Friday, January 26, 2024

Remembering Coach Bryant- A Decade of Posts


As many of you know - I try to post something about Coach Bryant on the anniversary of his passing away on Jan 26, 1983. The site I have dedicated to Coach Bryant is full of special memories. Today marks a decade of keeping this tradition.

You can also find posts here:
Wordpress- Coach Bryant Memories

Another year to commemorate and remember Coach Bryant. Every year, I’m not sure what to write about, but then something always hits me. This year became much easier when Coach Nick Saban announced his retirement after 17 amazing seasons with the Tide and then the subsequent hiring of Coach Kalen DeBoer.

Before I get to the coaching change, I wanted to make mention of the privilege I had to attend the Jeremiah Castille Foundation Night of Champions Dinner that honored the 1973 Alabama team on Dec.16 at the Downtown Sheraton.

It was a wonderful event that highlighted an amazing team. Both Greg Byrne and Paul Finebaum both gave wonderful tributes to Coach Bryant and that team. By far my favorite speaker that evening was Ralph Stokes who spoke of the opportunities Coach Bryant afforded him by signing him to a scholarship at Alabama. He went on to write a book about that “One of the First” that details how he overcame the prejudices and challenges of being one of the early African-American players to come to the Tide on scholarship.

I doubt Coach Bryant will ever receive the proper recognition on those early moves and how his love for all his players, his ability to build team unity, and his effort to make sure they succeeded long after football was gone.

Last night, I attended the Alabama Football Coaches Association Clinic (ALFCA) held annually in Montgomery. The High School coaches there got to hear from a number of outstanding coaches and it was the first time that Coach Deboer spoke to the Alabama high school coaches. I though he did an excellent job. 

It made me go back to some memories about Coach Bryant's retirement.



Let’s do a little remembrance of the Bryant retirement and do some comparison and contrast and the challenges ahead.

Dec. 15, 1982 changed everything in the year I had with Coach Bryant.

It was written on the board in Bryant Hall for us to report to the annex. That RARELY happened.

When I sat down and saw all the extra people in there, I immediately knew I was observing history.

My memory fails me here a little- it seemed like he either read his speech before the media and then talked to just us. Or he talked to just us and then read the speech to the media.

His talk to us was animated, energetic, optimistic. He spoke of his plan to bring on his successor and stay on as Athletic Director. He said the next coach was going to need to be able to throw the football because of the rules and the way the game was headed.

Then, when he read his speech- he seemed tired and had no energy. It was like two different men! Again, 30 year old memory.......

Here is the transcript of the read speech:

There comes a time in every profession when you need to hang it up and that time has come for me at the University of Alabama.

My main purpose as Director of Athletics and head football coach here at Alabama has been to field the best possible teams, to improve each player as a person and to produce citizens who will be a credit to our present day society.

We have been successful in most of those areas, but now, I feel the time is right for a change in our football leadership. We lost two big games this season that we should have won, and we played only four or five games like Bryant-coached teams should play. I've done a poor job of coaching.

This is my school- my alma mater- and I love it. And I love the players- but in my opinion, they deserve better coaching than they've been getting from me this year and my stepping down is an effort to see that they get better coaching from someone else.

It is a great joy for me, personally, to have had the opportunity to coach at my alma mater. I know I will miss coaching, but the thing I will miss the most is the association I have had with the players, the coaches, the competition- all of those things that have made such a strong tradition at Alabama.

I can't say enough, or thank enough, the coaches who are with me now- and those who have been there in the past.

I plan to continue as Director of Athletics and pledge my support to my successor in every respect, particularly in recruiting.


The storm was in full brew now and a pressure was building.

The rumor was already in the works that Ray Perkins of the NFL New York Giants was going to be the new coach. Believe it or not- we practiced later that day. And it was so strange- it was not mentioned at all.

But the practice was terrible. To be honest, all of the practices had been terrible up to that point. The dorm was a sea of visitors that evening.
I just drifted into the background and listened.. watched. The Liberty Bowl practices never did pick up.

What did come into full view was that Ray Perkins was coming to Alabama.
All of the attention was about Coach Perkins and what his staff might be like and what his pro style offense may do to coaches and players.

There were some sad players, and even sadder coaches. Word was that some were being told immediately that they would not be back.

The last game was a thriller- Alabama beat a good Illinois team 21-15 on a bitterly cold Memphis night and carried the Bear on their shoulders for one last time.

Jeremiah Castille was the MVP for his Liberty Bowl record 3 interceptions and Coach Bryant was all smiles.
I was so relieved and proud- this is how it was supposed to end. Coach Bryant notched his 323rd college football win in his last stand.

I wrote about this in my last post: We all know the difficulty Alabama had replacing the legend.

But I do think there are STARK differences when I think about the end of the Bryant era and the end of the Saban era.

Facilities: The facilities at Alabama had fallen behind many other schools when Coach Bryant passed away.

Program Success: The program was not operating at the level we would call “Alabama standard” when Coach Bryant retired, he knew it more than anyone.

Sudden loss of Coach Bryant: In my opinion, this was also tough in that the traffic death of the beloved coach put a hamper on the program.

School and Athletics Leadership: The actual school leaders were not perceived to be strong. A lot of the power was held by trustees and boosters. In fact, until Coach Saban came, that weakness at the top created a fragile and unstable environment.

These factors could play a role in allowing Coach DeBoer to have continued success, but we all know it is a fragile time. The success rate of following a legend is not very high, but it is doable.

Things that could hamper Coach DeBoer are somewhat out of his control and that is the difficulties of recruiting and retaining elite players in that age of the portal and NIL difficulties.

A few days ago, I posted this information with some analysis of the cannibalistic actions and attitudes of fans with unrealistic expectations. Mass communication has given naysayers and negateers way too much access to voice opinions that are at times ludacris and juvenile.

But that is the soup that all coaches have to navigate….. It is not for the faint of heart!

I also referenced a few days ago about my short analysis of the Bryant vs Saban debate. I do want to not leave out the great job by Gene Stallings and the 1992 National Championship

I do give Coach Saban the edge on career success over Coach Bryant because of the challenges of the times- though both men had great intuition on how to evolve to survive.














Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Challenges Awaiting the New Coach

As many of you know - I try to post something about Coach Bryant on the anniversary of his passing away on Jan 26, 1983. The site I have dedicated to Coach Bryant is full of special memories.

https://bearbryantmemories.wordpress.com/

With so much happening right now, I thought I would give a brief preview of the challenges in the current Bama situation and will still post something with a little more Coach Bryant flavor a few days from now, including a recap of my experience sitting through Coach Bryant's retirement in 1982.

We all know the difficulty Alabama had replacing the legend.

But I do think there are STARK differences when I think about the end of the Bryant era and the end of the Saban era.

Facilities: The facilities at Alabama had fallen behind many other schools when Coach Bryant passed away.

Program Success: The program was not operating at the level we would call “Alabama standard” when Coach Bryant retired, he knew it more than anyone.

Sudden loss of Coach Bryant: In my opinion, this was also tough in that the traffic death of the beloved coach put a hamper on the program. If handled correctly, the previous coach can help... as well as hurt. But I think both men have enough humility to make it a positive.

