The last ten days have been among the most rewarding of my nearly twenty years of serving sportspeople. The annual process of college football coaches being fired and hired included a number of my friends. For most of them, this year has been better than usual. A couple of the personnel changes have been particularly beneficial to some of my coaching friends.
A couple of weeks ago my son sent me a text message informing me that the head coach of his university’s football program had just been relieved of his duties with two years remaining on his contract. He also asked if one of my coaching friends, now a defensive coordinator at a larger program, might have interest in this head coaching position. I told him that I wasn’t sure, but that I’d pass the information along to him. Moments after sending a text message to the coach, he replied asking what I thought of the situation and what my son thought of the job. I replied and connected him with my son. They corresponded and then my son sent me a link to the school’s application site. I sent the link and another comment to my friend and he replied, “Thanks. I will apply tonight.”
A couple of days later the coach called me saying that he had received a call from the school’s athletic director and that he was very impressed. He said that if he had a real chance he’d get another call to appear on campus for an interview. The day he was expecting a call arrived, he received it and scheduled the on campus interview. On the day of the interview the coach called me in a moderate panic. His flight from one part of the USA to another had been delayed five times due to weather and his window for arriving at the campus interview was closing quickly. He asked if my son could get a proposal printed, I assured him he could, and connected them. Later in the evening, proposal in hand, he interviewed with the athletic director and knocked it out of the park. We traded text messages early the next day and he expected to hear if he got the job by the end of the week.
A couple of days later, my wife and I both received a text message from the coach’s wife informing us that he got the job, but we needed to keep things secret until the Dec. 18 press conference at the university. We were thrilled and almost burst from keeping such great news as a secret. My wife, son, and I all made arrangements to be at the press conference and were beaming with pride to see the inauguration of our friend’s next step in his coaching career. More than that, it was the next step in the fulfillment of God’s purposes for his life.
The new head coach was excellent in his press conference, his personality shining in its truest essence and he was very gracious in his remarks about those who had invested in his life. After the completion of the interview, we stayed and waited for the media to finish with him, for other friends and colleagues to visit with him, and then we spent some invaluable face to face time with the coach and his wife.
Our relationship with this coach dates back to 2001 when he arrived with a new staff at our university. The relationship hit a new gear when he asked me after practice one day, “Rog, who’s speaking at chapel tomorrow?” I replied with the person’s name and a little about him, to which the coach replied, “I’m thinking I ought to pray.” I chuckled and said, “Yeah, coach, you ought to pray,” thinking he meant to pray in general. In a couple of seconds I realized that he meant he wanted to pray during the chapel. I hurriedly amended my comments and said, “Oh, you mean tomorrow. I will set you up in a perfect spot. Watch me and I’ll call on you.” He said, “Okay,” and I began to consider the best possible moment for him to take the biggest spiritual risk of his life. I could not let him fail in this moment. Time for chapel rolled along and I queued the coach for his prayer and he nailed it. From that moment I began to nurture what I could see as a growing faith in Christ Jesus.
I began giving him books to read. I formed a Bible study for the coach and included a couple of my dearest friends who happen to be influential businessmen in our community. I encouraged him and his wife to attend an FCA Coaches Camp and they returned transformed as a couple. A few weeks after the camp I had lunch with the coach’s wife. She said, “When he and I got married seven years ago, we thought, ‘If it doesn’t work out, we’ll just get a divorce. No big deal.’ We’re not happy with that anymore.” I said, “What would you like to do?” We then began to discuss and to plan for a marriage vows renewal service for the two. In mid-January, during the recruiting season, the coach’s wife and I had arranged for a chapel just off campus with candles and music she had programmed in her iPod. The coach thought they were going out for a steak, but they came to the chapel. I was waiting in the candlelit chapel and we renewed their vows of marriage, now with the Lord Jesus intimately involved. A few weeks later I was privileged to visit them and their newborn daughter as she was arrived appropriately on Super Bowl Sunday.
We were sad when most of that staff left us in 2007 for a new opportunity, but we were excited for them. We stayed in touch as we could, though separated by 300 miles and even spent some time together at that same FCA Coaches Camp, this time with a toddler. Remarkably, they had become financial supporters of our ministry, and for that I am very thankful. At the end of the 2010 season, this dynamic staff of coaches had yet another opportunity and they took it. The coach and I talked over the phone about whether he should stay or go with the others. We both knew that his ambitions were to be a head coach and we agreed that staying and entering a new network of coaches could be the best avenue to his goals. He took the risk and stayed for another year, just long enough for his own new opportunity to be the defensive coordinator for another team in the same league. He did this excellently for two seasons and that performance made him a great candidate for this new opportunity to become a head coach.
In taking this job he opened the door for one of his long-time friends to join him and we were thrilled to see that. In recent days I also received a call from one of our former players, who played professionally for a while, and later has been coaching at the high school, Division III, and community college levels. A year ago he became the head coach at the community college where he played before joining the team at our university. We correspond often and suddenly he was being considered for the spot at the offensive coordinator for my friend, the new head coach. We discussed the pros and cons at length and I assured him of my prayers. We talked many times prior to and shortly after his on campus interview. Early the next day he called me again saying he was joining the staff with my friend. I am thrilled for the whole crew.
As all that was going on, two of our coaches were also being interviewed for the same head coaching spot at another university. I sent them each the same encouraging text messages, assuring them of God’s favor and wisdom for their careers and families. I spoke to one of them shortly after his on campus interview was completed and as he waited on a flight home. He was thankful for the prayers and assurances. Early the next day we learned of his appointment to the position and today we learned that he’s taking another of our fine, young coaches with him. We are again sad to lose them, but excited to see what the Lord has for them in their new roles.
All of these stories, situations, the excitement of new opportunity, and the grief of losing valued colleagues are testament to the value of long term relationship building and commitment across distance and time. The richness of reward in days like these make the temporary inconveniences and pain of loss seem terribly insignificant. Here is joy.