospect of being a head football coach has always been something of a dream for 25-year-old tech CEO Nick Bhardwaj.
So when a recent visit to ESPN.com to check scores revealed a story about a unique fundraiser at Arkansas State University in which the school was auctioning off an opportunity to coach its football team during the spring game, Bhardwaj quickly jumped at the opportunity.
When the week-long eBay auction closed Monday, Bhardwaj's $11,700 bid was the highest.
"It's something I probably never thought I'd get to experience in my life," Bhardwaj said by phone Tuesday, a day before he was expecting to depart the San Francisco area where he lives and works for Jonesboro. "Don't get me wrong, I understand it's a spring game. But it should pretty much feel as real as possible, I'm hoping."
The auction, which raised money for the Red Wolves Foundation, promised the winner to be head coach for the game, wearing a headset on the sideline, choosing what plays to call and even getting a "Powerade bath" on the sidelines when the game ends.
The coach could make all sorts of questionable football calls, like going for it on every fourth down or calling trick plays with regularity. But, Bhardwaj said, he takes the responsibility seriously. He's already "done his homework," researching ASU Coach Blake Anderson's coaching style, looking at tape of other high-speed offenses, reviewing the roster and even spending time calling plays virtually in the NCAA 2014 video game.
"For me, I want to hit the ground running," Bhardwaj said. "I'm not that guy who's going to call a flea-flicker every three plays. I want to immerse myself so it feels like a real coaching experience."
That means paying attention to less glitzy coaching duties like ensuring the right ratio of pass plays to run plays are called as the game progresses, Bhardwaj said.
"The one thing I don't take lightly is this is still a meaningful game to the coaching staff," he said. "They're trying to see where the players are at."
Bhardwaj spoke with Anderson after winning and plans to arrive in Jonesboro on Wednesday, meeting with coaching staff that night, overseeing a practice the next day, sitting in on team meetings and then getting ready for the game. As head coach, he gets to deliver the pregame and half-time speeches to the team.
A tweet announcing he had won the auction was retweeted more than 60 times and he corresponded with dozens of Red Wolf fans offering support.
"For me, just having this experience at ASU, it's just been insanely amazing in just the last 15 to 24 hours," Bhardwaj said. "Call me the biggest Arkansas State fan as of yesterday."
Anderson was already deferring to the temporary coach on Twitter.
"Congrats BOSS," he wrote in a message posted Monday on his Twitter account and directed to Bhardwaj. "Will have these dudes ready to roll on Friday Night for you... Looking forward to GREAT pre-game speech !!!"
Since winning the auction, Bhardwaj said he's been amazed by the support from ASU fans and looks forward to "helping the program in any manner possible."
Bhardwaj's road to career success hasn't been traditional. He dropped out as an undergraduate at San Jose State University, where he had been pre-law. He worked for a time as a teacher but ultimately followed an interest in mobile game development to Natural Motion, where he was vice president of revenue.
Natural Motion this year was bought by Zynga for more than $500 million. Bhardwaj left to focus on his own mobile gaming startup, Beyond Games, but he's happy to take a break for a few days to try a different career path.
"I'm never gonna lie: As a kid, that's still the dream," he said.