School and Athletics Leadership: The actual school leaders were not perceived to be strong when Coach Bryant retired. A lot of the power was held by trustees and boosters. In fact, until Coach Saban came, that weakness at the top created a fragile and unstable environment.

These factors could play a role in allowing Coach Deboer to have continued success, but we all know it is a fragile time. The success rate of following a legend is not very high, but it is doable.

Things that could hamper Coach Deboer are somewhat out of his control and that is the difficulties of recruiting and retaining elite players in this age of the portal and NIL difficulties.  Mass communication has given naysayers and negateers way too much access to voice opinions that are at times ludacris and juvenile.

But that is the soup that all coaches have to navigate….. It is not for the faint of heart!

A few years ago, I posted a short analysis of the Bryant vs Saban debate (Saban vs Bryant 2016- Jayopsis ) and  I wanted to update some of the thoughts now that both men have bookends on their amazing careers.

I will comment a little more about this on the 26th.

Here is what I posted in 2016

I have no clue WHEN (Saban retirement) that may happen... but Coach Saban himself this year hinted that even he knows that it will come at some point..... and it will be a great challenge for him to stay the course.

HISTORY SHOWS US THAT THE BEAR DID IT........


In 1969, Coach Bryant's Alabama team went 6-5, was only 2-4 in the SEC (they even lost to Vanderbilt) and was beaten 47-33 by Colorado in the Liberty Bowl.

Can you imagine what a Paul Finebaum show would sound like during that stretch?

To make matters worse, the 1970 team went 6-5-1 including the famous opening loss to Sam Cunningham and USC. USC outgained the Tide by more than 300 yards (559 yds of total offense) and whipped the Tide 42-21. Cunningham ran for 135 yds on just 12 carries.

We know the rest of this story- Alabama shocked USC the next season- went 11-1 and won the SEC, finishing #2 in the nation. That sparked the 1970's as Bryant's best decade.

Coach Saban to be honest, never had to persevere the inevitable dip that hampers all programs He only had guide the ship through the hurricane of doubters and dissent in his first season, but fans were so hungry to win, they provided energy and optimism to push through.

We all recognize a huge problem in regaining that 'winning edge' and this modern era poses more peril than ever before... and deep in my soul I always stand amazed at the passion and energy of anyone to continue to do it. Coach Saban was so unique, any other mortal man would take his money, trophies, and ride his grandchildren on his boat.

In many ways... modern day football is a young man's game..... But Saban finished on top!

WHAT MOST FOLKS MISS- IT'S MORE THAN WINS

Now let me mention the HARMONY I find between the two coaches..... did you see it? It was on display... on the Alabama sidelines during games.

Whenever former players feel comfortable coming around and want to come around- you know that a special culture is at work. Alabama's sideline during big games was always packed with many adoring former players.

That is what both Coach Bryant and Coach Saban had in common. And the fact that Coach Saban has young men (including a huge group doing well in the NFL) in such high regard of him in a generation that is more prone to mock and disregard elders... this is quite an achievement.

Coach Bryant towered in a day when it was more common to follow the leader no matter what.

But men followed him with such a passion that the bond still stays strong today.

Coach Saban has managed the same thing. But his ability to transcend generation, race, socio-economic differences, and regional differences is impressive!

Relationships matter.... and winning coaches know how to invest in their players in such a way that the players go through pain and persevere out of love and inspiration.

From what I have read, Coach Deboer excels in this ability as well.

COACH DEBOER  BIGGEST HURDLE

I posted on X about this right after the announcement of the retirement:


A few years ago, I posted the most difficult hurdle facing coaches when trying to build programs, what I call, Cannibalizing Your Team

Cannibalization is literally 'eating your own team'. And cannibals can be found among any and all parts of a team or surrounding community. It can be players, coaches, fans, parents, media.... and usually is a combination of those that forms a 'contrary wind' to that team.

By the way, the cannibals are always there..... human nature is always breeding more. The existence of cannibals is not deadly unless there are too many OR the cannibals are KEY CONSTITUENTS of a team or organization.

Cannibals eat away so many things.... but the overall impact is a loss of opportunity, a loss of positive momentum/energy, or the erosion of core values.

SELF-FULFILLING DOOMSDAY

I once worked with a coach ( a great coach by the way) who was very upset about the way we did a certain aspect of our football team. This practice was a by-product of a fundamental piece of our philosophy.

As the season went on, he would say in the head-sets, "This is not going to go well". And he said it EVERY SINGLE TIME the game situation dictated that decision because of our philosophy. And this went on.... game 1, game 2, game 3,4,5,6..... and then, in game 7... his prediction finally happened. Oh my goodness!....the 'I TOLD YOU SO' that came from him was as loud and obnoxious as any I have ever even IMAGINED.

The next coaches meeting, he was armed and ready. When we got to that place in the film, it was obvious that the decision was what it was.... but the execution of the decision was the major problem for failure.

I stopped the film.... "you know... I have been listening to you on the head-set for 7 games in a row. You have predicted this EVERY SINGLE time. Your prediction FINALLY happened... but that is like me predicting rain everyday during a five year drought until it finally rains for 5 minutes. Congratulations!" You could have cut the tension with a knife.

And that coach did not stay in the program after the season was over. As good a coach as he was, his unwillingness to buy into this was a constant corrosion. He wanted to be SO RIGHT... that he was DEAD RIGHT.

A lot of teams begin new seasons with so many cannibals, that they are already losing... even with a record of 0-0. I often hear coaches tell me how frustrating it is when parents pass along a 'group think' of the sound bites of what is wrong with a program or coach before a season even begins.

About halfway through a season a team will be .500 or below and this group of parents will be right... want the coach fired... and feel so let down because the window of opportunity to play high school sports is small.

What they don't realize is that the negative talk became a self-fulfilling prophecy and they 'cannibalized' their own team.... 

I had a parent call me one time and was upset that a dad had begun a negative campaign against the coaches. He said that the reality was that many of the parents liked the coaches and were satisfied and he was afraid that all we hear about were the complaints. I asked the dad why he didn't confront the one parent who was the loudest and most vocal.... and sadly, he was afraid to.

Finally, the day came where the upset dad called me to meet.  He came in and in pretty bold and aggressive ways expressed his opinion that we were bad coaches. He spoke on the authority that he had played in college, coached these players in youth leagues, and couldn't believe the school even hired (our head coach) in the first place- "did you know this man has never even coached a varsity team, he was just a freshman coach in his previous job!"

Looking back, I probably should not have had this conversation. If I were doing it over today I would have sent him straight to head coach... but I was young and dumb enough to think I could help.

When it was my time to respond.... he didn't like what I had to say. 'Mr ________, your son came to me yesterday because he knew we were going to be meeting today. And I had a phone call from another dad recently. In both conversations, I asked them to come talk to you and both said they were afraid to.

This is going to be hard to hear, but you are hurting your son and a lot of parents are not happy with your behavior at games. Both have asked me to ask you to stop it.

