Sunday, January 26, 2020

"Tell Them How Good I Am"

This is my yearly tribute to the memory of Coach Bryant

These stories fade and change as time goes on.

Coach Bryant told a great memory in his classic documentary, 'Nothin' But a Winner', that featured his old trainer from the Texas A&M days, Charles E. 'Smokey' Harper.

Harper is actually an inductee in the national trainers Hall of Fame.

One internet site lists this story about him:

"He was a character and helped Alabama to many championships. He got his nickname when he was 17, after his high school basketball team (of which he was captain), won the state championship. His hometown held a parade in their honor. He was marching along, smoking a big cigar, proud as punch, when he spotted his Aunt in the crowd. Knowing that he wasn't supposed to be smoking, he stuffed the lit cigar in his shirt pocket. Soon, he was jumping around, as the cigar kept burning in his pocket, and smoke went everywhere. After that, his teammates decided to call him "Smokey," and it stuck with him the rest of his life. His accomplishments include: Captain of his State Championship High School Basketball Team Played Baseball, and was Captain of the Basketball Team at Mercer College Coached Baseball & Basketball at Vanderbilt, taking both teams all the way to the SEC championships Worked for Bear Bryant as a Trainer at Kentucky and Texas A&M, as part of "The Junction City Boys," whose story later became a movie Last, but not least.... He worked with Bear Bryant' s as a Trainer, helping win more than one National Championship, for the juggernaut football program better known as the Alabama Crimson Tide !!! His old school training motto was, "If you're hurt below the waist take a hot shower and if you're hurt above the waist take an aspirin," and he kept a lot of aspirin in his shirt pocket. Smokey was tough old hickory nut from days gone by."

The story I wanted to write about is the one Coach Bryant tells about him bringing Smokey to Tuscaloosa.

Smokey called coach Bryant and asked if he had a job for him. Coach Bryant said, "No, Smokey, I don't have anything."

Smokey tried again, "Coach Bryant, I can only make (some small amount) or it will mess up my retirement check."

Coach Bryant said, "Well, come on then, I can find you something to do for that amount."

When Smokey finally showed up for duty Coach Bryant gave him the orders.

"Smokey", he said, "I know you like to smoke cigarettes and drink coffee. So I want to hire you to go to these coffee shops in town, drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, and tell everyone what a helluva coach I am."

Obviously a great punch line.... with a nice spoonful of truth.

In a profession where your success is enhanced or hindered by the conventional talk on the street, it is important to have those who are willing to be a voice of support in a world of naysayers.

I don't know why bad news travels so fast and good news stays under the bushel. But that is the reality.

As an athletics director, I hear constantly from the detractors. Those who feel compelled to come and tell me all that is wrong with a coach or a program. I rarely have anyone who takes the time to come in support, even though my experience has been the supporters outnumber the detractors in most circumstances, but you have to go and find them.

My encouragement is that we always look for the good and publicly side with those who do great jobs for our kids and communities. I don't believe you have to be dishonest about it, and yes there are people who need to be corrected, and even sometimes removed.

But if Coach Bryant knew he could be helped by a champion at the water coolers .... don't we ALL need that support?

This is my yearly post in honor of Coach Bryant. You can find all of the posts here.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Elements of the Fight- God's Call in 2020

There are still dead bodies on Everest.

In fact, about 300 of them. The height and conditions of their strange and sad sepulcher make it too risky to remove them.

The sheer danger of the trek adds to the glory of triumph, though the feat has been diminished over recent years due to catty consumerism and crammed camps due to overuse and unprincipled caretakers. 

Nevertheless, it is still dangerous and unwise to attempt this task for the one who is unprepared and naive to the peril.

There was a time that I read numerous accounts, especially the early days, of those who battled every difficult aspect of the quest. The life lessons for a competitor are endless.

Many of the accounts, spoke of the 'slumber of death'. It is a time of sheer exhaustion where a climber lays down for rest. The longer they stay in that state, the more dangerous it becomes. In low oxygen, every muscle throbbing, and every aspect of their being on red alert.... it feels so good to just lay down and close the eyes. And if they don't rouse themselves quickly.... they will unfortunately sleep forever and their bodies soon become a marker and warning to future enthusiasts.

I have found a similar retreat in my life.

My daughters have long teased me... the 'highly functioning introvert' who works in a job more suited for extroverts. They see me when I retreat like a turtle into my shell, needing to find energy and stamina that is rapidly depleted in a world of constant contact with others.... who are usually upset or concerned. My dad was a firefighter.... but he knows little of those who fight fires as school administrators. In 7 years as the Dean of Discipline and now over 2 as an Athletics Director, I have found most days having to choose which wire to cut in hopes that the atomic explosion will be avoided. And, unfortunately, the blast sometimes happens and the mess takes on a life of its own.

And before I over dramatize it... I have a blessed profession. I rub shoulders with so many who are the salt and light of the world. I get more solace and accolades than most men ever get to see. And my struggles are small in light of true suffering and pain.

