Often times, when compared to the lives of Biblical and historical heroes, our lives look to be rather insignificant. It is easy to succumb to the temptation to accept the status quo or be frustrated by the lack of impact that we perceive ourselves to be making in our day to day lives. We behold the magnificent, daring accomplishments of those that shaped the world we live in, and then proceed to ask ourselves, “Who am I to think that I can make THAT kind of difference?”
I myself have been tempted to accept that line of thought. Gone are the days of promise of college, where it seemed as if the opportunities to dream were endless and the chances to impact were innumerable, replaced by the reality of the (long before)9- (way past) 5 of the professional world. This is real life man… And the grind is not often glamorous nor exciting.
I am currently studying the book of Daniel alongside the infamous 2017 Holder of the Year Connor McGinnis (@ConnorMcG15), and I recently read an excerpt that had a profound effect on my perspective.
Daniel has his own book of the Bible. He is a legend of the faith. Daniel and the Lion’s den… Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego… Daniel was SIGNIFICANT. Daniel was IMPACTFUL. Daniel had a seventy plus year run in Babylon, which is recorded in the book of his namesake. In those SEVENTY years that Daniel served God faithfully, how many events were recorded in those pages?
Nine moments of courage, faith, and wisdom. Nine times were Daniel was called to stand up for the Lord and fulfill his purpose. For those of you that may not be math geniuses, that’s only about one event of impact every eight years.
So what did Daniel do in the margins? In the THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS of “normal” days in between his incredible moments of courage and triumph? He was FAITHFUL to God on a daily basis. He lived a normal life with life’s ordinary ebbs and flows, struggles and joys, trials and accomplishments. He didn’t change the world every day, but when the moments arose for him to stand the test of faith and make his impact on eternity, he was READY. In the accumulation of ordinary moments, God prepared Daniel for the extraordinary, and this is a theme that is repeated throughout the Bible. I believe that by studying the lives of our Biblical heroes, we are able to see a testament to the faithfulness of God in how He takes ordinary, normal, boring people like you and me, and He prepares them over time to do something impactful for His Kingdom.
In the moment, we frail human beings, with our incredibly limited reach of foresight, do not typically realize when God is using the ordinary to prepare us for the extraordinary. Therefore, we cannot afford to only be faithful in the important things, because we are unable to discern which normal things right now will prove to be CRUCIAL later on.
I use David as an example. Long before David was called “a man after God’s own heart”, long before He was crowned King of Israel, and long before He killed Goliath and saved his nation, David was just a simple shepherd boy. His responsibility was to watch livestock. To watch them eat, sleep, and poop. To walk with them through pasture after pasture, over hill after rolling hill. I can’t imagine David found his assignment to be overly stimulating or significant. From what we know about David’s character from his later exploits, it’s safe to say that he was a man of passion and adventure. I personally believe David may have been frustrated with his role, which was mired in the mundane and boring. Little known to David, God was using his role as the protector of a flock of sheep to prepare him for his time as The Protector of the Flock of God’s chosen people. In his time as a shepherd, David became an expert with a slingshot. He learned how to defend his sheep, and God instilled in him a courageous and protective heart. In defense of his flock, David killed both a lion and a bear. In those individual moments, David did not perceive the eternal significance of those actions. He was simply doing the job that his earthly father had commanded him to do. He protected his sheep to the very best of his ability, for no other reason than because it was his personal responsibility. But then a moment arose when David was called off the bench, plucked from a life of the boring and ordinary and thrust into a battle for the fate of a nation. And when his number was called, he picked up his sling and his stone as he had done so many times before, and the menace of the Israelite people fell at his feet, just as the lion and the bear had. Israel was saved. The nation rejoiced. The legend of King David was born.
David himself had not intentionally prepared for that fight. This was not Mayweather v McGregor, with months upon months of training, press conferences, and advertisements leading up to a 9 pm bell. David’s training had occurred unbeknownst to him, at the hands of God. Would David have been able to defeat Goliath if he had not first defeated the lion and the bear? I do not think so. In days upon days of the ordinary, God had prepared David to be extraordinary. If David had not been the faithful protector alone in the field, he would not have been the courageous challenger with the whole world watching.
In our lifetimes, you and I are destined for moments of significance, mixed in amongst countless days of inconsequence. We do not know the number. We do not know the time. We do not know the form. But your moment is coming. It may not be to save a nation. It may not be to conquer a giant as David or to walk amongst lions as Daniel. It may be to give someone hope who has none. It may be to show someone love who regards themselves as unlovable.