You were a great college football player, I have heard a lot of stories about how good you were. But when you yell at your son from the stands on how to play his position, you are telling him to (do  a technique) that we don't use (we ran a different system) it is opposite of what he is being coached to do and it embarrasses him. 

There were more issues in the meeting- college recruiting - we weren't tough- it wasn't a great meeting and he was hacked that his son and that dad had gotten in tough with me.

"I love our coaches and I know they are doing a great job, loving your son, coaching your son. I'm asking to to stop being loud and negative... I don't think I will change your opinion... but you are hurting the team by spreading negativity. You are hurting your son! Go home and talk to him about that, and don't go off on him... he loves you and he is trying to live up to what you want him to be!"

It did not go over well. He got red faced and stormed off. He never really got loud again, but now I was on his list as well.

Sadly, this did not go away. It grew. 

We made the playoffs that season and went to an away playoff game. It wasn't our best effort in the first half. We threw two interceptions and were having a rough time against a great defense. As we were coming into the locker room, this same dad (and at least 4 others who believed as he did) were waiting on me at the chain link gate. We had to get outside that gate to go into the visitor locker room.

He stepped in front of me and stopped me! "What are y'all doing! Thus is embarrassing! Run the ball!"

I walked around him without saying a word, and he yelled in my ear as I passed him, "This is our last game!"

And then I blew up in his face "This is halftime _______. Get away from me!"

Now what is bad about that was that it happened in front of everybody and it was a scene.

When I walked into the locker room, it was like a funeral.

Here is the crazy thing.... we were only losing 6-0!

But in that halftime, I had nothing I could tell my offense to muster them for a 2nd half charge. I tried, but they didn't believe in us, didn't believe it what we were doing, and there were just enough cannibals to let the season end....  kind of like a mercy killing.

Ironically, a few year later, we were in the semi-finals and were going in a halftime down six points. And instead of the angry mob- our fans were at the gate "Go Lions, Y'all got this! Way to go!" And we won in double overtime on our way to the state championship.

Now, am I naive enough to believe the difference in positive and negative reactions were ALL the difference? NO

But the prevailing belief (also called pre-supposition) can influence the outcome and be a type of self-fulfilling prophecy.

I used to have the newspaper article from Cleveland that had the headline story about the Browns firing Bill Belichick, "Goodbye to the Worst Coach in the History of the NFL". Belief is a pretty powerful thing!


WORK TO MAKE IT WORK

Here is another OPPOSITE illustration of negative cannibalism.

In 1999, we lost our ALL-State Tailback on a freak play to a torn ACL... the last play of the first half. It was mid-season, we lost the game, and people were beginning to wonder if we could win back-to-back state titles. It looked doubtful.

We played two more games with a quality back-up and personnel packages and won those. But we were not the dynamic offense we had been. We still had an elite defense and as far as our record, we were still a favorite to win it all.

Our head coach, Fred Yancey, surprised all of us in week 8 of the regular season by announcing a DRAMATIC move. We were going to take our starting SAM linebacker and move him to Fullback and move our Fullback to Tailback. What made this even more startling is that neither player had played those positions ALL YEAR! And the linebacker had never run with the football in his entire football life!

Immediately, there was the typical assistant coaching pushback...but Coach Yancey was adamant. This was a HC decision and he walked out.

I was offensive coordinator... but both defensive assistants AND offensive assistants kept pressing me to change Coach Yancey's mind.

I simply looked at them and said, "Guys, this is his team.. this is his decision. So, we have two choices.... gripe and moan OR get to work to make this work." And we did.

Now don't get me wrong... THIS WAS NOT EASY... and the early results were flat ugly... but we worked it with positive energy and we won the State Championship. The tailback was MVP of the game and the fullback scored on 3rd and goal at a critical time early in the game.

Winners, champions, and competitors learn early in their battles that cannibals never win. Dream killers and blame game hand wringers get it right by their own actions and beliefs. And then they get mad about it!

We do it to coaches as well..... I wonder how many programs would be more successful if they embraced their coach instead of tearing him down in endless opining of opinions. You know what a good play call is? One that works. And a bad play call doesn't.

I'm not saying that you never make changes... but I KNOW of teams who stole away their opportunities to be good because of cannibalism.

Now, one more important point is this. A lack of virtue is a type of cannibalism. We live in a world that seeks to tear down our rivals.

COMPETING WITH CLASS AND  HONOR

There is another winning edge that Coach Deboer can continue- competing with class. 

Bryant AND Coach Saban taught the State of Alabama to do it differently. They taught me as a fan and later, as a player to show class and respect toward the opponent. It is more honorable to beat a worthy opponent than to beat an unworthy one.

But we tweet 'hate week', and we spew venom, and we ridicule and mock the opposing team... so is it really a great victory if we beat them?

An example 1965 ALABAMA:

Alabama opened against Georgia on a blistering hot day in Athens for the 1965 season. Tom Brakefield was with the Bear Bryant show film crew, wiping away sweat, and enjoying every snap of a fierce contest pitting Coach Bryant against Vince Dooley.

Even though Alabama struggled all day, even going in at halftime down 10-0, Alabama rallied in the 2nd half and took a late 17-10 lead.

What took place next in the game was recently ranked by The Bleacher Report as #3 of the 12 greatest plays in college football history.

Coach Dooley called it 'flea flicker' but today is more known as a 'hook and lateral'. Kirby Moore threw the ball to Pat Hodgson who then flicked it to Bob Taylor who ran for a 73 yard touchdown to bring the score to 17-16. Georgia converted the 2 point extra points to win 18-17!

The problem was.... it looked very clear to the Alabama faithful that Pat Hodgson's knee was down, thus making the play 'dead' on the catch and the touchdown should have been disallowed!


You have to think that Alabama fans felt snake-bit. It was the first game since Joe Namath had seemingly been robbed of a game winning TD in the Orange Bowl and now they lost the opening game to a missed call in Athens!
Tom Brakefield saw a clean angle and knew he had a camera all over it. He carefully noticed which canister was going to have the field level proof!

Sure, enough, the Bear Bryant Show crew had indisputable video evidence that 'Bama had been robbed by the Bulldogs!

When Coach Bryant came in that Sunday morning to prepare for the live telecast that afternoon, he shocked everyone! As soon as he saw the clip he stopped and said as clear and forceful as he could:
"Men, I never have won a game on Sunday because of film. Please take this clip out and give it to me."

When the show went live from Channel 13 that Sunday, Coach Bryant taught the entire state on how to lose with class.

And Tom Brakefield used it to teach an even bigger lesson!

"You want to know the biggest part of that story? We lost to Georgia, we TIED Tennessee- but still upset Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to win the National Championship. At Alabama, Coach Bryant started a lesson that, even today, we understand.... if you do it right... you always have a chance!"

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

I always make a plea to every athlete, coach, and fan reading this. Don't be a cannibal! Don't be that person who always focuses on the flaws. Don't create small circles of whiners and complainers who whisper in the dark and throw darts.


It was interesting how many complained about the color of the man's shirt when he was introduced at the basketball game last night- and it was a Bama shirt!