No one can ever truly escape the slings and arrows of life..... sometimes the hurt of 1,000 ant bites is harder to endure than the major blow that is often the fate of humanity.

January is always a time where I reflect on what the Lord wants me to concentrate on. And it seems like this year He wants me to fight more and retreat less. He sees me as too passive and too pleasing.... too accommodating.... 

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”                        Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

Proverbs 24 outlines the 'fight' of the wise and the righteous. I'm sorry to report, but no one gets out of this war. You are either on the side of evil or good- but you hit the ground running everyday in an all out spiritual battle with eternity at stake.

1 Do not envy the wicked,
   do not desire their company;
2 for their hearts plot violence,
   and their lips talk about making trouble.

If I am honest, this is the crux of my struggle. I struggle to label anyone as 'wicked' because I know my heart and desires. And I have never seen a teen like that.... my vision is always that these are young people who are simply needing to experience real life, the failure of idols, and then watch God do the finishing work. And I don't ever envision that changing.

No, this 'wicked company' is Satan's system..... the manipulative halls of earthly power that reeks of injustice. It is the wheels of society that sweep up the defenseless and destroy others in addiction, sex trafficking, illusions of luxury, and the decay of decadence.

Proverbs 24 also calls me to action.... it requires me to find in God discernment and partners in the battle.
5 The wise prevail through great power,
   and those who have knowledge muster their strength.
6 Surely you need guidance to wage war,
   and victory is won through many advisers.

How can you win if you do not plan or do not get help? I think my biggest failure in things is when I do not enlist help from others and strike out on my own... BIG MISTAKE.

Verse 10 is God's major criticism..... I have not prevailed in fighting....

 10 If you falter in a time of trouble,
   how small is your strength
11 Rescue those being led away to death;
   hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
12 If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,”
   does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
   Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?

Sadly, this is the general experience of my life- soft and frail- and more willing to beg out of the fight. I need to be willing to step in and lovingly, boldly confront- I may get to help save one starfish in the process. One life matters!

And His call urges me to rise up and begin again.

16 for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again,
   but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.

So in 2020- I need to COMPETE- I am fighting sin within and Satan's system without.

Where competition fits in within the Biblical guidelines for people has always intrigued me.

And the important qualifying questions are: by what means and by what cost?

Years ago, I had a brief debate with an outstanding Bible teacher about whether competition is godly or ungodly. He was against all forms of competition, especially sports. His concern was that it was driven by ambition and fueled a person’s pride.

I did not agree with him then or now. God is a competitor, a worthy warrior Who excels at defeating His enemies.

The Israelites had to take possession of the land.
Yes, Jesus did have Peter put down the sword.
But watch the angels fight in Revelation.

What is the balance?
I think there are 4 categories of ‘human effort’ that line up in our concept of God’s control versus our freedom. And I think I could at some point compare and contrast these with what I believe are 4 freedoms in Scripture.


Every time I read about Jacob it brings to light the limits of competition and a stark difference between those who compete with honor and those who fight with darker and more questionable motives and tactics. Here is my model and my challenge... I am too much like 'Jacob' and too little like 'Israel'.

The early story of Jacob involved two famous accounts of Jacob getting what he wanted, including the of grabbing Esau's’ birthright and later stealing his blessing. In both instances, Jacob was fulfilling a prophecy made about him and earning the reputation of his name…. ‘the deceiver’ or the ‘one who grasps the heel’.

But it doesn’t take long to understand that Jacob is a by product of his environment and his nature as well.

Both Rebekah (mom) and Isaac (dad) contributed to the dysfunction of the situation and Esau fared no better in the tale.

Isaac? Way too passive and uninvolved. Sure, his submission to Abraham on the mountain of sacrifice is commendable, but Isaac doesn’t really seem to do much or accomplish much in the narrative of God’s line of redemption.

Rebekah? Way too eager to teach the tactics of deceit and treachery, even manipulating Jacob by assuring him that if it goes bad, she will let the curse of Isaac fall on her.

And both parents suffer the consequences of playing favorites with their children. Issac more loving on the hunter, Esau and Rebekah more doting on her ‘tent dwelling’ Jacob.

I also think it is important that both parents were aware of God’s presence and the promise that the older should serve the younger. But as the Bible shows over and over again, there is serious condemnation when humans refuse to trust God in the timing and means of the fulfillment of His promises.


It would be wrong of me to label ANY of Jacob’s early conflicts as anything close to honorable. If I can give him one token of praise, it would be that he valued lasting things enough to suffer loss of temporary things in the present.

Ultimately, that is why Esau is rated so poorly in the New Testament. Esau is called ‘ungodly’ for despising his birthright for something as trivial as a bowl of soup.

Jacob had the right reward in his mind, but that is the last compliment I can give him in these early accounts of his deceit, manipulation, and trickery.