Be ready for your next moment.
I encourage you to prepare to be significant by drawing near to God, by showing His love to those around you, and by being faithful in the ordinary. I will do my best to do the same.
I leave you with this:
For thirty years, Jesus Christ lived a normal life. In three years of ministry, he drastically altered the course of human history. In one moment of sacrifice, He changed our eternity.
Just the two latest headlines in a year that seemed to feature every bitter flavor of human malice.
It seems as if we cannot go a month without hearing of yet another act of ignorance, prejudice, or hatred. When I hear the words “Hate is winning”, I get it. I really do. I understand why you might feel that way. At times, I begin to feel that way too. It feels as if we are drowning in a self-created sea of ignorance and anger, struggling to briefly surface for a breath, only to be plunged into its icy depths once again.
But Jesus said “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!”
It may seem that Hate is winning, but trust me…I promise you… Love wins!
I refuse to succumb to a worldview that assumes the worst of us all. I instead truly believe that the bigotry and hatred displayed in Charlottesville, Barcelona, and elsewhere were perpetrated by a small minority of our global population and DO NOT represent humanity as a whole.
The events of the past week are without a doubt disastrous, horrifying, and saddening. But I passionately believe that they have created an opportunity… A Chance to Love.
As ghastly as the acts of racism and terrorism are, I have been moved by the outpouring of love, and encouraged by the outrage of the people. Though the loss and the hurt cannot be atoned for, the ugliness that was the root of it was brought into the limelight for all of the world to see. For everyone that thought that racism was dead, take a look. It’s still here, just under the surface. But by bringing it to the surface, Charlottesville has given us all a chance to address Hate. To deal with the issue as a nation. As a community. As families. It opens the door for difficult, necessary conversations to take place, and to continue to take place long after the flames have been extinguished, the public demonstrations have ceased, and the news cameras have moved on.
But there is a great danger wrapped in the midst of this opportunity. There is a temptation to assign blame for America’s racism and prejudice issues to a radical fringe group of Neo-Nazis and white supremacists. It would be rather convenient to make a small, extremist minority the scapegoat for a much larger issue. Explicit, overt prejudice does not frighten me. Charlottesville itself is a demonstration in the societal backlash of such ignorant acts. It is no longer socially acceptable to be admittedly prejudiced. The root of the weed of prejudice is much harder to detect and more difficult to eliminate. Covert, implicit prejudice is still alive and well, and it is what this next generation will struggle to exterminate.
I am much more interested in the things that we do not perceive to be offensive than the things that obviously are. Most all of us can agree that Hitler was a bad guy and that the white skin doesn’t make you inherently superior to everyone else. Those are the no brainers. Evil men pushing evil agendas is nothing new and it should neither surprise nor intimidate us. There will always be evil men in this world. What is truly terrifying is the thought of good men tolerating hateful, ignorant ideologies. When good men allow evil to coexist in the presence of their families and their communities, then we will have lost our grip on progress.
Amidst the horror of the calamity, the clashing of political agendas, and my own internal angst, I will admit that I am tempted resign myself to our fate and remove myself from the arena.
“The task is simply too insurmountable…The problem is too complex… I really can’t make much of a difference… I’m too mentally and emotionally exhausted…and after all, I’M TOO BUSY ANYWAYS.”
But I am moved to action by a quote:
All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing
So I have no choice. Indifference is equal to irresponsibility, Silence the brother of Approval.
But where to start? The question is quite overwhelming, but then I am drawn back to the words…
…when good men do NOTHING
So I believe the answer is…. DO SOMETHING!!
As for me? That Something will be a Someone.
I will love Someone today.
That’s where I’ll start.
Hate is not winning. Love is just getting started.
It wasn’t a possible outcome… At least not in my mind.
But God had other plans. And in typical God-fashion, His Plan ended up being far better for me than any path I could have plotted for myself.
So where do I start this convoluted tale?
Well, let’s pick up where I left off. After my short-lived foray into the land of the NFL, many of you know that I returned to OU, where I have worked in the Student-Athlete Development department for the past year, while simultaneously dipping my toe into TV/radio analysis with Sooner Sports TV and The Franchise. What many of you do not know is that this arrangement was never intended to be long-term.
At its conception, the design of this plan was to get experience in Athletic Administration on an interim basis before moving onto another university to start a graduate assistantship on the football side. For years, I had dreamed of pursuing such an opportunity at a particular university to the west.