Winners are hopeful... even to the very last snap, he believes he can find a way to win. And in the end, that relentless optimism gave him MORE of a chance... where a doubtful pessimist robbed his team of the opportunity.


Here is how Coach Saban said it earlier this year (as the naysayers got louder)- at the time he was a little bit frustrated:

"People forget that we built this program on positivity"

"So we want to stay focused on the process of what we need to do to play winning football at every position. And I'm not here to create expectations for our team. Lots of people will do that. But expectations in some way are a premeditated way to create disappointment. I think you can look at it in your life and that's why I say we need to say process-oriented, not focused on the outcome, but focused on the things that we need to do to get the outcome that we want, and you know, if you have high expectations for what you want to accomplish and it doesn't work out, it makes you focus on the outcome and it doesn't work out and you're very disappointed."

Competition with honor is rewarding... win or lose.

Winning without honor... is never really a victory.

Football continues to display dramatic narratives and storylines- my favorite one is always the comeback story... someone who is cut down and counted out... but through perseverance and fight... finds victory once again.

I will cheer for the Tide no matter what and I also have a number of heroes throughout football that I pull for everyday- MEN WHO MATTER!

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Navigating the Rapids in Current College Football Trends

One of the wildest 4 or 5 days I have ever seen as the current in the 'River of Ever Change' in football surges into whitewater and waterfalls! My goodness!

Saban retirement, Belichick out, Pete Carroll, Debour in at Bama, Cadillac Williams out at Auburn…. Portal declarations, decommits, 10 million dollar contracts, and sudden change…


The change illuminates a harbinger of danger and demands daring protocols, policies, and principle promotion for future survival.


I get concerned that a lot of decision makers in these times are too hinged to the past and have little energy, creativity, or quickness to move, dodge, and corral these rapids… but there is a tremendous opportunity to dam the river and harness the energy for future success as well.




3 Moods


I have often said that one must fight to keep a mood for the moment and many of these initial steps have more to do with gut instincts than sequential steps that get lost in committee. There are too many nuances and unintended results for one to feel safe in these calls of balls and strikes.


Mood #1: Principle based applications- In this day of rapid change and shoot outs a person has to be grounded in principles and virtue. It has to be a deep, wisdom laden, and disciplined recognition that power, money, and fame cannot bear the burden of life. This is what sport used to teach much better than all others: team concepts (we accomplish more together than alone, it is not good for man to be alone), sacrifice (we suffer together so we can share victory together), the Golden rule (treat others the way we would want to be treated), all humans have dignity as image bearers of the creator, delayed gratification, honesty.


Now, all of this is still undefeated- I promise you, the winners over time have a high understanding of who they are and what they believe that aligns with truth.


If the worldview is right, the values are right (more than lip service) and there is intentional effort for the greater good of all then the journey will end at a worthy destination.


Mood #2: Recognition and honor of the past but without nostalgia or unrealistic longing for the ‘good ole days’ that never existed in the first place.- this is a tough one. If we erase history, we will eventually cut our own throats. We must have a nod to the past and hope we receive care for us when we walk out to the pasture of forgotten though epic, heroic battles of yesterday. When we honor people and good deeds in the past, we model appropriate treatment of human beings. We also must honestly learn from the errors without throwing stones due to our imperfections. There is a difference in longing for the past and moving forward to the future while honoring the past. One is freeing and the other is a trap.


Mood #3: Our ministry must always be to build men more than millionaires. Materialism is an empty idol. The lasting coaches, the admired coaches, the wise administrators understand that this fast paced world of information, disinformation, and misinformation requires them to build leaders who desire to be entrepreneurs, lawmakers, and leaders; people who value societal revival more than personal portfolios. I'm worried that the current landscape of college football is too intertwined in glamorizing billfold, boardroom, and bedroom prowess and it over run by too many bottom feeders sleazing their way into the fray. We must somehow use the experience of being an athlete to create a thirst for men to 'not die rich' but 'die trying' to leave this world or even just their home a better place.


Guardrails


This is a hasty post, but not one without thought. 


When the Supreme Court handed down the Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) Verdict (June 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the NCAA in NCAA v. Alston where the court found that the NCAA's restrictions on name, image, and likeness (NIL) activity violate antitrust laws and also stated that the NCAA cannot restrict education-related compensation benefits for student-athletes) it opened a proverbial Pandora’s box with no boundaries.


What is left in the wake of this foul dust is a frontier that needs a good Sheriff. Elvis has left the building and he is not coming back; we must find a way to glean what is good and protect the sport from the evil lurking in the shadows. Here are my recommendations.


1. Unified Federal Laws- take the best of the state laws and codify rational boundaries.

2. No Caps on Collectives, but Payments Made in Consistent Amounts

3. Percentages Paid to Other Athletes of Non-Revenue Sports

4. Certification of “Handlers’

5. Education for Athletes in how to protect and grow the worth of their NIL

6. Insurance Collective for On-Field or In-Training Injuries

7. Utilization of Trusts and Mandatory Financial Advisors

8. Better calendars for coaches. Take better care of assistant coaches.

9. Stiffer penalties for violations.

10. Incentivize stability and completion of a season

11. NIL limits on HS athletes or portal players to discourage use of the value for recruiting

12. Re-institute football dorms or isolated living communities.

I don’t have space or time to write about these in detail but I can make a few example comments.


For point #2, I think the eventual collectives should not be restricted as far as value is concerned but I do think there could be a common pay scale that would be similar to how players are evaluated and paid in the NFL. Some positions are ‘valued’ higher than others. The QB room would in this situation would have a range or scale different than the long snapper.


For point #3- Require schools to take 15% of their yearly NIL collective for football and men’s  basketball and funnel it to all other university athletes. 


For point #4- Allow Athletes to have only 1 ‘handler’ at a time (parent, uncle, mentor) and certify these representatives. Don’t allow these people to be professional agents and scrutinize them through audits and disclosure forms.


For point #5- Having a valuable NIL can help athletes make better decisions off the field.


For point #6- Buy a collective policy to make a fair compensation to any athlete who gets injured in a bowl game or playoff game, or who stays to finish their education and delay testing the NFL market.


For point #8- we are killing our coaches. We have to find a way to give them more time at home and with families.


For point #11. All HS athletes and portal players are ‘unproven’ and it is no crime to delay the growth of NIL opportunities until that is shown in reality and not in theory. My suggestion is to require all “non-team” money be capped universally and put in trusts.


For point #12- NIL athletes these days are not normal students, these are hybrid ‘employees’. I think it should be allowed and even encouraged to separate these players and allow coaches more time to mentor and more time to build community within teams.


BTW- this is coming to HS athletes as well. How can we use it for good and mitigate the harms? The time for action is now.

Monday, January 08, 2024

Why You Need to Fear Your Big Brother

I hope it isn't just the aging process that has me anxious over recent developments and discussions in our society. I also still feel jumpy over how easy I fell into a trance as Covid policies and restrictions enveloped me like a boa constrictor seducing me with a song of personal comfort and peace to quell my fears and panic. 

