Christian coaches weigh in on how to handle losing your job Christian coaches weigh in on how to handle losing your job.
By Jill Ewert
There is a general rule in coaching circles that states, "There are two kinds of coaches in the world: those who have been fired, and those who will be fired."
If you are a coach, are related to a coach or simply know a coach, this article is for you. Coaching isn't easy, and sooner or later, if the rule rings true, you're going to have to face an uncertain professional future. In order to help you handle this situation, we asked several coaches to share some tips they picked up from their own unemployment experiences. Let their words help you or someone you know find God in the middle of one of life's most difficult situations.
Tony Dungy, Head Coach of the Indianapolis Colts
After transforming the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from an NFL "laughingstock" into a championship-contending team, Dungy was fired after six seasons with the organization. During his time with the Bucs, Dungy led the team to four playoff appearances, including one NFC Championship game.
Dungy on perspective :
"To me it's all in how you look at it. (Former Pittsburgh Steeler) Donnie Shell once told me, 'The Steelers are my employer, but I don't look to them for my supply. That comes from the Lord. This will all get worked out in the right way, and it doesn't really have anything to do with the Steelers. It's not personal, and the Lord is going to take care of it.'
"I think the same thing in terms of being unemployed. You can't look at it like, 'Oh, I got fired. Isn't that terrible?' Look at it like this-the Lord is ultimately in charge, and if He didn't want to move you to another place, another job or even another industry, it wouldn't happen. I tried to keep a positive approach when I moved from team to team. Whatever the reason was that I felt I was moving, it was because the Lord wanted to move me."
Dungy on focus :
"Read Jeremiah 29:11 - 'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (NIV)'
"If you focus on the Lord, then you'll stay positive. Don't focus on other things, like if you'd won this game, or if this had happened, or if your boss had looked at this differently. Focus on the fact that here's the Lord's plan, and it's a good plan. It may involve moving your family, and you may have to move from a city that you really enjoy, but what is the Lord planning for your family?"
Dungy on seeking the right advice :
"Make sure you speak with people who are spiritually intune. Don't always look for advice from the non-Christian world. Do what Paul talks about doing-looking forward and not behind (Philippians 3:13 ). Don't question yourself about what you could have done differently. Look forward and look to the Lord. Try to find out from Him where He wants you to go next."
Dungy on ministering to coacheswho've been fired :
"I've talked to a lot of coaches in this situation, and the thing I constantly try to share with them is that we know who ultimately is our Boss. God places us on certain teams, but He is our Boss, and He's going to put us where He wants us to be. Don't look at being fired as a negative. Just look at it as part of the plan-the biblical plan of where the Lord is going to relocate you. Try to look forward and not behind, because we've all gone through it as coaches."
Les Steckel, FCA President/CEO
A football coach for more than 30 years, Steckel spent much of that time in various roles in the NFL including offensive coordinator and head coach. In the course of his career, he's been unemployed eight different times.
Steckel on control:
"I always felt a slight identity with Christ when I was fired because there was an element of rejection and ridicule. People are always asking if it gets easier after the first time. It's as tough the first time as it is the last. You feel like you've given it everything you had, yet there were a lot of things within your circumstances that you couldn't control. That's a common struggle for coaches and athletes in the world of sports. We want to have control, and that's the antithesis of living the Christian life. You have no control.
"The good news is that what's best for me as a coach and for that fellow coach is what God has in store for them. The sad part is that they'll never know if they don't make a commitment to Christ."
Steckel on keeping the family together :
"During these times, you're concerned about your children and where they are going to have to move. I purposefully stepped out of coaching for two years so that my youngest son didn't have to go to his third high school in three years. As the spiritual leader of the family, you have to set rules because children need stability. The neat thing that I saw in all the moves we made was that our family became closer instead of falling apart. Because Christ was at the center of our marriage and our family, He held us together during our toughest times.
"I don't know how many times I hear stories about coaching families where they move on, but the kids don't go with them. They say, 'I'm staying here my junior and senior year.' It can divide a family. There are some emotional times, there's no question. Lots of tears. Lots of yelling, kicking, saying how unfair. But you have to stick together."