As a high school junior, my college decision came down to OU and Stanford. Though Stanford appeared to be an ideal fit for my personality and interests, my heart was truly in Norman, Oklahoma, for I had dreamt of donning the Crimson and Cream my entire life. So off to Norman I went, and I consider that decision to be possibly the most pivotal of my life. Nearly five years later, I saw an opportunity to still obtain the Stanford Experience as a Graduate Assistant, and I pursued that opportunity relentlessly. Unfortunately, I found out in mid-March that the position I had been counting on would not be available. I was crushed… For all of 12 hours.
Undeterred, I looked at this unforeseen development as a simple redirection. Rather than start as GA, I would apply to the Stanford MBA program, which is one of the best in the world. The idea had been planted in my head months prior, and had grown into a dream of its own. To garner business expertise and cultivate myself as a person was an alluring notion to a part of me that was becoming increasingly restless and hungry to grow. So I devoted everything in me to the application process, pouring countless hours into the perfection of my resume, essays, and recommendations. My Stanford GSB application was to be my crowning achievement, immaculate in presentation and impeccable in detail. With superb confidence, I submitted my crown jewel and waited for my acceptance email.
The following weeks were positively nauseating. I went about my daily routine on the most jagged of edges, waiting for an email that could change my life. Every time my phone vibrated, my heart jumped and my breathing quickened.
“Could that be it?”
In the midst of the yearly mission trip to Haiti, I finally received notice of my fate…
Dear Tyler Darlington,
Thank you for applying to the Stanford MBA Program. We have completed the review of applications, and I am sorry that we cannot offer you admission.
Dictionary.com doesn’t have enough words to accurately define how I felt in that moment. Thankfully, at the time, I was so immersed in Haiti that I didn’t have the time to dwell on my rejection.
I’ll remember the moment for the rest of my life. I walked into the house from Memorial Day at the lake, and for the first time in a long time, I was truly alone. All of my roommates and friends had moved out and moved on, and my family was a thousand miles away in Florida. My lease was up on Sunday and I did not know where I was going to live. The job I wanted had fallen through. My MBA application had been denied. My various back-up plans had failed one by one.
I sat on my couch by myself with tears running down my face, crumbling under the weight of the fear and uncertainty of adulthood, wallowing in self-pity and disbelief.
No job. No house. No future.
I am aware that this situation is not an isolated phenomenon. It’s an experience a great many people endure at the outset of adulthood.
But not me. I’m not that guy. I can’t be… right? I’m supposed to be the guy with a list of awards and accolades a mile long. The guy with the plan. The guy that has it all together. The Captain. The Senator.
Yet there I was, with no better prospects for the future than anyone else.
God humbled me and broke me down.
But He had a plan. A plan to give me a hope and a future. A plan that was far greater than anything I could have architected on my own.
I just didn’t know it yet.
BREAKING: BOB STOOPS RETIRES, LINCOLN RILEY TAKES OVER AS HEAD COACH OF THE SOONERS
Did you see that coming???
Neither did I.
Or anyone else.
The moment shocked Sooner Nation and the entire college football world.
Like the rest of Oklahoma, my head was swimming in the endless sea of possible reasons and eventual ramifications. Though I was sad and surprised to see Coach Stoops step away, I was simultaneously overjoyed to see Coach Riley be named the new HBC. It is no secret that I am a HUGE believer in Coach Riley as a coach and as a person. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would be a successful head coach at some place in the near future, but I never once thought that place would be here.
My initial enthusiasm transformed to curiosity when I focused inward: What does this mean for me?
Over the next 6 weeks or so, I had several conversations with Coach Riley that eventually concluded with me being offered a Quality Control position on the offensive side of the ball. Of course, the immediate answer was a resounding “YESSSSS!!”
I could not be more excited about this opportunity for several reasons.
It’s a tremendous growth opportunity
Personal and professional growth is of utmost importance to me. I want to be constantly uncomfortable, and that is what this position promises me: Discomfort. Though I am an offensive lineman and have a thorough knowledge of OL schemes and techniques, I will be working primarily with the skill groups. This gives me a chance to be exposed to a side of the game that I have never been previously immersed in. I will have a chance to learn from one of the preeminent offensive minds in the country, and I plan on taking full advantage of that privilege.
I love Oklahoma football
Sooner born and Sooner bred. I’ve loved Sooner football my entire life, and I am thrilled to be a part of what will prove to be a pivotal transition time. I truly believe that we are heading into a special time. The class and wisdom that Coach Stoops displayed by handing things off to Coach Riley the way he did has set us up for a special run, and I want to be a part of it. I believe that I can be of value, and that this entire program is about to ascend to an even greater level. That’s not a recruiting pitch. That’s not me politicking. That’s what I believe regardless of my affiliation with the team. This is a special place to be, and it’s only getting better.