Globalism may have some limited positive aspects like increased connectivity, economic development, and cultural exchange, but the price could be too high as agencies and industrial architects need to limit freedoms of individuals to accomplish what they see as a 'common good'.

Some of this high price includes involuntary (and coerced) wealth redistribution, job loss, loss of cultural identities, insecurity, loss of national sovereignty and security, limitations on travel and speech... among others.

In this debate, I tend to land on the side that nations should be able to prioritize their own well-being over global cooperation.

We should avoid political and economic entanglement with other countries that limit our Bill of Rights. We have to seek ways to reverse the globalist trend and minimize our nation's involvement in international affairs and maintain a focus on our own domestic concerns as much as possible.

We have to be willing to push back or outright reject the proposals entities play significant roles in promoting globalist principles, fostering international cooperation, and shaping global affairs, particularly these:

United Nations (UN): The UN was chartered as a global organization that aims to promote peace, security, and cooperation among nations. Recent stances and policies cause concern, especially to countries in the West. 

World Health Organization (WHO):
The speed and veracity that the WHO used to push Covid practices illustrates to concern I have over these powerful entities!

International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank: Though these institutions work to stabilize international financial systems and provide financial assistance to countries in need, consolidating wealth can easily lead to coercion and confiscation of individual's money and property.

Globalist entities also include the following:

Transnational Corporations: Large multinational corporations often operate across borders and play a crucial role in shaping the global economy. Their activities, investments, and supply chains can influence trade, technology transfer, and economic development on a global scale. In many ways, these powerful corporations have more potential for harm if greed overtakes the priorities of their agendas.

Global Alliances and Agreements: Regional and international agreements, such as the European Union (EU), NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), and others, foster economic and political collaboration among participating nations. These agreements should always be limited to protect the rights of individuals.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs):NGOs, like Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and Doctors Without Borders, advocate for various global issues such as human rights, environmental protection, and public health. Though they often work independently, there could danger lurking as they collaboration with governments and international organizations for globalist conformity.

Philanthropic Foundations: Organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Open Society Foundations allocate significant resources to address global initiatives.

Media and Technology Companies: Global media outlets and technology companies contribute to the dissemination of information and the shaping of public opinion on a global scale. The need for these companies to remain avenues for dissenting viewpoints are crucial to avoiding the negative impact of globalist initiatives.

I have been somewhat disheartened that there doesn't seem to be Christian leaders and thinkers leading in this area. I'm happy for the warriors in the gap for the time being, but we need spiritual applications to these issues as well.

Love to know what you think.


Monday, October 16, 2023

Signposts and the Muddy Middle

No doubt with daily headlines from the Middle East, many Bible readers will run to chapters we read with one eye on events and the other eye on the mysterious images with various analysis, positions, and propositions.

This post will be a reminder to me about some of the principles I lean on regarding Biblical prophecy in  study that has now spanned many years. This includes a deep  2 year study I did on the Book of Revelation and many OT references, including the Book of Daniel.

It is almost comical to read all the ping pong points Biblical scholars make when they come to passages that involve visions. At times it reminds me of that scene in the movie, The Princess Bride- "It could be that cup based on fact A- but you know that I know fact A so it is now cup 2 because of fact B.. and so on and the answer ended up being "all of the above".

The 2nd chapter of Daniel contains the first dream that Daniel reveals and interprets to King Nebuchadnezzar. The Book of Daniel is so remarkable in its prophecy that critics (who reject the supernatural) reject Daniel on face value because it would have to be supernatural prophecy for it to be true. I always worry about human reasoning when it throws out a possible theory before the debate even begins.

Back to  Chapter 2- Daniel relates the dream to the King by predicting four kingdoms- Golden Babylon, Silver Persians led by Darius- Bronze Greeks led by Alexander- Iron/Clay Rome divided into two and then into 10. I am skipping a lot of the reasoning and debate here to get to my points.

Take any Biblical vision and read the comments by any true scholar and you will now see the endless debate begins, but we all acknowledge it never quite fits. In this image the Rock of Ages smashes these kingdoms and becomes God's Holy Mountain (again jumping to a general overview here). So most of the time there are left views that have strong points and weak points and the scholar will tend to lean toward one and live with the weaker points in humble acceptance. We all do this- I do this.

But there are larger points here to be made that we can all agree on. Let me use this passage to pull out some of these.

1) God's truth is multi-layered and true from many angles and through many cross-sections and dissections. There is often multiple fulfillments of prophecy that show shadows in the Old Testament- applications in the New Testament and pointers to the Kingdom of God which is an alternate reality but just as true- in fact MORE true than the reality we occupy now. The hardest part in all of Biblical visions is to keep reminding yourself "symbol, symbol, symbol- figurative language"- the Bible images of heaven and hell are figurative and point to a reality beyond our comprehension. Still true, but related in a way that humans of all times and cultures can relate to.

2) We have a hard time making it all fit 'clean' because we are still missing a final overview of the end of time. When we see unrest in the Middle East we rush to the Scriptures and want to make sense of it. The problem is that we are in a time period of waiting. All that is in play now is the competition of the City of Man ( figurative Babylon) with the City of God (figurative Jerusalem) and whether we will be citizens of Christ's Kingdom or the Dragon's Kingdom. Citizenship in Christ's Kingdom is an open invitation to repentance and faith in the God of Mercy. But to do so means that you will incur the wrath of the un-holy trinity The Dragon, The Beast, and the False Prophet. One day, God will say, NO MORE DELAY- and we will watch the final scene brought to the close- and then there will be a massive "OH- I see now- THAT is what was meant by.....". We had a little taste of this when Christ came the first time. All the prophecy was there- but all the scholars missed it. IN the end- our human pre-suppositions make us miss the future narrative. Thankfully, we are not saved by being right on our own ability.

3) There are a couple of BIG picture points to this amazing dream in Daniel 2. All human kingdoms are REGRESSIVE not PROGRESSIVE.  Do you see the value drop? Gold sank to silver, silver sank to bronze, bronze sank to iron. We always take pride in how far we have been elevated. But sadly, man is less glorious today. One world order will not be glorious, it will be dark and destructive. Study the art and architecture of any civilization and you will see it fade in excellence over time. And I think the vision points to the fact that all kingdoms have 'feet of clay'- faulty foundations built on the sand of hubris and not the Rock of Ages.

Conclusion: When you come to Biblical prophecy or visions, throw yourself into them- draw pictures- they are amazing- and then get lost in the mystery of God's world. It is more mesmerizing than anything Tolkien ever imagined. And the WOW factor is that it is true. Instead of 'Where's Waldo?" look deep into these images and see Christ. He is right there... pointed to by the prophets thousands of years before His arrival. And let that give you great hope to keep fighting the joyous battle of life with Him as we eagerly await His glorious return. THE BEST IS YET TO COME. Hold on, my brothers and sisters..... Be patient and prayerful.

As of today- we see in a very dim glass.... a part of the muddy middle. We have hope of the end which is the fruit of our faith; but little beyond that.

Saturday, October 07, 2023

The Thrill and The Agony- Is There Purpose in Pain?