It didn’t take long for Jacob to learn that Rebekah’s family came from a long line of cheaters and Uncle Laban excelled in the scheming… he applied the con almost like an expression of art. He got 7 years of labor and someone to take care of Leah out of the bargain. Jacob though, never quit, and battled his way 7 more years for Rachel and ended up the champion. But Jacob still had battles to fight and lessons to learn….


The most glorious and important battle in any person’s life is their struggle with the Almighty. If He has left you alone and you are not struggling with Him, I fear for you. But if you just read that statement and it caused even a twinge of fear or any red flag...there is still hope.

In Genesis 32, Jacob has sent his caravan of family and possession ahead… hoping they would meet Esau first.

Then in the night, all by himself, he gets jumped by Jesus. Early in the fight, my guess is that Jacob was fighting to live and fighting off the aggressive pursuer. But somewhere along the way, the fight changed. It wasn’t Esau he was fighting. It was a ‘man’. One who had the power to knock Jacob’s hip out of joint with just a touch.

This “angel” tells him to let him go. But Jacob says NO- not until you bless me.

And at that point, Jacob not only got a new life…. he got a new name… no longer the deceiver/manipulator… he was now a God-striver.

Of everything about Jacob… that is what I want. That is the change I desire.

And it starts with an decision to stop fighting God and start clinging to Him.

Stop running away…. and start running to… start fighting for!


What am I fighting for?

The great theme of the Bible is “I will be Your God and you will be MY people” and this theme is gradually expanded and implemented through a very deep promise… more serious than even a contact.. the assumption and execution of a covenant promise. Indeed, all of the history of redemption can be laid out according to these administrations of the covenant of redemption. Beginning with Abraham and ending with Jesus, the oaths, signs, ceremonies, seasons, celebrations, daylight/darkness-  in some ways the organization of time/calendars themselves are all tutors of this grand theme.

The Grand prize of this grand scheme is God Himself…. but God is so good- he knows how to treat His children…. there is also from the very beginning  a promise of prosperity, family, land, and blessing.

So, the hard part of competition is …. there is a war going on with eternal stakes and it is time to get in the game and fight.

The beauty of the call is this… it is a worthy fight, primarily through spiritual weapons, and has already been won, we just need to be engaged… it is a blessing to do so.
Our charge is not even to win every battle, our charge is to fight every day until our last human breath, until the heartbeats of our funeral march come to the end, and every time we fall or fail… just get back up.

And life teaches us how to fight. That is why I love my involvement with football over the years… it teaches me how to be a warrior… how to fight with my brothers, how to fight for my brothers.

Once I do that, transitioning to fighting as a happy warrior in the Kingdom of Christ is an easier transition.


“I Am Jacob”. I know I have the sinful characteristics of this man, but there is also a yearning in me to overcome those as he did and even have my base name/nature changed by the sanctifying process of God’s spirit.

And by all means- I want to continue to keep my competitive fire burning well into my advancing age.

I want to be like Caleb who still wanted to conquer mountains at age 80.

The past few weeks I have talked with some coaches and teachers who are in various stages of discouragement.... I was praying for them one night when I remembered paraphrasing a famous Tennyson poem…. I may send it to them this week.

It may be that foes wear us down. 
It may be that we wear championship crowns, 
And be like great champions past, whom we knew. 
Tho' much is taken, much abides; 
and tho' We are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven…..
that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made TIRED by time and fate, but strong in will.
To strive, to seek, to find, and NEVER to yield.

These lines from Tennyson speak more to me now than ever before in my life.

I could spend time on the whole poem, but Tennyson knows the longing to get to the battlefield and leave a mark....

As a competitor, especially as I grow older, I become like Ulysses, and soon grow weary in a life of leisure when I have tasted the fire of battles and won. That slumber of death reeks of boredom and leaves a life on little consequence.

I have been still too long now- you only think that rest, leisure, and escape will still the soul.
But already I am dreaming of where to go- I need a wall and a mountain in my path I no longer need anyone to applaud my glory or understand my motives.

I think the mistake is thinking a person has to MOVE to find these walls or mountains. Too often men apply the wrong opportunity to their desire to keep charging… it isn’t a new wife, or new job, or new car, or new life… it is simply opening your eyes to the opportunities around you and dare to make a difference.

My scars are all that must stay attached
I long to remember the important things forgotten in the fog of battles that few recall
It is a loss to know that everywhere I have been is now long behind me, but I carry parts of every stop ahead in me
I am weary from waiting and dull from peaceful sleep. I am rusting too early from a lack of activity Will I end my time in a furious panic of all undone? Little remains: but every hour is saved From that eternal silence, something more, A bringer of new things; and vile it were For some three suns to store and hoard myself, And this gray spirit yearning in desire To follow knowledge like a sinking star, Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

Jacob's competitive spirit, though misguided and even sinful at times.... did not prohibit the Lord from channeling it to propel him to heights he never imagined.

So may it be with us!

There are dead bodies all around me.... zombies on parade.... in 2020 I hope to stay sharp and keep swinging.... mentally, physically, and spiritually.