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Coach Prime, Coach Mac, and the Power of the Gospel

Why this year’s football season provides a “prime” opportunity to bring up Jesus.
Picture of Greg Stier
Greg Stier
coach prime and coach Mac

I don’t know what it is about the University of Colorado that draws men of intense faith to coach its football team. It’s ironic because CU is a very secular university in a super-post-Christian town, and former Coach Bill McCartney (Coach Mac) and current coach Deion Sanders (Coach Prime) are unapologetic Christians.

In 1982, Bill McCartney became the head football coach of the Colorado Buffaloes football team. By 1990, not only had he turned the Buffs into the national champions, but he’d also founded Promise Keepers, a men’s ministry that turned into a massive movement that impacted millions of men across the nation and around the world.

Coach Then

I’ll never forget attending my first Promise Keepers event. It was in 1993 at a sold-out Folsom Field in Boulder where the CU Buffaloes play. Some of the greatest preachers on the planet were there, challenging 40,000-plus men. But the most intense challenge came from Coach Mac himself. With the blue Colorado sky and the sunlit Rocky Mountains as his backdrop, Coach Mac exhorted us to be men of courage, men of action, men of integrity, men who loved their wives and kids, and men who were unashamed of the Gospel. That day we cheered, we cried, we sang at the top of our lungs, and we recommitted ourselves to God.

Years later, I would have the privilege of preaching at several Promise Keepers events and of meeting Coach Mac myself. I’ll never forget the fear-of-God-instilling look of intensity he gave me as I preached. It felt as if I was a second-string CU quarterback, trying to prove myself on the field while desperately looking for that right receiver. Then, right before I passed the ball, I turned toward the sideline and saw my crazy-eyed coach looking at me, hoping I would be able to thread the needle to my intended receiver.

After I preached, Coach Mac walked up to me and said in passing, “You’re quite the dynamo.” I had to go look up what that meant, but I think it was a compliment. And that compliment sank deep into my heart.

To this day, Coach Mac is the most intense man of God I’ve ever met.

Which makes it interesting that in the ’80s and early ’90s, God placed him as the head coach at a, shall we say, not-very-pro-evangelical-Christianity university. But despite countless criticisms for his outspoken faith, Coach Mac never backed down. His boldness to share the Gospel gave other believers on his team, and countless Christians from across America, boldness to evangelize. His example of an unapologetic faith, displayed through the Promise Keepers platform, inspired millions upon millions of Christian men.

Coach Now

Twenty years later, enter Coach Prime.

He, like Coach Mac, is another winner. He won as a professional football player. He won as a pro baseball player. He won as head coach at Jackson State in Mississippi. And, so far, he’s winning as head coach at the University of Colorado.

People from Boulder don’t quite know what to do with him. He’s a bold, brash coach who wears a big cowboy hat and flashes an even bigger smile. He might not have a six-shooter on his side, but he’s the fastest draw in the West when it comes to verbal comebacks and bold predictions.

And he, like Coach Mac, is an unashamed follower of Jesus.

During one team meeting, he prayed these words: “Lord, we thank you for this day—Father, for this opportunity as a group. Father, we thank you for the movement that God has put us in place to be in charge of. We thank you for each player here, each coach, each family. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.”

For that simple prayer, he (of course) got blowback from the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

But Coach Prime didn’t back down. If anything, he doubled down on his faith in Jesus and bold talk about all things God, both in press conferences and conversations with his own players.

My prayer for Coach Prime is that God would help him to develop a holy, humble swagger that doesn’t cruelly taunt his opposition and tear down those who didn’t believe in him as a coach. My prayer is that he can find that balance between playful game-day banter and truly loving his “enemies” like Jesus. Because if Coach Prime can find that balance, there’s a huge opportunity to raise up the name and fame of Jesus in Boulder, Colorado.

Here are my three prayers:

1. Boldness for all believers

I pray that Coach Prime’s outspokenness for Jesus will instill more boldness into every believer, to those who are on the CU football team, to the believing students who attend CU, and to every Christian across the nation who follows football.