I want to coach
For quite some time, I’ve felt some type of vague obligation to do something “more important” than coaching. From the time I was young, I’ve had countless teachers and others adults encourage me to be a doctor, lawyer, businessman, politician, etc. Yet, football is where my heart is. I can’t think of many occupations that are truly “more important” than coaching. More financially lucrative? Yes. More prestigious? Absolutely. But what could be that much more important than shaping young men? That’s what this is about for me: Impacting the lives of young people. A coach has a tremendous platform and responsibility to mold the youth of our society, and I fully intend to fulfill that responsibility to the absolute fullest.
In a way only he could, God placed an opportunity in my lap that is far more rewarding and challenging than anything I could’ve contrived myself. I am so extremely blessed and grateful to be joining what is already an incredible group of men on the Oklahoma Sooners Football Staff.
Apopka High School is churning out Darlingtons at an accelerated pace. One every two years to be exact. The same teachers are used to seeing similar faces paired with different variations of their father’s iconic sarcasm. We’ve had the same classes, the same teachers, and even some of the same assignments.
One such as assignment is what has my restless mind buzzing today. An assignment from AP Psychology that my sister Gracie recently completed and shared with me. It is called “Soundtrack of my Life.” The basic premise is the tell the story of your life through songs. In the good old days, we made a CD. In this innovative technological netherworld, the yungins now just create Spotify playlists.
It’s been six years since I last compiled my soundtrack, and a heck of a lot of life has happened in that time, so it’s time for an update! The following is a list of songs that have made me laugh and made me cry, that have molded me and shaped me, that have given purpose and direction to my life.
This reflective exercise can be both enjoyable and therapeutic! I urge you to sit down and write down the songs on your soundtrack. Feel free to tweet them at me! I’d love to listen to the story of your life.
The right way to do this is to listen to each song as you read/write. So grab a pair of headphones, click on the link below, sit back, and enjoy the story!
I don’t have roots in country music, but man did I love this song as a little kid. My mom has videos of me with my boots and cowboy hat singing every single word! It is one of my earliest memories, and a no brainer as the leading song on my soundtrack.
Fly Away- Lenny Kravitz
I want to get away, I want to flyyyyyyyy awayyyyyyyy…Yeahhhhh… Yeahhh…. Yeahh
I am a coach’s kid, and I grew up transitioning from one role to the next within my dad’s program. WaterboyàBallboyàManageràPlayer. I went to sleep at night watching my dad’s team’s highlight films, and I will forever associate those songs with my football-obsessed childhood. For whatever reason, this particular highlight film song seemed to be more emblematic than the others.
*For Connor Knight- This is off the 2000 Apopka Highlight Film. Offensive section.
The World’s Greatest- R Kelly
I’m that star up in the sky, I’m that mountain peak up high… Yeah I made it…. I’m the world’s greatest
I look back at how I was as a kid, and I truly believe I was a little bit crazy. I tagged along to workouts by 2nd grade. In 4th grade, I started waking up at 4:30 AM in the winter to participate in the high school winter workouts. By 5th grade, I fully participated in the entire spring football and summer conditioning programs with my dad’s players. In 7th grade, I was painting dot drills and hexagons for footwork drills in my garage. I would even do pass sets on trees in my front yard. I was starving to be great. It possessed my thoughts. During those late night and early morning sessions of solitude, this song drove me. At the time, I truly believed I could be the best football player to ever play the game. Now, that same mindset is applied to whatever it is I am undertaking at the moment.
Lose Yourself- Eminem
If you had one shot, one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted… one moment… Would you capture it? Or just let it slip?
The lyrics rattled around my head in the period of life where I hunted down my dreams. I had always dreamed of playing college football, but through my sophomore year I was very undersized and my chances weren’t looking great. Then a spring growth spurt put me in realm of consideration for scholarships. When spring football came around, I fully understood the value of the opportunity, for each day college coaches would be watching practice. I approached each of those practices with the focus and intensity of a game, and after the final bell sounded, I walked from the classroom to the locker room with my headphones in and Eminem’s anthem ringing in my ears. The first week after school got out, I listened to this song in the grass parking lot of the intramural fields at the University of Oklahoma. Following that practice, Coach Bob Stoops offered me the scholarship I had been pursuing my entire life.