Update to this post Oct. 11: First of all, I never know when I write, what posts will carry far and wide and what posts do not. This one has really exploded and has been seen and shared by way more than I would have ever guessed. 

When war broke out in Israel the same day I posted this, it reminded me that football pain is nothing compared to the suffering and loss of life in this world. I hope I made it clear in my original post.

But I also was so impressed by our practice this week and how getting back to work will wear away the disappointment. Yes, kids are resilient but at the same time, this team is closer by way of walking through the pain of loss.

Here is the original post (10/7):

We lost a close, tough football game last night where just a few bounces and inches could have flipped the script. You can't hide from the the pain, and a coach must quickly turn minister and know that even though I hurt - I  have been through this many times and I must gird up and go help young men who are still young enough to be vulnerable in these fragile situations.

It is just football... and though the the pain is real enough-  it is  nothing in a world of famine, cancer, war, crime, and poverty.

It seems a little dramatic to use a football loss in this sense, however folks, the pain is palatable to the young men, coaches, parents... it is there.. it just plain sucks. And the harder you work, the closer victory seems to be that just falls short... it is a soul deep hurt. One that lingers into the night and early the next day .... before slowly subsiding.

Football is rarely undefeated- life is never undefeated.

And our young men did what you are supposed to do last night- accept it, shake the hand of the victor and start leaning on each other as we wait for the healing that comes in time. But there is still a myriad of internal obstacles that must be navigated in time, prayer, and perspective from the Word of God.

This semester, we are studying the Book of Job in Sunday School with Mark Travers and he has done a masterful job in walking us through dealing with pain in a practical way, as well as excellent tips on what to say and when to say it.

The deeper the pain, the less we need to use words... we just need to be there.

Football injuries are a reality with that as well. It hurts to see a player physically wounded in battle, but that is also a noble reality... to put on pads is similar to a warrior; and sacrifices of blood, sweat, tears, and pain are payments that come due which elevates this ABOVE mere play.

I am so thankful that God has designed young bodies to heal... not without scars mind you. But as Jacob walked with a limp from the day He wrestled the Angel, so we too bear the marks of struggle and it creates in us a rugged disposition to battle!

What Mr Travers has been teaching me is that 'lamenting' is a God ordained process with a purpose. It is an acknowledgement of hurt to our heavenly Father that we are grieving, and He wants us to grieve, to pour out our sorrows to Him, our complaints, our fears, our anxieties, our frustrations, our disappointments.

But what makes lamenting different and beneficial is that we still worship the Lord and testify to His sovereign control and goodness!

It is all through the Bible- Psalms, Job, both Old and New Testaments... here is an example in the Book with that title, Lamentations:


[19] Remember my affliction and my wanderings,

the wormwood and the gall!

[20] My soul continually remembers it

and is bowed down within me.

[21] But this I call to mind,

and therefore I have hope:

[22] The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;

his mercies never come to an end;

[23] they are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

[24] “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,

“therefore I will hope in him.
(Lamentations 3:19–24 ESV)

Indeed... this is a strange twist- we never want our children, our players, or ourselves to experience the pain of loss.

And we would NEVER orchestrate it.

But pain, loss, hurt is a necessary training tool to prepare us for life.

Learning to live through, walk through, persevere through football pain as a young man made me a better man. It also makes us better believers. 

Consider this passage:

2 CORIN. 1: 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

I think the greatest team builder in the world is suffering. 

Over the decades, my  closest football teams have been teams that experienced some type of shared pain.

None of us want it that way and we want to avoid it as much as possible. But at the end of the year, we realized that while we enjoyed good times when we celebrated, we actually grew together when we cried or hurt. 

Football pain, whether it is a hard practice, a tough loss, or physical injury, is often used by God as a ‘strange minister’ in our lives- producing fruit of perseverance and love.

I’m not exactly why this is true. It may be the first time we see one another without masks or we see how much individual’s truly care- but pain is a useful tool in forging a team of one heroic purpose. That is one reason why we push them so hard in summer camp and in the weight room- they have to experience hardship to break down all the barriers to brotherhood.

When pain comes, we should be urgent and diligent to support each other and comfort one another. The best comfort is time and understanding. It is not an easy road. We recite the words, but it is hard to live them. I never really ever want to preach to my team following a loss- it is usually a one on one evaluation of who needs support the most. It is a time to seek out the injured and quietly stand with those that are taking it the hardest.

When we receive God’s comfort, it helps us to be sensitive to others in similar pain. 

There is a creed of football that simply says “We suffer together so that we WILL persevere together”- which is related to Romans 5:3,4 which says, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

When we suffer and comfort, we eventually heal. That healing produces unity and strength. If you ever have to compete against a team with this type of unity- look out- it may be a tough fight!

If you are hurting, go comfort others. If you see someone hurting, comfort them. You will reap a great harvest of hope!

I close this post with a few poems and thoughts that has helped me over the years when I am hurting.. coaches experience loss in a more common way than the average person.. not the intensity of real life suffering.. but the frequency is under appreciated by society as a whole:

When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man
To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!

How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;

How He uses whom He chooses,
And with every purpose fuses him:
By every act induces him
To try his splendor out--
God knows what He's about.
--Author Unknown


Seeing the whole story from beginning to end gives ample evidence that God is great and that He is good.
But what about the middle? Think about those long, dark nights. Imagine all the hauntings and accusations. Is God there? Does He care? Why don’t you answer me God? Am I being punished? HELP!
But this is JUST THE MIDDLE.. hang in there- the END IS SWEET!

“God will not give us grace for our vain imaginings. It is when we are actually
in the time of trial that the grace is given.

(Dr. Lane Adams, former pastor, Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis)

“If you want a comfortable religion, do not pick Christianity” CS Lewis, God in Dock

Aragorn in “Lord of the Rings”

"Hold your ground! Hold your ground my brothers,
I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me.
A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day.
An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down,
but it is not this day!
This day we fight!!"

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Briarwood Football- 400 Wins

I was privileged to be a part of a historic milestone for Briarwood Christian School last night where the football program registered it's 400th win. That is an average of 7 wins a year for the 51 year history of the football program.

I also count it an honor to have been a part of 244 of those 400 wins over a 25 year span and can attest that the hard work and effort of everyone involved has been a treasure to witness. Each win was special because few people understand how difficult it is to win even one game in the state of Alabama. I’m thankful to be a Lion!

If anyone wants to learn or understand more about how this program was started or has grown, I highly encourage you to take time and listen to the podcasts we produced last year.

I have decided on this post to list them in chronological order: These are SoundCloud links but you can also find these on Apple, Spotify, and iHeart Radio

2019-present- Matthew Forester

In my 25 years of being at Briarwood, we have seen highs and lows, state championships and 'losing' seasons. My time there, we have been 244-86- so I am a blessed man!

You can also learn a lot from visiting the Briarwood page at the Alabama High School Football Historical Society.

We also have videos on Vimeo here;

https://vimeo.com/user15340843


And a FB page:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1375163752718816


Too many wonderful people and memories! Thank you Lord for blessing me to participate in this wonderful ministry and hop I get to keep going!

