Calling Audibles Part XVII: Game Plan

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.



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19 responses to “Calling Audibles Part XVII: Game Plan”

  1. Jules says:

    Marcia,

    I’m remembering a conversation we had, sitting cross-legged on the floor of the Birmingham Convention Center, about the contrast between ministry and NFL coaching. But this post points out for me the similarities. I’m praying for a smooth and blessed transition for you and your family to wherever God has in mind next.

    • Marcia says:

      Thank you, Julie. I remember that conversation, too. Obviously I am still wrestling with what all this means! Such is life I guess in football, in the church, in the world in general. Thanks for the prayers–smooth would be great, blessed even better.
      Peace,
      Marcia

  2. Amy Jackson Sellers says:

    Marcia,
    I think the silver lining here is that you were able to experience a family life in football at all. That means that, wherever you go next, you will know what steps you might be able to take to find that balance again. It may be a lot more difficult, depending on the head coach, but at least you will know how to try to create that path. Before UNC, I’m not sure either of you knew that path could exist. So hopefully, the blessings you experienced at UNC will be–in some way–repeatable.
    We’re hoping for a soft landing after all this turmoil.
    Much love, Amy

    • Marcia says:

      Thank you, Amy. You are so right! Our horizon of possibility and our imagination of what is possible are expanded. And, if nothing else, this was a refueling time for whatever is next. Who knows, there may be some opportunities for something we can’t imagine even now, too. Thanks for your support and for reading.
      Peace,
      Marcia

  3. Rich says:

    Marcia,
    I’m an old friend of your husband’s who hasn’t seen him in a long time but have of course followed his travels around football and I’ve recently found your blog and been reading it on a regular basis. It is a great insight into the life of a family and its trials.

    Seems to me there is an NFL offensive coordinator job open in John’s hometown. He’s been an OC in the NFL before, maybe being in such an environment would make the crazy life a bit more sane.

    Rich Perkins

    • Marcia says:

      Hi Rich,
      Thanks for reading and for commenting. It’s great to hear from an old friend of John’s. You’re right about the Steelers having a job open. Not sure if it would make the life saner or crazier–maybe a little of both! We are trying to remain open to a few different scenarios out there right now. Hope all is well with you and that you will keep reading.
      Peace,
      Marcia

  4. Kelly Furbee says:

    Once again, another great post Marcia. I saw that you tweeted this to Coach Dungy. I hope he answers you. Not that I know him, but based on his book I read, if any big time football coach can offer insights as to maintaining a sane family life, he’s the one. I will pray for wisdom and peace for you and your family during this transition.

    • Marcia says:

      Thank you, Kelly, for reading and commenting. I thought the same thing about Tony Dungy. I bet he has some thoughts on the topic. Hopefully he’ll take a look.
      Peace,
      Marcia

  5. Marcia,

    I had a couple thoughts reading your insightful post.

    One: in a very male institution, the obsessive analysis of plays and film reflects a very male orientation to the world. Case in point: my husband, who doesn’t need human conversation with tons of people and loves to be “left alone,” can stay on the phone with his brother or a friend for three hours discussing a game. i ask, “So what what achieved here?” I know this sounds ridiculous to professionals whose film and game analysis makes huge differences to the next contest, but my point is about gender and how certain ways of seeing the world form a profession. Likewise, I’ve worked in very female office environments (schools) where the women delight (and obsess) in analyzing the play-by-play moves of their fellow man, which can lead to a lot of gossip and also a lot of thoughtful care-taking.

    I bring all this up to say that we’ve been asking questions of football and the Catholic Church lately, acknowledging that institutions dominated by one gender can lead to both brilliant things and very dark things.

    Two, family has not been not a male priority, biologically or socially, in the Western industrialized world. The job is the end-all be-all. So men like John must fight to make that time against severe pressures of work and demands that they give their body and soul to the football fight. To me, in this way, they’re as trapped as women are with fewer choices, even if society does laud the males more with money and accolades.