Mr. Brightside- The Killers
I’m going out of my cage and I’ve been doing JUST FINE, Gotta gotta be down, because I want it all!
You simply cannot “sing” this song. You have to scream it! The Killers were a favorite of my closest friends in high school. We jokingly referred to ourselves as “The Wolfpack”, and Mr. Brightside was our howl.
Just a Kiss- Lady Antebellum
But baby I’m alright with just a kiss goodnight
Oh yes, this is exactly what you think it is- A high school love song. I look back now and laugh/cringe that we had “our song”, but I also smile because it’s a good memory and an invaluable experience. It was my first love, and I learned so much about love and myself in that relationship.
Superman- Five for Fighting
It may sound absurd, but don’t be naïve. Even heroes have the right to bleed.
Expectation…. The weight of expectation can be absolutely unbearable at times. Early on in my college years, I struggled with the expectations placed on me by myself and others. My traits and previous accolades immediately drew the attention of teammates, classmates, and coaches. I had built up a certain reputation and persona that led to the expectation for me to fulfill my vast potential as a player, person, and student. Others expected great things from me. I expected greater things from myself. As I wrestled with those expectations in my mind, the words of this song were my retort to the world. I am not Superman. I have the right to bleed. I have the right to mess up. I am only a man.
Preach- Young Dolph
Out here in these streets there aint no such thing as love- PREACH
The 2015 team loved every minute we got to spend with each other. That year, Coach Stoops decided to start practicing at 6:45 in the morning on Fridays. It would have been very understandable for us to come out to these practices a little groggy and lackadaisical, but Young Dolph had other plans. I have no idea how it came about, but this song became the anthem of Friday morning practices. We cranked it up as loud as it would go, and then everybody would dance until the stretch whistle blew. I’ll forever remember how much fun we had that year.
Unwritten- Natasha Bedingfield
….REACHING for something in the DISTANCE, so close you can almost TASTE IT, release your inhibitions, feel the rain on your SKIN!
Wait what? What’s this one doing on here? All credit goes to Mr. Joseph “Fingaz” Palange, who guided this tune to infamy with his choreographed hand motions. If you ever attended a social gathering at 1315 Ann Arbor Dr., chances are you screamed this too.
Dixieland Delight- Alabama
Spend my dollar- ON BEER- Parked in a holler in the mountain blue light- ROLL TIDE
The Alabama Football version. I’m sorry for saying Roll Tide, but it’s just too much fun. We’ve belted this one out in multiple states.
The Boys of Fall- Kenny Chesney
I’ve got your number, I’ve got your back, when your back’s against the wall
The only song that can bring to summation all the feelings I had at the end of my playing career. Out of sheer nostalgia, I listened to it on the flight back to OKC from Nashville after being cut. Kenny put words to the feelings left unsaid by every man who’s ever picked up a pigskin.
Pieces- Rob Thomas
Not quite ready to explain this one yet, but I assure you it’s spot is well-deserved.
Clear the Stage- Jimmy Needham
Anything I put before my God… Is an idol. Anything I want with all my heart… Is an idol. Anything I can’t stop thinking of…. Is an idol
A few months ago, as I was on a flight to California, I heard this song for the first time, and it pierced my heart and convicted me immediately. I love the Lord, but I realized that I had idols in my life. Too often, we think of idols in the ancient Biblical sense, as statues made of gold and silver that are physically bowed to. But in this day and age, idols take much less blatantly sacrilegious forms. I have made an idol out of football in my life. I have made idols out of certain people in my life. I have spent more time, energy, and attention on worldly desires than on my spiritual needs. This song convicted me of this fact, and led to a major spiritual revival that is still alive in my heart.
I’m Still Here- John Rzeznik
How can the world want me to change? They’re the ones that stay the same. They don’t know me, cause I’m not here!
Yes, this from the Treasure Planet soundtrack*
From a very young age, I have believed that I am different. Honestly, that belief is one of the pillars of my existence. Some might perceive this as arrogance, and that’s ok. When I say I’m “different from everybody else”, others translate that as “better than everyone else.” I don’t believe that to be true. But for quite some time, I have wrestled with this feeling of guilt because of my gifts. At times, I have felt a compulsion to hide some of my considerable talents so as to not intimidate others or cause other to feel insecure. A variety of things have pushed me to completely disavow this notion with disgust and step into who I am with confidence and without shame. The first is my belief that God created me this way, and that I am obligated to maximize my talents to bring him glory. Of smaller influence have been secular works, such as this song, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, and a quote from Marianne Williamson. In part, it reads “Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that others do not feel insecure around you.” Yes, I do believe that I am different. No, I do not apologize for that belief…. And you shouldn’t either.
