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This Baptist layman still adjusting to limelight as Dallas Cowboys coach

DALLAS (BP)–While Chan Gailey, head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, spends his days strategizing how to win championships, keeping his team focused and handling the media, he manages to weave his faith as a Christian into every aspect of life.
“Your faith is an all-day, everyday deal,” said Gailey in an interview with The Alabama Baptist, in the state where he first became a head coach.
“It is part of going to the grocery store; it is part of coaching the Cowboys; it is part of being married; it is part of being a father. You can’t separate it.
“You are who you are in Christ,” Gailey said, noting while his faith is always there, some days he feels closer to Christ than others. “There is pressure sometimes, and there is not pressure other times,” Gailey said. “But I don’t flip a switch and turn my faith on and off,” he added. “Once Christ’s peace, joy, compassion, love and patience is in you, it affects everything.
“You either believe what he says or you don’t,” Gailey said. “My faith is something that happens on a daily basis — in good times and bad times.”
Gailey, who grew up in a Southern Baptist church in Americas, Ga., with a mother who sang in the choir and a dad who was a deacon — accepted Christ as a young boy. However, it was not until his young-adult years that he truly understood having a relationship with Christ and how to develop it.
“For several years, I depended on all the activities like reading the Bible, tithing and going to Sunday school, but that’s not what it’s all about,” he said. “It is your daily walk with him,” he noted. “It is a one-on-one, life-saving, grace-filled relationship with Jesus Christ.”
During his continued growth as a Christian, Gailey has been a member of two Alabama Baptist churches. While coaching at Troy State University, his first full-time coaching position out of college, Gailey attended First Baptist Church, Troy. Gailey came to Troy State in the early ’70s as an assistant football coach after graduating from the University of Florida, where he was quarterback and then a graduate assistant coach.
Gailey left Troy State to serve in the Air Force for a few years before returning to the position of head coach during the 1983-84 season.
He then went to the Denver Broncos for six years before coming back to Alabama to coach the Birmingham Fire in the former World League in 1991. He attended Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Vestavia Hills while coaching the Fire and during his year as head coach at Samford University in 1993.
Gailey left Samford in 1994 to be an assistant coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers until he took his present position in Dallas in 1998.
“It has not been any different being at Samford, the Birmingham Fire, Troy State or anywhere as a head coach,” Gailey said. “It is the same. I am the same. I don’t handle things any differently.”
Still, the jobs have brought varying levels of scrutiny and pressure.
“I haven’t gotten used to the limelight yet,” Gailey noted. “I don’t know if I hope I do or I hope I don’t,” he said. “I hope at some point I get comfortable enough with it that I don’t feel uneasy, but at the same time, I hope I don’t get to a comfort level where I’m vain enough that I think that is the way it’s supposed to be.”
Gailey said he hopes his players see in him someone who is honest, straightforward, fair, holds high expectations and has the best interest of the team at heart — someone who provides leadership and stability as they work toward a championship. “That is why we are here — to win a championship,” he said.
And having been with eight division winners, eight AFC champions and four teams who have made it to the Super Bowl, Gailey knows what it means to win.
Still, he said, the highlight of his career so far was winning the 1984 national championship with Troy State University.
And what about “Neon Deion?” The flamboyant and crowd-pleasing Deion Sanders, who displays electricity in his Christian stance as well as in his football ability, “has great charisma,” Gailey said. “God has him doing what he’s supposed to do.
“God gives us different abilities and different ways to work for him,” Gailey said. “For Deion, it is wild.”
While Gailey does not consider Sanders more special than any of his other players, he did note an exciting first meeting with Sanders.
“Deion came into my office a few days after I was hired, and I asked him about the previous year,” Gailey recalled. “He said, ‘Coach, we didn’t do very good on the field, but off the field it was a great year. We had a lot of guys going to chapel, going to Bible studies and getting closer to God.'”
Gailey, who openly discusses his faith with anyone who asks, said he does not pound the Bible on his players. “They know they can come to me,” he said, “but I don’t preach to them.
“There are two types of players you can have any type of impact on” — the one who gets to the top and realizes there is still an emptiness and the one at the bottom who is injured and at the end of his career.
“All others are unreachable,” he said.
And as far as the Cowboys’ owner, Jerry Jones, is concerned, Gailey said the media has perceived him wrongly.
“The perception of Jerry is that he is meddlesome and overbearing,” Gailey said. “The reality is that he is enthusiastic and he wants to win.”
Gailey jokingly said he actually gets more criticism from his wife of 26 years, Laurie. “She’s a great supporter, and she loves the game,” he said, noting she is also competitive.
“My wife is an unbelievably great, strong Christian woman and probably the most compassionate person I know,” Gailey said. Along with their “great life together,” Laurie has also raised “two great boys,” he added. Tate, 23, and Andrew, 19, are both Christians, both single and both played football in high school.
Football receives a lot of negative media, Gailey said, but “I’m going to give you some good things about football:
“It is the ultimate team sport in the world today,” he said. “In football, you have to get dirty, get bloody noses and get in the trenches. It is people giving of themselves so that someone else can get the glory.” Gailey added the Christian faith is the same way. “You do things so God gets the glory.”

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  • Jennifer Davis Rash