A Coach, A Pastor, An Example of Christ To Young Men!
I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious. —Vince Lombardi
My most fond memories of life occurred in helmet and pads—giving all I had on the grid iron. The good old days of bumps, bruises, heat, exhaustion, and brotherhood (and sisterhood – not to exclude the one girl on the team). As I near the age of thirty-one, now with two kids of my own, I sometimes romanticize about returning to a simpler time and those good ol’ days. I was a nose guard and center, proudly displaying the number 75.
I was privileged to play for a great coach and one of the most admired individuals I’ve ever known: Coach Richard Lee. What he taught on and off the field not only prepared our team for the upcoming games, but prepared us as individuals for life. It taught me how to live out a genuine relationship with Christ. Coach Lee led by example. He exemplified the type of men we could become—how to earn respect, never lie, and uphold value and honor in everything we did. He was never timid about telling us how much he loved us, prayed for us, and right or wrong, always held us accountable. He is my Hero!
I think about Coach Lee as each football season approaches. Coach Lee was with me the day I dedicated my life to Christ. He is a preacher and an amazing singer. God puts special people in our lives for a reason. Without a doubt, Coach Richard Lee was one, especially for me. I never made the NFL, and I may never buy him the new truck my teammates and I promised him as young kids, but with this opportunity I can try to share some of my heartfelt gratitude and thanks.
Coach, you taught so many students and athletes about God. Why was this so important in your coaching and teaching methods?
Teaching students and athletes to give glory to God first is so important to me because Jesus Christ is the most important thing in my life. The Bible states that, “Out of the abundance of our heart the mouth speaks.” It is always easy to talk about the thing that I love the most: Jesus Christ. My teaching and coaching methods come from the greatest teacher and coach there ever was or ever will be. I always want to study and learn from the best.
You often told people that if they didn’t believe in God they did not have to pray with us. Why did you use that method?
I have never forced anyone to pray with me or any team that I have coached. A close relationship with the Lord is very personal and it is a choice. Christ always invites us to come to Him, but He never forces us to do so. Why would I ever do anything different?
Coach, you have had an effect on so many lives over your career. Who had an influence on you in your life?
As a child no one influenced me like my older brother Jimmy. He was always encouraging me—never putting me down or dissing me. I saw him score 68 points in one high school basketball game. When he graduated from high school, he signed a bonus contract with the New York Yankees. He was like Superman to me.
As I grew older, I realized what great Christians my mom and dad were. They were so together, and I learned how to truly love from them. They were married for 56 years before mom passed away. It is from them that the love of God and the loved of music was shown to me. My coaching style was also influenced by them. I was always encouraged. When I did things right I was praised. When I was bad… Well, they believed in “spare the rod and spoil the child.” I always knew my boundaries. All young people need boundaries.
The greatest singer I ever sang with was my brother Steve. He and I are the only members of our family that are living. His Christian walk and love still inspire me. We have been and always will be close.
Nothing is more influential for a grown man than to have a Christian wife. I could write a book alone about what it means to have a wife that encourages you, listens to you and prays for you daily. It so great when we pray together.
You have an amazing singing voice, as well as being an amazing coach. Tell us about your career in music.
I can’t remember when I began to sing. As a small child I was always singing with my family at church, at home, and in the car. As I grew older, I became engrossed with Southern Gospel Music. I had three business goals in life that I set at an early age: I wanted to coach, I wanted to teach, and I wanted to be a professional singer. I have accomplished all three.
I started my first professional singing group at the age of nineteen while I was playing football in college. After graduation, I became a teacher and coach while still singing on the weekends. In the mid- and late-1970s, I quit coaching and accepted a job with J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet. That was the group that vocally backed Elvis Presley. By 1980, two members of that group and I left and began our own country group: Memphis. I returned to coaching and teaching again in 1983.
In 1988 I felt I was being called to the ministry and began seeking the Lord’s guidance. I began to work as an evangelist, but I felt it was not where He wanted me to be. After much prayer and meditation the Lord spoke to my spirit and said, “Preaching and singing is fine, but I have given you the ability to lead and guide young people as a teacher and coach.” By 1992 I knew my ministry would be coaching and teaching. It was the right road for me to take. Now that I have retired from teaching, my ministry is in coaching and evangelistic speaking.
Do you have any memories of me (“Ol’ Belch”) that you would like to share with our readers?
My fondest memory of you actually did not take place on the football field:
It was August and we were involved with preseason two-a-day practices at the time. As you know, it is extremely hot in Tennessee at that time of the year, and those practices were exceptionally draining. Sometime after our second practice one day, probably about 6:00 P.M., your mother called me.
She said, “Coach, I need your help! Josh is not speaking to me and will not do what I am asking him to do.”
I replied, “I’m sorry, Odessa. What exactly is he not doing?”
She stated with a voice of urgency, “He will not take out the trash and told me so!”
I said, “Let me talk to him.” I hope you remember what I said to you. I said, “Josh, I know you are tired, sore, bruised and battered after the long hot day of practice, but no one will ever love you more than Jesus and your mother. She really doesn’t understand what we are going through [in practice], and you shouldn’t expect her to understand. Now here is what I want you to do: when we hang up, do not say a word but go directly to those trash cans, set them out, and come back to her. Then without so much as a grunt, pick her up, give her a big ol’ hug, then kiss her and say, ‘I love you, Mom!’”
The next day she called me and told me about you hugging her and saying that you loved her. She really loved that moment! I laughed and was so happy too. I have told that story to many people—even from the pulpit.
What does the future hold for you Coach?
My future as a coach is from year to year. I retired two years ago as a biology teacher but have continued to volunteer as a coach. I have grandchildren in North Carolina that are members of their school teams, and I take time off from my coaching duties in Tennessee to visit and watch them. I am thankful that our Head Coach understands and allows me that opportunity.
Richard Lee is in my personal Hall of Fame. He has inspired and brought many kids to the Lord, and I have no doubt that the day he heads home Jesus will tell him, “Coach, job well done!”