Here Am I- MercyMe
Whom shall I send? Who will go for me? To the ends of the Earth, who will rise up for the King? HERE AM I! SEND ME!
This song is based upon a passage of scripture in Isaiah 6 in which Isaiah has this conversation with the Lord. I want this song to be the attitude of my heart at all times. “Send me, Lord!” I want to be ready and available to be used by God. Send me where you want me, Lord. But I do not just think about this in a geographic sense. Yes, I want to go into all the world spreading the Gospel. Haiti, Belize, and wherever else God sends me. But I also want to be willing to “go” into broken situations, to “go” to hurting people, and to “go” to insurmountable tasks.
Bless Me Indeed- MercyMe
Bless me indeed, open wide my horizons, to sing your praise. Bless me indeed, may your hand keep me from harm and pain.
Bless Me Indeed draws directly from Jabez’s prayer in 2 Chronicles. Jabez asked the Lord to bless him, protect him, draw him close to God, and expand his territory. God granted his request. In the summer of 2013, my spiritual mentor Adam Barnett began praying this prayer over the lives of myself and Trevor Knight. God has answered it in every way, and we continue to pray this prayer today. I am confident that God will continue to honor our prayer, because He does not change.
Who Am I- Casting Crowns
Who am I, that the Lord of all the Earth would care to know my name, would care to feel my hurt?
This is my life’s song. This is the paradox. A lot of the songs on this list are indicative of my confidence in myself and my drive to succeed. These lyrics humble my heart and bring my pride to its knees. Who am I? Even with the awards, successes, gifts, and ambitions. They amount to nothing in the eyes of an Almighty God. I am but a man. A sinful, prideful, imperfect man. A flower quickly fading, here today and gone tomorrow. A wave tossed in the ocean. A vapor in the wind. Nothing I have done or ever will do impress God. My righteousness is filthy rags in his eyes. I try to stack up my works and accolades, yet still fall so woefully short. BUT STILL. You hear me when I’m calling. You catch me when I’m falling. You tell me who I am. It blows my mind and pierces my heart to realize that I am not even close to good enough, but He loves me anyways. He blesses me anyways. He wants to have a relationship with me? ME?? This song will forever remind me of my own worthlessness next to God’s righteousness, and also of God’s irrational grace and reckless mercy.
Thank you so much for making it this far! Tweet me your soundtrack and I’ll give it a listen!
The following is a piece I wrote for The Football Brainiacs in January. With Coach Riley taking over the reins, it is now more relevant than it was even then.
SIXTY-EIGHT pass attempts for ECU QB Shane Carden in the 2015 Birmingham Bowl against Florida in a 28-20 LOSS.
Watching from my couch in Norman, Oklahoma, I was petrified. ECU Offensive Coordinator Lincoln Riley had emerged as a leading candidate for the vacant OU Offensive Coordinator position, and, as an offensive lineman, I was not a fan. The thought of pass setting 68 times in one times was nauseating… UNFATHOMABLE. When he was hired, my first thought was “Well there goes the run game” and my second “Samaje Perine is doomed.”
Two seasons later, the Sooners have rushed for over 220 YPG in both seasons, Samaje Perine is OU’s all-time leading rusher, and the Oklahoma Sooners are the nation’s premier offense.
The key to it all is Lincoln Riley.
Mentality > Scheme
“Cars can’t fly, Zack.”
That’s what I used to tell me little brother when I was four years old and he was two. He would try to fly his Matchbox cars through the air, and I would ground him immediately, because it simply was unrealistic and impossible.
That’s how I am by nature: A realist, concerned mostly with factual, tangible components that will help me accomplish my goal.
An offense moves the football down the field and puts it in the end zone through innovative schemes, superior athletes, and brilliant play-calling.
Or so I thought.
The greatest thing I learned from my year playing under Lincoln Riley is that mentality is more important than scheme. The play call is irrelevant unless every guy in that huddle BELIEVES that we are going to score every single time we get the ball. This is the attitude Coach Riley instituted from Day One: Aggressive, fearless, confident. The guys on that offense truly believe that they are unstoppable, and that is why they are.