Steckel on discerning what job to take next :
"In the Christian world people say that God will open the door. He often does, but just because a door is opened doesn't mean it's the one God wants you to walk through. I've been offered jobs when I was without a job and have turned them down because I didn't have peace about the opportunities when I took them to the Lord. And later on something came along. It might have been four or five months later, but God made it clear. "Exercise patience, and spend a lot of time in prayer. Prayer, patience, process and then let peace be your umpire."
Jim Vanatsky, Head Coach of the Loveland H. S. ( Ohio ) football team
After serving as an assistant coach on a nationally ranked high school football team, Vanatsky moved his family to a neighboring town to take a head coaching position. After only a couple of seasons, he was fired. He then moved to Loveland High to take an assistant coaching position, but when Loveland 's head coach was released unexpectedly, Vanatsky got the job.
Vanatsky on questioning God :
"Coaching is tough. You feel like the Lord has sent you somewhere to do a job. And you think, 'I'm doing my best, God. When are You going to bail me out of this situation? When am I not going to have to keep fighting for my job?' Sometimes that doesn't happen. God may have different plans for you. In my situation, I was so intent on fighting for my job that I didn't realize that God had an incredible plan for me on the other side."
Vanatsky on maintaining dignity :
"It's important to show class throughout the situation, even though there are some people you'd just like to tell off. Even Christian coaches go through those feelings. It's difficult to hold those feelings back and still be a Christ-like example. But you have to realize that how you handle your current situation may affect your next situation. If you don't act with class, and you display anger and bitterness to the media, when you go interview for another job, they're going to say, 'Oh, that guy's bitter. I'm not sure we want to hire him.' You really have to hold back and think through it and pray, 'God, show me how to respond because this situation is bringing out the worst in me.'
"It's okay to express anger. Even biblically, it says that anger is not a sin. It's all in how you handle your anger and whether or not it gets the best of you."
Vanatsky on attitude :
"When you're fired, there are times when you just have to suck it up. Being fired comes with the territory of coaching. If you're going to aim for the heights, that's where the wind blows the strongest. It's just part of the experience."
Jane Albright, Head Coach of the Wichita State University women's basketball
Following the 2002-03 season, Coach Jane Albright resigned as head coach of the University of Wisconsin after Athletic Department officials decided not to renew her contract. During Albright's time at UW the Badgers experienced both success and defeat. They had eight consecutive winning seasons for the first time in school history, including four 20-win seasons, but finished 7-18 overall in Albright's final year.
Albright on rejection :
"The bottom line of failure is rejection. If you were fired, or if you were asked to resign, you're rejected. That's when you really have to separate the personal from the professional. But anybody takes it personally at first, and for me, it wasn't a quick fix. I went through about a year and a half of anger, but God can heal that. And He is the only One who can heal it. You aren't capable of healing yourself."
Albright on getting over it :
"You've got to know that you're not the only coach this has ever happened to. You immediately want to wallow in self pity and give your side of the story, but whether you're a Christian or not, you have to know that A-if you're going to choose to be in sports, you have to play by the rules of the organization; and B-athletic directors, whether they're right or wrong, have the right to do what they want. It isn't your call. The element of whether or not you're being treated fairly is the element that you've got to get over. And the way you do that is with Christ and your faith."
Albright on attitude :
"After this happened, my preacher pulled me aside and said, 'You have a choice. You can either become bitter, or you can become better.' That was very simple, clear advice for me because all my life I'd preached about the one thing in life you can control-your attitude. I'd told my players that, but all of a sudden, it was me. I had to choose to control it.
"It was natural to focus on what happened-what I did and didn't do-but that's basically operating in the flesh. If I can choose to focus my attitude on what God is doing-because truly He is doing something when anyone loses anything-then my response is not bitterness; it's more embracing the mystery and learning joy versus happiness."
Albright on ministering and encouraging :
"When you're fired, people don't know what to say to you. It really is like a funeral. But you really do want to talk about it. So that's one thing that you can do for other people when it happens to them-listen. Last year at the Final Four, I sought out people who had lost their jobs and had very long conversations with them and just listened to their stories.
"God doesn't hang people out to dry. He won't do that to you unless you want to be hung there and say, 'Woe is me.' He will encourage you through other people if you let Him.