    The fact that your family found a place where things changed says so much about the people you are and the journey you’re on. As a confessed workaholic myself, I value the changes you’ve made and stepping out on faith, in all things. I continue to admire the Mount Shoops so very much!

    Lyn

    • Marcia says:

      Thank you for your insights, Lyn. I am glad you took the time to share these reflections. I agree with you that men are “caught” in a very constrained place in this culture. I heard a story on NPR a few months ago about how this new generation of males coming into the workplace has better boundaries after seeing their fathers, uncles, etc. get downsized out of companies they worked for all their careers. The younger generation values “having a life” and friendships and doesn’t necessarily see the wisdom in giving everything to the workplace after seeing how their elders were treated by the places to whom they gave so much. Some interesting and important lessons there for all for all of us!
      Thank you, Lyn. You always help me find some great places to really dig deeper.
      Peace,
      Marcia

  6. Kathy Gibson says:

    Marcia, well that just sucks. I’m mad at the situation and thought I’d express it. I really don’t like these open comments since I prefer writing directly and privately – person to person – but I wanted to go on record as being mad and frustrated at your situation. No need to comment back as that may inspire even more choice words from me and I don’t want to litter your blog with expletives. Regardless of my bad attitude, I will certainly be in prayer with you. Kathy

    • Marcia says:

      Thank you, Kathy. You are a good friend! I thank you for your prayers. And I’m glad you went on record.
      Peace,
      Marcia

  7. Kate McGregor Mosley says:

    Marcia – your posts always give me hope for blogs. Thank you for your heartfelt writing, as a way to understand the world a little better but also selfishly as a window into your world. I feel like we’ve had a good conversation over a glass of wine. I’m holding you and John in the Light now as you face yet another transition. ALWAYS keep us posted if you find yourself near us. We’d love to host you time and time again. Peace, dear friend, peace…

    • Marcia says:

      Thank you for posting, Kate. I’ll hope for a good conversation over a glass of wine in the near future! Thank you for your prayers and for the peace. I need both right now.
      Peace,
      Marcia

  8. Janet Beatty says:

    Winter. I think it doesn’t matter where you live or what you do, winter is a down time, there doesn’t seem to be any end to the short days, cold nights, rain (or snow). I think of your family situation as being in the winter of life. It is hard, sometimes, to remember the carefree summer days of youth. But I was over at my garden this morning, pulling weeds in order to prepare for spring planting, and a silly little volunteer tomato plant had poked through the mud. It is the reminder that new life begins, sometimes even where we didn’t plant it! I don’t have any words of wisdom for your future, Marcia. It is hard. Winters are always hard. But I have great faith in spring, even when I don’t know where it is. Have faith in that little tomato plant! You never know what will crop up!

    • Marcia says:

      Thank you, Janet. You did indeed have words of wisdom. That little tomato plant, who may be trying to push the envelope a bit, is a symbol of hope and reminds me of the importance of letting the winters really run their course. Spring time feels good, but if you try to rush it then you won’t be around to enjoy the rebirth when it is really time.
      Thank you for the reminder!
      Peace,
      Marcia

  9. I like the efforts you have put in this, thanks for all the great content.

  10. Football Mother says:

    Someone on Inside Carolina linked to your blog and I’m very glad they did. It gives me an opportunity to let you know how much your husband was respected and admired by my son and our family. My son went to UNC football camp during his high school summers and “Shoop” made him feel very good about himself and his abilities. He went on to be a very successful high school QB. But the best part is that while our team was playing for a state championship in Kenan Stadium, Shoop took the time to come down to the field and speak to my son. He also took the time to speak to him during an Old Well Walk one time. I want you to know, that as a Carolina family, we will miss Coach Shoop and Coach Davis being a part of the university and team. I will certainly go on record as saying that I did not agree with how things have transpired and believe that Chapel Hill has lost two (and others I am sure) really good men. But the cream always rises to the top and I’m sure Coach Shoop will have a wonderful career wherever he ends up. And as all of women know, behind every good man is an even better woman, which says volumes about you!

  11. Good for you. Easy to see why you get so may visitors here.


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