For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts
~Isaiah 55: 8-9
Lots of people ask me what football coaches do while they are working all those long hours. “What could they possibly be doing in there for all that time?” Early on in our marriage, I use to ask my husband, John, the exact same question periodically. During his years in the NFL the answer was mostly “watching film” and “game planning.” Those elements are there in college football, too, and “talking to recruits” is added to the mix.
If you are anything like me, those explanations still leave some room to wonder about what they could possibly be doing in there for all the hours they work. But several years into this curious profession of my husband’s I quit asking this question. I accepted the reality that football coaching seems to equal long hours, lots of time away from home, and husbands and fathers who are not actively involved in daily family life on any consistent basis.
Truth be told, that was not an easy reality for me to accept. I had always thought I would be in a marriage where we more equally shared the parenting and the household responsibilities. I have a career, too, so I always thought somehow that my career was equally important to John’s. That was my game plan, at least—as close to an equal partnership as possible.
While the last seventeen years of marriage have been a great gift and our marriage is strong by any standards, I realize how unrealistic my expectations were early on in my life as a football coach’s wife. During the twelve years John spent in the NFL he almost never was able to do things like take the kids to school, be at a school function, or be at home when I had an evening meeting or class to teach. During the season my kids could go sometimes weeks without seeing him. I realized once that my son didn’t even know his dad lived with us for a stretch through one season. John got home well after 11pm and left home before 5 am, sometimes more like 4:30 am so to my children’s awareness he never came home.
I remember going to a baby shower for a coach’s wife soon after John and I got married. Another wife was being kind and asking me questions about myself. “Do you have kids?” she asked. “No, not yet,” I said. “Just wait,” she said. “That’s when this life really gets interesting.” Then she proceeded to tell a story about her son when he was a little boy (maybe four), and the doorbell rang. It was her birthday or Valentine’s Day or some occasion for flowers. When the four year old raced to the door and saw the man delivering the flowers, the little boy asked him who sent these flowers. When the deliveryman said they were from “Joe” (which was the name of the boy’s father, the coach), the boy turned to his mom quizzically and said, “What ever happened to Joe?”
She told this story and, of course, the whole room of seasoned wives laughed and shook their heads knowingly. I remember another wife telling me afterward that NFL stands for “No Family Life.” Even with all this sage advice from women who knew the drill, I kept hoping we could find a better way.
Coming to UNC did give us a better way. Even with all of the hours John logged in the office and on the road, our family’s life flourished here. The kids and I could be a part of things. Coach Davis cared about the coaches’ families. We were welcome at the office. We came for family dinner nights. John took the kids to school every Friday morning. My son went and helped his dad at practice twice a week. The kids knew all the players. The life we were able to have here in Chapel Hill is probably as good as it gets when it comes to family life in big time football.
The game plan we had talked about in those times in the NFL when John wanted to be able to be a more involved parent was a reality during our time at UNC. We will always be thankful for our time here and everything Coach Davis and his wife, Tammy, did to make this an atmosphere for families to flourish.
Now we’re looking at the possibility of returning to the NFL. Not many people understand why I wouldn’t be totally excited about that prospect. From a purely football perspective, getting a job in the NFL is a great accomplishment. Lots of people didn’t ever understand why John left the NFL in the first place. While I am working to be open to ways that are not my own and while I want to trust God who works in mysterious ways, I can’t help but have concerns.
From my perspective, life feels a lot like football right now. Sometimes our game plans in life don’t play out like we’d hoped they would. And sometimes there are reversals, turnovers, and penalties that happen to you even when you did not do anything wrong. Sometimes teammates let you down even with their best efforts. And sometimes teammates just don’t do their part. And sometimes the officials stink and make terrible calls that change the outcome of the game. And even with all the preparation, all the good work, all the successful plays you run, you still end up having to drop back and punt.
The audible this time around might come from me, from my family. Maybe there is a more excellent way to inhabit this crazy business my husband loves. Maybe God will make a way where I don’t see one. Either way, I need to be ready. I want to do my part to make the play called one that gives us more gain than loss.