Besides being a baseball fan, which is well known to regular readers of this site, I also love college football. Afterall, I was a student at the University of Alabama from 1967-1969 and witnessed the famous Bear Bryant’s amazing career first hand. To say that I, and the rest of Bama Nation, enjoy an 8-0 start to this season, and a number four national ranking, is an understatement. And I also have immense respect for Coach Mike Shula, a devout Roman Catholic Christian. He inherited a real mess at Alabama only two plus seasons ago. By the beginning of this season some were already grumbling about his leadership and the losses. Fans, especially Alabama fans, are fickle and impatient. They want to win early and often.
I thought about this success story as I read my local sport page today and came across a wonderful article about another coach on the hot seat, Tyrone Willingham. He is the head football coach at the University of Washington. Willingham, one of the few black head coches in Division IA of college football, is the deposed former coach of Notre Dame, who was celebrated as a genius one season and fired as a dunce the next, being allowed only three years to build success. (The talent he recruited is winning this season and the new coach, Charlie Weiss, gets almost all the credit!) Willingham is a class act. In going to Washington, however, he inherited a program as decimated as Alabama’s was three years ago following scandal and institutional mess-ups. His first season has him at 1-7 right now. It has been rewarding to some in Washington see the program cleaned up but the wins are simply not coming yet.
So how does Willingham respond to the stress? His answer greatly intrigued me since it is rooted in a biblical principle that few Christians understand. Willingham, in response to the question of how he is doing during a very hard season answered candidly: "The record says more than anything else. And, obviously I am not doing well. But if you are saying (how is) Tyrone Willingham? He is at peace with himself."
Willingham understands that in time he must win football games. He also knows he is being paid to restore dignity to a school and athletic program first. But he must ultimately win, that is plainly the bottom line. Of the team’s play this year he says, "I think we are doing some things well. We’ve got to stay with it. There is no magic dust to spread in the locker room." The mixture here of encouragement, with realism, is impressive.
But the statement of Willingham’s that struck me most was his conclusion that he understands he has a mandate to win, and to win soon. With this in view he said, "I am impatiently patient." That phrase struck me. It is a perfect description of what makes some Christians impactful and others less so. The Bible actually speaks the same way.
"Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices" (Psalm 37:7).
"I waited patiently for the Lord . . . " (Psalm 40:1).
To "wait" patiently before the Lord is to live in patient hope of a better future. It is to live with dignity, courage and clear focus. It is to keep one’s heart settled on the central things of life. It is a perspective that stablizes one through the difficult times.
But to "wait" is never passive. We must wait in patience but we must also wait, as Willingham say’s of his football program, "impatiently." My guess it that Tyrone Willingham is a man at peace deep inside. He knows what he can and cannot do. He is not driven by his passions and desires to extremes or he could not navigate hard times. His statement says it well. He is waiting in "impatient patience" for things to improve. He works hard toward that end. He is not passive about his efforts. But he knows how to find peace while he pursues his lofty goals. What a great picture for Christians who need to lean to live in the same way when it comes to our kingdom goals, dreams and desires.