He takes it a step farther because he coaches the intangibles as well as anyone I’ve been around. Every coach will preach the importance of intangible concepts like mentality, unselfishness, and togetherness. But for most coaches, when push comes to shove and points are not being put on the scoreboard, the investment of time and energy isn’t put into those areas, it’s put into on-field skill development and execution. At every point of adversity for the 2015 offense, from spring practice through the final whistle of the Orange bowl, the solution always included activities concentrated on the intangibles, such as meetings with the leaders of each position group, a full on lesson (with handouts) on the power of unselfishness, and offensive meetings in which plays were not discussed and film was not watched.
That’s the mentality that he coaches with, but how is that manifested in the offense itself?
Simplicity = Confidence
I have a reputation for being a brainiac (pun intended), and I tend to be attracted to intricate offensive schemes, rife with checks and audibles, predicated on finding the absolute PERFECT play for that particular defense.
So when I opened the new playbook, I felt almost insulted. It’s brutally simple. Sure, there are a variety of tweaks and tricks, but the base system is not difficult to understand whatsoever.
But here’s what that does.
Simplicity breeds confidence. For a guy that may not be as intelligent as I am, a complex offensive system often times leads to doubt, hesitancy, and then underperformance. By focusing on doing the simple things incredible well, Riley allows his players to gain confidence in their assignments. Confidence is the foundation of The Mentality. When a player is confident, he can play aggressively and he can play fast. The system itself, with its simple concepts and aggressive, big-play schemes, is designed to develop the same mentality on the field that he works so hard to cultivate off the field.
A Player’s Coach
You can’t fool the players. They know.
They know whether you really care about them as people, or if first and foremost you want to win, no matter the cost.
There is no doubt in my mind that Coach Riley cares. Lincoln relates to the players extremely well. Some coaches just have that “It” factor that makes players comfortable around them, and Riley has “It.”
Every player on that offense and in that locker room knows that Coach Riley genuinely cares about them. He doesn’t have to say it (even though he does); it’s just understood. Though this isn’t strategic on his part, I believe it is crucial to understand the effect that this has on the offense. The knowledge that Coach Riley genuinely cares about the players develops trust. Trust contributes to confidence, which fuels The Mentality. No one weaves together intangible qualities and on-field excellence better than Lincoln Riley.
I think it’s obvious that he’s converted me into a believer. Not every coordinator is meant to be a head coach, but Lincoln Riley is. Sooner Nation has been lucky to hold onto him as long as we have, and I’m excited to see what year three has in store!
Fast forward 6 months…
Bob Stoops has just retired as the head football coach of the Oklahoma Sooners.
Lincoln Riley has been named the new coach.
A lot has happened in Soonerland over the past week. But when I go back and read what I wrote 6 months ago, I am more confident than ever in the future of the Sooner football program. Coach Stoops left Coach Riley in a nearly perfect situation. The transition will be seamless, and I couldn’t be more excited for what the future has in store. A new facility. A renovated stadium. A new head coach. The same tradition. The same dedication to excellence. The same expectation for championships.
“My momma was my girlfriend, but she died in the earthquake… My daddy was my boyfriend, but he’s not here anymore.”
The conversation has been on repeat inside my mind for the last four years. In that moment, an 11-year-old boy absolutely rocked my world, accidentally exposing me to the sobering, heartbreaking reality of Haiti through his incomplete understanding of the English language. There, sitting on the uneven edge of a dilapidated wall in the tiny village of Minoterie, a little boy named Kanzi took Haiti from my head to my heart. You’ve seen the pictures. You’ve heard the stories. Poverty, homelessness, and unemployment are rampant. Living conditions deplorable. Infrastructure nonexistent. But you don’t really get it… Not yet.
You’ve gotta see it for yourself.
Even in America, two-dimensional images of extreme poverty are not unfamiliar to eyes that have become calloused to the evidences of need. Honestly, I don’t know what to attribute that to. Are we a cold, heartless society? I would like to think not. Are we simply oblivious to the plight of the destitute? Maybe. Distracted by the trappings of our consumerism? Probably. Nevertheless, it doesn’t really hit you until you’re on a yellow school bus headed out of Port-Au-Prince, drenched in your own sweat, staring out at the tents… miles and miles of tents. Until you notice that even that even the cows are malnourished. Until you watch 15 people emerge from a hut that shouldn’t be able to house more than four. The moment when you realize that what you perceive as “unlivable” is considered “normal.” Whenever you reach YOUR moment, it hits you- THIS IS REAL. The pictures, videos, and testimonials don’t even come close to touching the reality. Haiti is a place in desperate need of help.