Coach Mathews Seasons at BCS:

1991- 5-5

1992- 4-5

1993- 7-5

1994- 5-6

1995- 7-5

1996- 13-1

1997- 11-1

1998- 15-0 3A State Champs

1999- 13-2 3A State Champs

2000- 11-2

2001- 12-2

2002- 13-2

2003 13-2 5A State Champs

I was in Nashville 2004-2010 as a head coach (39-20)

2011- 12-2

2012 6-7

2013- 9-3

2014- 4-7

2015- 5-7

2016- 12-2

2017- 14-1

2018- 9-3

2019- 12-2

2020- 8-3

2021- 10-2

2022- 3-7

2023- 3-2 (after 5 games)


Friday, September 08, 2023

September Musings 2023

 

To say my life has been chaotic would be an extreme understatement. But to say 'The Lord is good" is also an understatement. A good friend of mine reminded me recently that "If your worst day is better than someone else's best day, then get on your knees and thank God for every breath you take in the good days and when times are tough."

I know I have fiends worried about the pace I have been keeping. They look at me and say"Are you OK?" and when I smile and say 'yes' I can tell that some of them think I am lying.

But I am doing really well. 

I don't know how people live without Christ, though I did learn from studying existential theory a few years ago that men can find meaning in struggle and purpose in fate..but it sure doesn't last past the last breath.

Let's start with how God is using the Scriptures to help me: I spend all spring and June in Hebrews 11-13 and I really felt the Lord reminding me that He is my father and when He presses me, it is training. He allows the difficulties to produce fruit and perseverance. 

Then in July, I started a long journey through the New Testament T's- Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus and each reading has been the perfect message for the perfect day. This purpose of this post isn't to go into all of the details of my study, but there is always a powerful message from God's Word if we take time to dig and trust the Holy Spirit to lead. It truly is my daily bread!

I also read and am reading some great books- I read The Wisdom of the Bullfrog: Leadership Made Simple (But Not Easy) by Admiral William H. McRaven. I was AMAZING, fun, and useful.

I am still reading: The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend
by Bob Drury, Tom Clavin.
It has SO MANY details that I am just getting in a few pages each day. It is an awesome book as well.

Finally, I have been enjoying a book of Poetry - Songs of the Average Man by Sam Walter Foss.

Poetry really helps me to think deeply and I will wake up occasionally with a poem in my brain inspired by the great style of Foss, who wrote a poem everyday that was published in his hometown newspaper.

Exercise and Health are good- As of this week, I have 56 straight weeks of riding my Pelaton and it has been a great help to keeping my left knee pain free. I still don't eat well and my weight is a constant thorn... but overall health is good. Blood pressure and A1C numbers are good and my heart and blood work got a good report last week.

My family is a blessing. Grand-parenting is awesome and we are like any family- struggles and blessings.

And work is good- I work at am amazing place with amazing people. Our new Superintendent has been really good to work with and he is going to be good for us. I do see my role changing to more operations, but that will be God's assignment and not mine and I serve at His pleasure and His will.

I still love coaching football and hope to do that as long as possible. I hold all of it with an open hand.

I wan to fish more... I miss that therapy.

My sin is ever present and I work in a world that is at odds with God's kingdom. I long for a new heaven and earth but that is in His control..I am fine living with a need to know basis and don't worry about it.

The purpose of this blog is to record - and I hope I do it honestly. I am no hero, I want to live each day as the blessing of life and a servant of the King- the ONE who loves me and proved His love by dying for me.

I have some topics I want to explore, but football season is never easy to find time to write.

Pray for me and I will pray for you!

Jay Mathews 9/8/23

Thursday, September 07, 2023

We know the Things of Hell Too Well



 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. [14] For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13–14 ESV)


A man doesn't have to die to go to hell, but don't be mislead- hell on earth is not hell in hell.
While he still lives he might escape, but when he dies it's permanent

We know the things of Hell too well
And the ways of Heaven too little.

We know them in everyday ways
Yet amazingly aren’t afraid.
As we stand mute to the extension of grace
Resistant to peace and rebels in His face..

We know the things of hell-
The fevers, the chills, the cancers that ravage
The agonies, the wounds, and weapons so savage.

Lies, and manipulation destroy reputations
Revenge and lust gun down the nations.

We all know the things of Hell too well.
And the ways of Heaven too little.

A babies smile, a little child’s giggle
A word that picks up our day.
A ray of hope that breaks the lonely widow’s cell.
I wish we knew Heaven that well..

How strange we are to choose the door that is full of the things of hell.

We know the things of Hell too well.
And the Ways of Heaven too little.

Do we really want to stay forever in a place that reeks of Hell?
Or cry out to the One who said “It is Done”?

Only time will tell.

Saturday, August 05, 2023

Elijah's Retreat- Ready for a Comeback?

 Have you ever been kicked in the teeth, thrown in the mud, bent over in pain, with your enemy standing over you... taunting and powerful? 

Or worse, has there been a season of winter... winless.. and there doesn't seem to be a heartbeat left and no friend on the horizon?

We almost always think of the Bible in terms of wins and perfection. But the Bible is more about loss and depression. It has few level plains.... everything in the Bible seems to model human existence as short peaks and deep, dark valleys. 

If there is a passage that speaks to our life in times of isolation and darkness, there is no more powerful passage than the account of Elijah running from Jezebel in I Kings 19. There is enough content in these 22 verses for an entire book.

THE STORY OF TWO MOUNTAINS:

Elijah was a prophet with power. There is no more public and powerful victory in the Old Testament than the one on the top of Mount Carmel when Elijah called down fire on the prophets of Baal. Elijah's story is one of dramatic showdowns and extremes. He is a man who was fed by ravens and who prayed down rain.

But there is another mountain that Elijah will end up up on.... just a few chapters later in your Bible... a journey that took 40 days and nights covering a distance of only 260 miles... when you are wandering in a state of loss and darkness, everything is slow and wearying. 

A MAN ON THE RUNNOW WHAT? 

Often after great highs, we sink into holes of emptiness, fear, loneliness, and isolation.

Hal Higdon has an entire section in his book, “Marathon- The Ultimate Training Guide” devoted to ‘Post-marathon Blues”.“We focus our lives on this one event for 5 months- and then its done” reflects a Melbourne Beach, Florida runner “Now what?” You have the great high of race day, especially when you finish or meet your goal...but soon after- there is this tangible reality of emptiness.

It isn't just in running....Ernie Conwell works for the NFL Players Association. He was a college standout for the University of Washington and achieved great accomplishments as a pro. He was drafted by the Rams in 1996, won a Super Bowl after a horrific knee injury, named a captain for the New Orleans Saints- An All-Pro selection in 2001.

I had the privilege to have Ernie coach with me in Nashville and I loved hearing him speak to men about his miraculous journey back from the knee injury and what it felt like to compete in the NFL.

But you could hear a pin drop when he explained the saddest reality of all......

Right after his Super Bowl win - the pinnacle of a sport achievement- a lifetime pursuit that organizations invest millions to get, and individual's pour blood, sweat, and tears to grasp...
In the locker room...right after winning THE SUPER BOWL!.... after hugs and laughter...
a lot of grown men sat there with empty stares on their faces... now what?


