Dr. J. Rufus Fears: American Freedom

In the summer of 2012, I had the privilege of attending a conference at Hillsdale College.  One of the keynote speakers was Dr. Rufus Fears.  His talk that evening is here.

I had never heard of Dr. Fears, and candidly, I was not able to pick him out in the crowd during the introduction.  He was dressed casually and would not stand behind the podium, preferring to walk up and down the aisles of the auditorium.

Dr. Fears’ talk was outstanding, though it left me feeling a little inadequate.  Somehow or another, I have managed to NOT learn way too much history. And as is the point of this talk, not knowing history can have needless, devastating consequences.

Dr. Fears was so gentle, so grandfather-ly, that I rushed to speak with him at the reception that followed.  He was kind and asked several questions about my family.  I hurried our conversation knowing that others wished to speak with him.

Sadly, Dr. Fears passed away several weeks ago.  But not before he produced this lecture series on American history.  If you need a refresher, I believe you will enjoy these lectures.

I regret that I did not spend more time with Dr. Fears.  He has touched thousands, and his life’s thesis is worth telling: he encouraged his students to live historically.  That is, to use the knowledge of the past to make decisions in the present, and to plan for the future.  He had unique gifts, and he will be deeply missed.  We need more men and women who, like Dr. Fears, know history and can communicate it in an elegant, persuasive way.

Coach Kirby

Season finale 2012

Gentlemen, tonight we completed our final practice ahead of tomorrow night’s season finale.  It was a beautiful evening on the practice field.  The sun on the changing leaves…a degree or two warmer than true “football weather”…I will start missing it and all of you next Monday at 3:15…when I usually leave my office.

I thought Mr. Beggs’ talk was outstanding. I want to reemphasize a point he made.  You will approach (and you are approaching) the challenges in your life according to the habits you have developed.  You should probably read that sentence again.  Football is a wonderful mechanism for teaching this simple principle.

Let me list a few things you hear us say everyday, and then then I’ll give you the “why” behind these sayings.

  • Run through the line…because if it is your habit to quit early, you will always quit early.
  • Study your playbook…because if it your habit to ignore those things your job requires, you will stall out in your career.
  • Read your keys…because you must train your mind to know where and to whom to look.
  • Stick with your blocks…because being in the right place is only half the battle…you must still perform.
  • Get strong in the weight room…because how you prepare has much more to do with success than how you feel on game day.

I could go on and on.

This principal…the habits you develop now will last a lifetime…carries into every area of life.

One final note: Mr. Beggs is right.  We have been tough on you because we love you and we want the very best for you.  We want you to be tough young men (not callous), capable of acting courageously in the face of life’s challenges. We want you to have habits that will lead to lasting, positive relationships, and we want you to experience the joy of being committed to a cause that is bigger than yourself…like a family, a community, a faith family, or a team.

I invite all players (and especially seniors) to stay in touch with me,and I hope that you will.


The (real) problem with low expectations

We have players who are afraid to commit themselves to excellence on the football field.  A large number of you slouch and mope around with no energy.  There is no spring in your step.  You are often afraid of contact.  You invest NO time to learn our offense outside of practice.  Even when you or another player makes a big hit, you don’t get excited.  You can give NO energy in a drill or a team period, then you can come together and yell “pride”.  Frankly, it’s hard for your coaches to understand.

In football, the danger is that we may pretend to compete, but we may be in danger of losing a large number of football games.  That would be demoralizing…a real bummer, you might say.

But there is something much bigger at stake.

I have learned an important principle from Andy Stanley, my pastor.  He says, “you can’t compartmentalize character.”  And he is right.

The way you handle yourself in football is the way you are (and will) handle yourself in life.  If you allow yourself to give a portion of yourself to what you are doing (whatever you are doing), you will allow yourself the same ‘luxury’ in every area of your life.

This works positively as well.  Do you think it is random that Chart Riggall knows the offense plays well, and he is also a very good student?  It’s what we would expect.  Why?  Because you can’t compartmentalize character.  He is in the habit of 1) knowing what to do, and 2) giving maximum effort.

