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Asst. coaches also spiritual leaders on NFL’s top teams

MIAMI (BP)–Indianapolis Colts associate head coach Jim Caldwell has been interviewed, analyzed, praised, blasted, hired and fired during nearly 30 years as a coach on the NFL, college and high school level.

But when it comes to sharing his faith in Jesus Christ, Caldwell often finds that writers tune out what he has to say.

“They’ll be writing every word I have to say, then when I talk about the Lord, they shut up their notebooks or put down their pens,” Caldwell said.

That’s why Caldwell views Sunday’s Super Bowl XLI match-up between two God-honoring head coaches — Tony Dungy of the Colts and Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears -– as so important for spreading their faith in Jesus Christ to an estimated viewing audience of 140 million fans around the world.

“The great thing about this particular setting,” Caldwell said, “is that it does send a message that you can do things a different way and still be successful.”

Before coming to the NFL as an assistant coach, Caldwell was head coach at Wake Forest University. He still maintains a home in Winston-Salem, N.C., and spends most of the off-season there where the legend of Dungy’s calm Christian ways has continued to spread.

“I was there for a couple days at Christmas when we had an off week and I was working out at the YMCA and saw a guy who knew me when I coached at Wake Forest. He came over to me and said the team would have been more successful if I had just cussed them more and driven them harder.

“I said, ‘Oh really, what about Tony Dungy?’ His Colts have done pretty well with him not cursing and screaming.’ The thing is, people watch you every day and they see the way Tony and Lovie live their life and are so consistent.

“The overall message is something very few people will miss this week.”

The example of Dungy has caught the eye of longtime NFL executive Gil Brandt who spent more than two decades as the player personnel director for the Dallas Cowboys and was a close friend of legendary Cowboys head coach Tom Landry.

“I don’t know if anybody could ever be another Tom Landry, but Tony Dungy is as close as they come,” Brandt said. “Neither man wore their religion on their sleeve, neither man ever cursed or went crazy. It shows you there is another way.”

Chicago Bears assistant coach Gill Byrd said the role models which Dungy, Smith and their teams have become fulfill something he has wanted to see for a long time.

“I used to coach in St. Louis, so I’ve become a ‘show me’ type of person. Don’t tell me you’re a Christian, show me,” said Byrd, who has been active in Athletes in Action’s chaplain ministry for many years, both during his long playing career and his coaching stint with Smith and the Bears.

“The fact that Lovie is doing things the right way, living your life as Christ called us to live -– that’s what I’ve been talking about for a long time.”

Byrd said he is gratified to see players on both teams this week eager to talk about the important role faith plays in their lives and to share it in the brightest of media spotlights.

“The walk with God is not always an easy walk, especially here in the largest of stages,” Byrd said. “You don’t want to be thrown in the lions den wearing pork chop underwear. You want to be strong in whatever you do.”

In preparing for Sunday’s game, Byrd plans to continue his daily quiet time, stay strong with prayer and help lead the Bears’ Sunday chapel service.

“This is our opportunity to get our faith out,” he said. “God is going to be honored, that’s all what we want to see.”
Baptist Press sports correspondent Art Stricklin is on site at Super Bowl XLI in Miami, filing daily reports on the spiritual side of the NFL’s championship game.

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  • Art Stricklin