Men of Faith Coaching in the Big Dance

BU PrayerI took a little heat last year when I mentioned that these days it often takes more courage for an athlete or coach to proclaim publicly that they are a Christian than it does to reveal most addictions, mistakes, or life-style decisions (Should Christian Players Come Out of the Closet).   With the proliferation of media attention, as well as social media, coaches and their behavior will take center stage this week. One of the first things I do when the bracket is released is to find fellow coaches who not only talk the talk, but go a step further and walk the walk.  These days, we rarely see the full picture of high-profile coaches. Having been around a few of them over the years, I’ve seen firsthand how carefully they craft their image. So, however a coach chooses to portray himself, I respect those who wear their faith on their sleeve, even when, like all of us, they make mistakes and let emotion and temptation get the best of them!

BASKETBALL – Faith on Display

I’m sure there are a number of coaches with strong Christian faith and I realize the risk being taken whenever you single anyone out for taking a public stance.  These days that target can be a complicated issue for coaches making a boatload of money or for those coaching at public institutions who strictly monitor any issues regarding faith and religion.  I also realize that one or two comments from a coach do not clearly demonstrate his level of faith.  That’s why I really enjoy listening to extended interviews that delve deeply into matters of faith and coaching philosophy, like those produced by Sports Spectrum and Coaching U LIVE.  So, here are four coaches that I’ve got my focus on in this year’s tournament, not only for their coaching styles, but also for their commitment to integrating their faith into their coaching:

Tony Bennett, Virginia: Following in his father’s footsteps, Tony uses the same core values – based on the Biblical principles of Humility, Passion, Unity, Servanthood, and Thankfulness – that Dick Bennett inspired in countless programs at all levels around the country.  Tony  calmly handles criticism and the scrutiny that comes when living your faith in an atmosphere often unfriendly to those who try.  Listen to Sports Spectrum podcast: Formulate a Winning Game Plan and read Humility, Faith at Core of Tony Bennett, the Man and Coach.

Scott Drew, Baylor:  Drew has resurrected the Baylor program that suffered through multiple scandals – all at a highly intentional Christian school.  Drew has the advantage of coaching at a school with a mission of faith and doesn’t shy away from interjecting Christian principles – despite those looking for inconsistencies in his walk and for ways to attack his success.  Listen to Helping Others Succeed and check out  Baylor’s Extraordinary Season Has Left Lives Changed and Rebuilding Baylor Puts Its Faith in New Coach Scott Drew from when Drew was first hired .

Billy Donovan, Florida: Donovan is an incredible teacher and tactician who blends his Catholic faith into the Gator program.  His deep faith has been strengthened through losses in his own family and in the families of his staff.  Most impressive is his consistent message of serving others.  He defines his coaching through service to others and raises the expectation for his players.  Listen to CoachingULive with Billy Donovan and take a look at Billy Donovan’s Secret Sorrow.

Kevin Ollie, Connecticut:  The young coach of the Huskies is making a mark as he replaces Jim Calhoun, but Ollie left his mark all over the country during his NBA career in which he led vibrant player Bible studies with the franchises for which he played.  As you’ll read below, Ollie has used his principles of faith in running his program, despite negative attention in another state school setting. Listen to Living With Eternity in Mind and read about his impact on Kevin Durant in Quiet Thunder.

LIFE – Faith on the job.

As a coach, I have enormous respect for Connecticut’s women’s coach Geno Auriemma, but recently his view on Christianity in sports got under my skin when he claimed that God doesn’t care about sports and, more significantly, that Christian faith should not be shown in public, as in a basketball program.  Thankfully, Geno’s priest at his Catholic church responded to that, which you can read in a fascinating article in the Huffington Post, God and Basketball at UConn.  And as noted, Kevin Ollie has found the respectful way to live his faith without offending those in and around his program.  It’s a case where the young buck may have a chance to encourage an entrenched legend like Geno!

Don’t all of us as Christians have that obligation to live our faith?  I challenge you to consider your own situation.  Do you compartmentalize your faith?  Do you leave it out of your work?  Or do you use it when it’s convenient, as in attracting a client for your business or in recruiting a player?  Do you keep your mouth shut when co-workers or teammates are discussing matters of morality?  Does your faith shine through in how you treat your boss, your employees, or your co-workers?

Faith – Let it shine!

Enjoy all the tournaments this week and cheer for your favorites, but take a little time to read up on and listen to ( I know it sounds like homework!) these coaches who from a distance seem to heed these important words:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matt. 5:14-16)

And then, do the opposite of what Coach Auriemma says and live your life loud. Live your faith in every part of your life!