This isn't to minimize the lasting memories or value of the accomplishment. It is a recognition of all human existence... the thrill is momentary and often less than satisfying.

It isn't just in big things... it is in almost every aspect of life.

I always thought it was appropriate that Pip experienced all the shock of seeing his world collapse in the classic novel, “Great Expectations”.

“All the truths of my position came flashing on me; and its disappointments, dangers, disgraces, consequences of all kinds, rushed in in such a multitude that I was borne down by them and had to struggle for every breath I drew.”

But it was the subtle letdowns that he noticed first:

My (new) clothes were rather a disappointment, of course. Probably every new and eagerly expected garment ever put on since clothes came in, fell a trifle short of the wearer's expectation.

So RIGHT after Elijah's great victory... he get's word that Jezebel was making a promise... she was guaranteeing the death of Elijah!

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. [2] Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” (1 Kings 19:1–2 ESV)

And Elijah grew VERY afraid:

Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life ....

Have you ever run from something that is scary? ... I have.... one time as a boy I jumped a fence and a german shepherd ran toward me... I turned and ran so fast and so full of fear that I leaped over the chain link! The panic! Yes, usually there is danger... but we also are running from something that we can't see anymore, and in our mind the beast is growling and drooling and about to snatch us...

When a powerful enemy puts you in their site... it can create such a panic.  But with Elijah, he had just publicly stood up to the state and the prophets of darkness... why run now? I think it was the nature of her vow... it sounded drop dead serious and it made Elijah not only quiver, but run.. and the running creates thought distortions as well.

[4] But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” 

One of the alarming statistics lingering from of the Covid-19 pandemic is the staggering amount of suicides and crises of anxiety that are as dominant as the plague itself!

The CDC reports that during the pandemic, U.S. adults reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19. Younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers reported having experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation.

So where do we go and what do we do when these thoughts begin to overtake us?

Mental health is a very complex issue and usually there is not an instant cure. In Elijah's case, the Lord intervened in a very supernatural way... but there are principles here that can help all of us. Living moment by moment and taking steps is a type of miracle... and we should celebrate all victories, even the tiniest ones!

DON'T MISS THE BROOM TREE

 And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” [6] And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. [7] And the angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” [8] And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God. (1 Kings 19:5–8 ESV)


At some point our human energy meets its limit and we fall down... incapable of going forward. In the middle of the desert, the Lord had been growing a broom tree, some of which can grow to heights of 9 feet or more. Years previous, it was just a shoot, struggling to survive in the harsh heat and dehydrating winds. But God knew it would serve a purpose ( and many more we will never know) to hide the prophet in pain. And there Elijah was fed by angels. On two occasions, as he woke up... maybe years later he thought it a delirious dream ...... but we know better. God feeds us as well when we reach the end of the rope. The text that comes at an unusual time. A song we hear. A stranger we meet. We pass it off later as a coincidence, even at times we run away God's angels- but they won't stop until you have been given enough to finish the journey and get back on mission.

Just a note- it doesn't take 40 days to get from Carmel to Horeb and it doesn't take 40 years to get from Egypt to Canaan. But we never get to go in a straight line anywhere when it comes to matters of faith. We fight the path and God has to nudge us bit by bit. This is not a hike in a meadow, this is a wrestling match all the way! And when we finally get there, we always laugh at why it took us so long!

THE AMAZING ENCOUNTER THAT CHANGED NOTHING AND EVERYTHING

So this is one of my favorite passages in the Bible:

There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” [10] He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” [11] And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. [12] And after the earthquake a firebut the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. [13] And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” [14] He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” (1 Kings 19:9–14 ESV)

What a mystery and what a moment!

God asks... "What are you doing here?". Don't you love the questions of God! "Adam, where are you?"
"Peter, who do men say that I am?"

God knows the answers.... but he LOVES the interaction!

And those questions can haunt, can convict, and uplift... sometimes ALL at the same time!

What we miss here is the passion and conviction of the two answers, even though the words are the same!

Since Covid and through even this past year, I have found people are struggling more than ever. The rapid pace of our time, the tendency to isolate more than congregate, the nagging pressure of inflation and supply chain frustrations, and a general spiritual malaise has a lot of people I talk to on a regular basis have less hope, less energy, and very little joy in their lives.

If you add the full frontal pressure of our cancel culture mood to that disposition, you find a lot of people buying Nike's and running.... a lot of retreat going on... just like Elijah. He was a champion and now he is quivering like a loser! Don't we do the same!

And it is easy to ask in those moments... "Is God there? and Does He care?"

But even through the winds, and earthquakes, and fires... His still small voice nourishes me to keep crawling. And what is our response? Get up and get on mission.

And the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. [16] And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. [17] And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. [18] Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:15–18 ESV)

God is there... He does care... and we are NEVER alone. There is no such thing as the 'last Christian on earth' though the devil wants you to believe that.

So where are you?

A failure because of sin?.... yes, that happens to everyone, even those we think are bullet proof (heed the lesson there).

The target of an enemy? Yes, sometimes we run and the thought distortions grow!

A let down after a high?... yes, that is a normal existence, listen for the small voice!

Worn down and exhausted? As you lay down, look for the broom tree... nourishment is coming.

Lonely and without a friend? Hang in there... keep loving and keep serving

As Elijah went on in obedience, he picked up a friend.

So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. [20] And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” [21] And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him. (1 Kings 19:19–21 ESV)

My mom had a strange obsession with the Blood, Sweat, and Tears song, "And When I Die".. the chorus went like this.

And when I die, and when I'm gone
There'll be one child born
In this world to carry on, to carry on

I did NOT like the song... I told her it was stupid and she just laughed. But there is a lot of truth there-  our seasons will come to an end and we will be too frail to go on the journey one day. But we can cheer from the sidelines and encourage those that will then be walking a well worn path!

We must be willing to train (disciple) the next generation to live for Christ. Hard times are coming for those who cling to Christ. But don't fret- love them well and shepherd their hearts.

When we serve other people, it helps to lift us up out of fear, worry, anxiety, and depression.

Here is how God is good to me... when I get knocked down... After some rest, some fishing, prayer, a day of beauty in His creation, some time with my wife and family, ... there usually comes a still small voice as I read the Scriptures with a cup of coffee, as I ponder the goodness of God,  and I am ready to go again!

May we all be led to keep walking in Him!

I get a strange feeling that the devil will be more visible in his attack these coming decades. He often hides his cards and plays them subtly to avoid being identified.

He would rather it be blamed on secular issues or secondary causes. If people see Satan too clearly, they will have no excuse to deny the existence of God.

That is the meaning of 'occult'- it means 'hidden' and that is where the devil does his best work.

But I also have a stronger feeling that the church is about to demonstrate more power than we have seen in decades. 

We all love a comeback!

Maybe it is just me, but I can feel His power growing in me as well. Grace greater than my sin. Strength stronger than the storms blowing. Love deeper than the cynicism dominating the landscape. Faith that is small, but able to move that mountain. And a hope that has very little anxiety attached to it.

God is that good!