CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter…
The college football season is upon us. I have serious misgivings about football in general, and college football in particular, but I do love it. Last night we were in the live audience for Coach Tom Allen’s first radio show of the year, as he prepares for IU to play its first game this Saturday, at Florida International University. It reminded me of another football game in Florida, and so I am repeating this post from 2014…
As I watched the Florida State-Notre Dame football game last night, I thought of all the problems FSU has had with star quarterback, Jamies Winston [charges of shoplifting, rape, and public obscenity] and of FSU’s history of such players. That sort of thing didn’t happen under Coach Darrel Mudra.
He had been fired at Florida State after only two years, for not winning enough games fast enough, even though he won more his second year than his first. Eastern Illinois University was glad to pick him up off the coaching scrap heap.
The year before, the EIU Panthers had won only one game. In Mudra’s first year, they won the national championship.
His career record was 200-81-4, 70.9 %. He’s in the national football hall of fame. His nickname is “Dr. Victory.” His expertise and reputation were in taking long-time losing programs and turning them into winners. That’s why FSU hired him. Despite all that, FSU gave Mudra only two years to turn their floundering program around.
Bobby Bowden, who succeeded Mudra at FSU, has said that it was Mudra who really turned FSU football around and made it possible for him to win.
Mark Dantonio, the hugely successful coach at Michigan State U, says that there is no secret to football success. “You recruit one good young man at a time. You help them become better persons, academically, socially, relationally. As they become better persons, they become better players.”
It takes more than two years to turn good young men into better young men. It takes even longer to take young men who have never been expected to be good and get them to see that being a good football player is not as important as being a good person. Dantonio has had his share of problems along that line.
It takes a long time to turn anyone into a good person.
Darrel Mudra attended worship services at my church when he coached at EIU. I was a long distance runner in those days and often used the mile-long woodchip trail around the university athletic fields, including the football practice field. Sometimes Coach Mudra would be standing under a tree, watching practice from a distance, as I ran by. I’d stop and chat and give him tips, the way people who know just a little about something like to advise folks who know a lot about it.
A number of the football players came to church, too. I asked them about Coach Mudra, who was famous for always coaching from the press box, not on the field. “He hardly ever talks to us about football,” they said. “He asks us what we want to do with our lives, what our goals are, who we want to be.”
One of the questions Methodist preachers are asked as they apply for ordination is: Do you expect to be made perfect in this life? It’s from John Wesley’s “Doctrine of Christian Perfection.” We are not expected to be perfect in knowledge or ability, but we are expected become perfect in love, to be good people.
Wesley said that perfection in love is the work of a lifetime, but it is what God expects of us, not just to be good players, but to be good persons.
As this football season gets started, I give thanks for the coaches, in all walks of life, who help us become better persons, and trust that in the process we shall become better players. We’re never old enough to stop working on being perfect, in love.
John Robert McFarland
The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where we lived when I started this blog and first posted this column, where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] We now live in Bloomington, IN, where we met and married almost 60 years ago, where life is defined by autumn—football, leaves, and all.
I tweet, occasionally, as yooper1721.