What’s at stake in football is losing games.  Over the course of your lifetime, these games are completely inconsequential.

But, what’s at stake in your life is everything.  Those with low expectations for themselves and for the organizations of which they are a part…in the real world…live on the brink of poverty, if not actually in poverty.  The world outside of your parent’s home is cruel to those who do not KNOW.  It is heavy on those who do not GIVE MAX EFFORT.  And it is lonely for those who do not COMMIT TO A CAUSE THAT IS BIGGER THAN JUST YOU.

The real problem with low expectation is that they become easier to accept, and the accepting will lead you down the path of financial and relational poverty.

Chose a cause you can be passionate about and demand a great deal from yourself and from those who share your passion.  Let me suggest that you should commit yourself fully to your faith, your family, your friends, and your football team.  There is tremendous joy in giving your all to a noble cause.

Why are you afraid to give your very best?  What is worse…meeting a low expectation? Or barely missing a target that is sky-high?  What prevents you from experiencing the joy that is trying your very best doing something you love?  What options might open up for you if it was your habit to give your best in football?  Your best in the classroom?  Your best in your relationship with your parents?  How might your life be better?


Five basic responses: Part 1

I spent 4 years beside the Chesapeake Bay at the U.S. Naval Academy.  It was an incredible experience that I treasure.

It started on July 3, 1994….plebe summer.  I hugged my Dad, kissed my Mom, and checked in to Bancroft Hall at 7:30am.  By 7:31, some upperclassman was in my face explaining how I was to communicate for the next 10 months.

He barked (use your best drill sergeant voice), “You are allowed to give five responses.  When asked a question or given direction, you will answer with 1) the correct answer, 2) ‘yes, Sir’ or ‘no, Sir’, 3) ‘I’ll find out, Sir’, 4) ‘No excuse, Sir’, or 5) ‘aye, aye, Sir’.” (In your world, aye,aye roughly translates to “yes, Coach, I’ll do it”)

Seems harsh, does it not?

I had a tough time with this…at first.  After a few run-ins with upperclassmen who “encouraged” me to do flutter kicks until I puked, I got pretty good at these responses.

The toughest one, by far, was #4: No excuse, Sir.  We would do “uniform changes” in a drill where we had to change from wearing workout clothes to a full dress uniform in 2 minutes.  Of course, we’d fail.  Then, they would completely trash our rooms…toss our perfectly folded socks all over the place, then give us 5 minutes to prepare for an inspection.  We’d fail.  They forced us to memorize a poem with 30+ stanzas.  We’d fail tongue-tied.  They’d make us run a 1/2 mile obstacle course in 3 minutes.  We’d fail breathless.  They’d ask, “Kirby, what’s wrong with you…why didn’t you finish on time????”  “No excuse, Sir.”

What I know now is that there is something incredibly admirable about a man who has a “no excuses” attitude.  Your parents love it.  Women (your future wives) are attracted to a man who lives that way.  Employers love it.  Teachers love it.  And coaches love it.

When you say, “no excuse, Sir”, you are acknowledging that you are responsible for your actions and not someone else.  You are giving your parent/teacher/coach the respect he or she deserves by NOT wasting their time with a worthless explanation.  You are getting your mind focused on what it takes, next time, to get it right.

In truth, plebe summer was designed so that we would fail.  Some days, football is that way too.  We want you to become humble men who know what it means to carry responsibility for yourself, for your wives, for your families…your teammates.

Sure, there are days when things go poorly, and it really is not your fault.  Boys feel the need to explain themselves because they need others to know that we are not to blame.  Men who have developed strong moral character and disciplined habits usually don’t feel the need to explain themselves.  They let their yes mean yes, and their no mean no.  Let’s be that kind of man.

The next time you drop a pass, miss a block, forget an assignment, show up late, forget your shoes, wear a hat indoors…be a man who accepts responsibility.  Just say, “no excuse, Mom/Dad/Teacher/Coach…I’ll get it done next time.”  Then do what it takes to get it done.

What is that feeling that boils inside you when you have to say, “no excuse, Coach”?  What would have to happen in you to make it easier to say?  How could you avoid having to say it?