If you are a fan of ultra-low-budget sports movies that are made by Southern Baptist pastors with the help of a handful of pro techies, then you may remember the whole "Facing the Giants" story back in 2006. If you remember "Facing the Giants," then you may remember that University of Georgia football coach Mark Richt had a small, walk-on role -- click here for more info -- in which he proclaimed a key doctrine in the gospel of the gridiron -- that faith in Jesus is more important than any football game.
So it's no surprise that Richt's faith frequently gets mentioned, when people talk about his life, career and his values. Take, for example, the Jeff Schultz column called "Richt's the anti-Petrino" in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The whole point is that, for some strange reason, this coach chooses to put his family, his players and his school above raw ambition.
If the coaching landscape has become a strip mall with ever-changing storefronts, Richt is the lamppost on the corner. He is not going anywhere. He is not looking anywhere. He is not "Dollar World" today and "Video Barn" tomorrow.
This is Richt's seventh season with Georgia. It will be a shock if he doesn't complete another seven, or 10, or 20. The NFL does not appeal to him. Another college job doesn't tempt him. The school gave him an eight-year, $16 million contract two years ago and, given the new inflated SEC standards, expect the deal to be rewritten any day now.
Some coaches leave for money. Some leave for new challenges or another ego stroke. But Richt wouldn't seem to fall into any category. This isn't a new mind-set. He has always embraced stability, noting that he stayed at Florida State 15 out of 16 years (save one season as a coordinator at East Carolina), and it wasn't for lack of opportunity.
And so forth and so on. Like I said, the key to this piece is that there is some strange sense of values at work in this particular coach, something out of the ordinary. He makes strange decisions.
What might this X factor be? We never find out. There isn't a word in the entire piece about his faith, although it immediately gets raised -- with fireworks -- in the reader comments pages.
So the obvious conclusion is that this newspaper's sports crew doesn't get religion. Right?
Wait a minute, here. If you look on page one of the same newspaper -- I'm in the Atlanta area at the moment, visiting family -- you see a really heartwarming story about the troubled, then inspiring, background of the former linebacker who is now the "spiritual coordinator" for Auburn University's squad. That would be the Rev. Chette Williams:
Today, his gutter-to-pulpit journey complete, Williams is the team's chaplain. He handles the heartaches on and off the field. At 44, he draws from a wealth of personal drama.
Absent father? Check. His parents divorced after his dad, a long-haul trucker, spent his paycheck on families he was raising in other cities.
Exploitation? Check. His older brother Greg broke his spine playing linebacker for Georgia's "Junkyard Dawgs" in the 1970s and never graduated. (Brother Quency found success in the Canadian Football League and settled in Winnipeg.)
Backbiting? Check. Williams saw up close the "Jetgate" fiasco of 2003 that sought to depose coach Tommy Tuberville, but backfired badly.
Broken dreams? That, too, in the eyes of the former Auburn teammate he discovered on crack in a homeless shelter. That player, Demetrius Cotchery, is now serving 30 years in an Alabama prison for causing a wreck that killed two people. Cotchery said of Williams, "I thought he'd be the one in prison. I'm telling you, I was scared of Chette."
The key details are all there, from being kicked off the Auburn team to his sinner's prayer to his studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
... Williams works in the shadows, praying with an injured player, or reaching out to another whose behavior got him booted off the team. He knows how football seems like that young man's whole world at the time. But he believes in something far greater.
"I let them know it's not the end," he said. "Look at my life. This could be the best thing that ever happened to you."
It's an interesting story with a valid news hook.
I guess faith was obvious in the Williams case. It's his job.
In the Richt case, the link is not obvious. At least, it wasn't to the writer. Some readers will notice this and some will not. That's why a ghost is a ghost, leaving the story haunted. Why would Richt say that he has made some of the decisions he has made? Did anyone ask?