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SUPER BOWL: Even with Dungy gone, faith still the foundation for Colts’ coaches

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (BP)–With Super Bowl XLIV only a few days away, the lights are on early here at the Indianapolis Colts’ hotel conference room, with more than a half dozen coaches huddled together.

But the Colts’ coaches, including head man Jim Caldwell, weren’t working on a secret plan to slow down the high flying New Orleans Saints.

Rather, it was the coaches’ weekly Bible study, and not even a chance for NFL supremacy was going to keep them from meeting.

“Is it on the back burner this weekend? Are you kidding me?” asked assistant head coach and wide receivers coach Clyde Christensen. “It’s on the front burner every week. Being here isn’t going to stop us.”

With the changeover this season from believer Tony Dungy to Caldwell, another believer — and with many of the same coaches on the staff — the Colts have one of the highest concentrations of Christian coaches in the NFL.

“How many coaches would long for just one or two fellow Christian coaches to fellowship with?” Christensen asked. “We have about eight here. We can close the door and pray about something if we need to at any time. Coaching is really secondary to really important things like treating people right.”

Joking that he’s had 55 years “of practice being myself,” Caldwell said he’s thankful and humbled by his role as a Christian leader of such a successful pro team.

“Obviously, it is no secret that I am a Christian and I don’t hide from that fact at all,” Caldwell said. “I do believe that because of faith often times it will keep you a bit calmer in certain situations. Overall, I think it has certainly taught me a lot about discipline, a lot about commitment in my life and it’s helping me today as well.”

While Caldwell may not be as outwardly vocal about his faith as Dungy was or pro quarterback prospects Tim Tebow or Colt McCoy, he’s happy to tell people where he stands on and off the field.

“I certainly think our platform is such that we use it for Christ’s benefit but also want them to understand that I do my job,” Caldwell said.

New Orleans special teams coach Mike Mallory is another active believer.

“In this business you have to have priorities because things can always change from day to day,” Mallory said. “I take advantage of the resources I have. I have a daily reading of the Bible, going to chapel and reading coach Dungy’s books.”

While the changing of head coaches usually brings massive overhaul among the assistant coaches as well, the elevation of Caldwell from assistant to head coach and his sharing of many of the same values of his friend Dungy, was much smoother.

“It was a real stabilizing factor knowing that both men are the same in so many ways,” said Colts tight ends coach Ricky Thomas.

Thomas said God’s hand has guided his life from coaching high schools to the NFL, and being only one game away from another world championship is something only the Lord could have accomplished.

“I actually went from coaching in high schools to coaching in the NFL in just over a year,” Thomas said. “I left high school, went to Kentucky for one year where the entire staff was fired, spent a few months at Gardner-Webb, then had three NFL job offers.

“I tell people that and they just shake heads, but it’s only God who could have put me here.”

His father, John, is the pastor of the New Song Missionary Baptist Church in Warner Robins, Ga.

Colts quarterback coach Frank Reich had a long NFL career himself, but said as a former player and a Christian leader, he is trying to show players how to balance their lives. Reich’s background as an NFL coach is unique, to say the least. Before joining the Colts he served as president of Reformed Theological Seminary’s Charlotte, N.C., campus and as pastor of Cornerstone ARP Church (now Ballantyne Presbyterian Church), also in Charlotte.

“The balance between football and life is one of the toughest challenges we have, but God has given us these talents and abilities and we must seek to honor Him in all that we do,” Reich said.

The Colts’ coaches have committed to honor the One who makes a potential victory possible, rather than honoring themselves.

“A lot of things about winning and succeeding in life come from biblical principles,” Reich said. “That is what I was teaching in sports camps and Christian ministries before I got into coaching and that is what I am still teaching today.”

While he has been gone from the Colts’ staff for nearly a year, Dungy, who now works for NBC Sports among his other projects, is still part of the Colts’ spiritual team.

This year, a group of Colts’ coaches committed to read through the Bible in a year, and sent the schedule to Dungy who has eagerly pursued the goal as well.

“I’m getting 2-3 texts a week from Tony saying, ‘Wow, Romans was great today.’ ‘I can’t believe God came through again in Jeremiah,” Christensen said.

Said Caldwell, “I talk to Tony 2-3 times a week, sometimes about football, but mostly about spiritual things or about family. It would take me 30 minutes to explain all what Tony means to me. He paved the way for me in this job.

“It just so happens that you have a guy that is a Christian doing the job and I don’t hide from that fact. (We have) a lot of different backgrounds, a lot of different ideologies, but investigate it and see what Christ has for you.”
Art Stricklin is a sports correspondent for Baptist Press.

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