Virtual Voices

Can Christian coaches cut it?

Sports

Tommy Bowden stepped down this week as head coach of the Clemson University football team. This rare mid-season resignation comes after Bowden's team did not live up to expectations of a pre-season No. 9 national ranking. For several years Bowden-an outspoken Christian like his father, Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden-has been praised because of his character but ridiculed because he appeared soft, weak, and unable to rouse his players.

Comments like "he's too nice," "he doesn't know how to motivate players," "he too soft," etc., were uttered as possible explanations for why team members lost confidence in their coach. Nice guys do not make good coaches some argue. On average, are any Christian coaches considered "tough?"

Bowden's 10-year tenure ended after he was offered a conditional contract extension last year to keep him from leaving to coach at Arkansas. He had to win the Atlantic Coast Conference title in 2008. After a demoralizing loss to Alabama on national television, and a 3-3 start overall, winning the conference title was unlikely. It was time to for him to go.

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Under Bowden, Clemson's football team was known for having a large percentage of players attending church and Bible studies. That's great but, at the end of the day, what fans want from a NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision program are wins. I have recently found myself asking, "Can Christian coaches cut it in college football?"

And what do schools want: Christian coaches or winning coaches? When the University of Alabama offered Nick Saban a $4 million annual salary, was it because he would put players in church pews? No. Saban was hired because he wants to win football games. Interestingly, none of my Christian friends who are Alabama fans seem concerned about neither Saban's faith nor any moral influence he might have on his players. I wonder why?

Phillip Fulmer's a Christian. The Tennessee Volunteers football team is struggling. Mark Richt's Georgia Bulldogs was absolutely manhandled and humiliated by Saban's Alabama team. Are these coaches next on the chopping block?

As a nearly idolatrous college football fan, I have to confess that I was happy to see Bowden go. Even worse, several pastor friends and I have joked we could care less about the faith of the next Clemson head coach. We just want someone who will win games. What's wrong with us?

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of theology and ethics at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of Liberating Black Theology. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.

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