When we made the decision to bring back football to George Fox several years ago, we knew at the time the right coach would be key to a successful program. I suppose that is true of any program or successful business operation. Leadership is vital to success.
I’m sure you are aware that at least some university football programs have poor reputations. They have low graduation rates, players who are constantly encountering difficulty inside the classroom and out, and have little connection with the direct educational mission of the institution. We want to build a program that is both competitive athletically and also fits with the educational and spiritual mission of the institution. We want our coach to teach young men to play competitive football, to help them gain a vision for life, to come to know Christ more intimately, and to succeed in the classroom. We knew that finding the right coach for this assignment would not be an easy task.
I know that people wondered if we could draw top candidates for a start-up football program at George Fox. We were actually pleased with the pool of candidates. Interestingly, several head coaches of Division III schools looked closely at the job. When I asked them why they were interested, they almost universally noted that you rarely get a chance to build something from the ground. In a new program you hire all the coaches, create the traditions, and build the program around your vision all at once. When you take over a program, they noted, transformation is difficult because you inherit the tradition and conditions of the past. That certainly can be positive, but it can also be limiting.
After several conversations with excellent coaches, we focused our attention on Chris Casey of Aloha High School. Chris is a graduate of Linfield and had coached at two Northwest Conference schools, Linfield and Whitworth. He had recruited for Division III programs and knew the special care it takes to encourage and work with students in non-scholarship programs. He knows the high school football network in the Northwest. He built a high school program that had failed to win a game in four years to one that won the Oregon 6A championship. Most importantly, he is a deep man of Christian faith and integrity.
Deep in the core of my being I am a person of old-fashioned values. My father and grandfather taught me to show up for work every day, focus on what you can do, and never make excuses for lack of success. When I met Chris for coffee to talk to him about the job, he said some things that made me believe that he is the kind of person that we need at George Fox. He talked about when he first came to Aloha what they talked about is that they could not be successful: “poor facilities, lack of community support, lack of program development, the other schools in the conference were far richer.” Chris’ reply: “Thank you for sharing your concerns but it is the last time I want to hear them. From this minute forward, we will be known for what we do with what we have – whatever that may be. We will not make excuses or compare ourselves to others. We will unite as a group and emphasize what we can do as a community.”
I immediately thought this is the kind of coach my dad was and one I would like to play for. His attitude was perfect for a start-up program that will lack key things, including a winning tradition. Coach Casey will focus on what he can do now and then move our team toward a better future.
Most important, when I was talking to the principal of Aloha High about Chris, he noted that there was no one on campus that more exemplified Christ than Chris Casey. Chris has built a great football program at Aloha, but of more significance, he has been building young men. He has invested in the families of the Aloha community by helping them gain a vision for life out of the experience of football.
I am proud that Chris has decided to join us. He is returning home where he grew up in the shadow of George Fox University. Our future football program is in fine hands.