The apostle Paul wrote:

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the Gospel.

Philippians 1:12

What happened to Paul was prison. What happened to Coach Prime was CU football.

Paul continued:

And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the Gospel without fear.

Philippians 1:14

Just as Paul’s boldness to declare Jesus while he was in prison gave other believers more courage to evangelize, may Coach Prime’s boldness for Christ in the midst of coaching give other believers courage to proclaim the Gospel.

2. A spotlight on Jesus

I pray that unbelievers will take a second look at Jesus. I’m thinking specifically of the precious people of Boulder. The students and residents who live in this amazingly beautiful town (which happens to be less 30 minutes away from where I live) desperately need the hope of Christ. The good news is that, so far, most of the citizens of Boulder are passionately cheering for Coach Prime. Why? Because CU football is back with a vengeance! My prayer is that God will use Coach Prime’s boldness to spark conversations about Jesus in Boulder and across the nation.

Perhaps Boulder-area residents who participate in Dare 2 Share LIVE, a global youth evangelism event on November 11 (when the CU Buffs play the Arizona Wildcats at home), will see this as an outreach opportunity. A simple question such as “What do you think about Coach Prime’s boldness about his faith in Jesus?” could spark some amazing Gospel conversations during the outreach time.

3. That we avoid the us/them mentality

The unbelievers in Boulder are not the enemy—rather, they are victims of the enemy. In 2 Timothy 2:24-26, we read:

A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap.

We, as believers, must not taunt the not-yet-believers of Boulder with “Hey, non-Christians, liberals, and atheists, how you like Jesus now? All you unbelievers who are cheering for Coach Prime are clapping for the God he serves at the same time! Ha!”

I share this with a sense of guilt.

Last week I posted a Tweet that went something like: “The very liberal city of Boulder doesn’t quite know what to do with Coach Prime. He’s an unashamed Christian in a cowboy hat. It’s driving the liberals crazy. As a believer in Christ and CU fan, this is gonna be fun to watch.” I had a little twinge of guilt in my soul when I posted it.

But, jet-lagged from my 12-hour trip to Switzerland and excited for Coach Prime’s first win, I posted it. That Tweet got a ton of views, 100K or so. But then a Bible professor who follows me on Twitter posted a response to my Tweet with two simple words: “Why taunt?”

When I read those words, that little twinge of guilt I felt when I posted my Tweet turned into a sledgehammer of conviction. Why? Because I’d given in to the us/them temptation. If any unbelievers from Boulder had read that Tweet, it wouldn’t have drawn them closer to Jesus, but rather pushed them farther away. So, hand-slapped by the professor and heart-convicted by the Holy Spirit, I took it down.

May God give us all, especially me, the grace to lovingly give the Gospel to those who don’t yet believe in Jesus. May we refuse to taunt or mock those who don’t line up with our Christian faith. May we, as fans of Jesus and football, lovingly use Coach Prime’s bold belief in God as a way to open up Gospel conversations with those who don’t yet believe.

I finish with this prayer:

God, give Coach Prime, in the words of the old preacher, the mixture of the lion and the lamb in his role as head coach of the CU Buffaloes. May he continue to be bold in his faith, but may he, at the same time, be gentle with unbelievers and point them to Christ and Him crucified and risen from the dead.

Give every believing student and football player at CU boldness to declare the Gospel in love to their fellow students and players. Keep us from giving into the us/them temptation. Forgive me for failing to do so last week. Instead, may we view ourselves as sinners saved by grace, humbly, yet boldly, pointing others to Jesus. Use this football season at CU as a catalyst for a natural, national Gospel conversation.

Give us the wild-eyed intensity of Coach Mac, the verbal boldness of Coach Prime, and the gentleness of King Jesus when it comes to declaring the Gospel. In Jesus’s name, amen.

P.S. Go CU!

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