But that’s only Day 1. The next revelation is overwhelming. By day 3, an even more astounding truth is making itself clear: They are HAPPY. It’s inconceivable- How could they possibly be happy?? They have nothing. Yet somehow, against all odds, they are content and filled with joy. By the end of the week, you realize that these incredible people- these gracious, loving, generous people- have given you more than you could ever possibly have given them. You went there to serve them, did you not? But you walked away having been served and ministered to in a manner far more significant than brick and mortar, food and shelter. They touched your heart and forever altered your perspective. You will never see the world the same.
Much is made of what Haiti DOESN’T have. Though the nation may be in sore need of a great many things, it also possesses two resources that can neither be quantified nor monetized: A rich, vibrant culture, and a resilient, generous people. The first time I went to Haiti, I set out unconsciously believing that I possessed a multitude of gifts that I could bestow upon a people in need (education, knowledge, spiritual maturity, technical expertise, etc.). But then I became acutely aware of my own cultural arrogance, realizing that deep down I believed that we Americans had it all right, and that we had journeyed there essentially as a generous act of cultural imperialism. The conviction of this self-discovery led me to the conclusion that it is they that had much to teach me, not the other way around. The impression that the people and their culture have left on me is as remarkable as the nation’s beautiful coasts and as lasting as the sloping mountains.
Despite the obvious challenges and disparities within the nation, the progress is astounding! Each time I have returned, the signs of growth and improvement are evident. Yes, this is in part because of the generosity of foreigners that have given of their excess time and money to serve the country. But much more so, the progress should be attributed to the incredible spirit of the Haitian people, who in their struggle have battled both internal forces of economic and political turmoil and the external forces of natural disaster.
Each time I have visited Haiti, God has touched my heart and revealed himself to me in the unlikeliest of ways. He has allowed me to forge unbreakable bonds with special human beings that are so much more than teammates and classmates. I pray that on this day, as I set out for Haiti for the fourth time, that He will convict me, move me, shape me, and reveal himself to me like never before. I pray that I will be His witness through both my words and my actions. I pray that I can give back to Haiti a small portion of all it has given to me.
For one week, I will be cut off from the conveniences of technology and the connections to our society. In doing so, I will now be ushered into the presence of God, who is the defender of the oppressed and father to the fatherless. Pray for me and these other Sooners as we set out on this incredible journey!
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
I made an appointment with God.
Well… Not exactly… I made an appointment with Jenny, to talk about God… Same thing right?
At Michelangelo’s Coffee on Main St., I’ve lived out my spiritual journey over the last 5 years. Though the faces on the other side of the table have changed (as has my preferred flavor of mocha), the purpose has not. Most recently, Jenny Carmichael (look her up she’s awesome) has been my spiritual sparring partner, and subject of debate has been A.W Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy.
On this particular day, a leisurely coffeeshop chat didn’t really fit with my busy schedule, but I felt bad about canceling, so I kept it on. For quite some time, we discoursed about the nature of God using a lot of annoyingly big words that would probably make us seem pretentious and self-absorbed.
In the middle of my monologue about God’s divinity, we were abruptly interrupted by an unwelcome visitor; a homeless man stopped in front of our table and commented on the coolness of the weather. We had a friendly exchange, but he loitered long past the window for trading pleasantries, so I closed my book and just…. Talked to him (though trying to disguise my discomfort). Piece by piece, he constructed the fragments of his story.
“They call me Thirsty Joe”
No, his thirst isn’t for water. It’s for vodka.
He wants vodka, but he doesn’t get paid until May 3rd.
Yes, he knows it’s not good for him.
Can you believe that he didn’t drink for 24 years??
But after his wife died eight years ago, he fell off the wagon.
24 years they were married, and he never touched alcohol. She took him home as a one-night stand and couldn’t get rid of him.
Yes, he knows the Lord, and he’s got a cross necklace under his jacket to prove it.
He got saved, baptized, and married all in the same week.
But that was a long time ago.
He’s gotta be getting on now… The weather is getting a little cold
Every so often, God punches you right in the stomach. In special moments, He touches your heart, takes your breath away, and leaves you speechless. Yes, even me, the guy that always has something to say, was speechless. In complete silence, I watched Joe head west on Main St. until he was completely out of sight, and then I turned to face my own emotions. As riveting as the content was, the book stayed closed. As stimulating the conversation, mouths stayed shut, save only the words needed to pray for Joe.
When my precious vocabulary struggled to elaborate on the attributes of God, He instead revealed himself to me through the story of a broken man. As my heart was overcome with empathy, I experienced but a fraction of the love and compassion of my Heavenly Father. Yes, God loves me, the lifelong Christian who seemingly has it all together, that has consistently pursued a relationship with Him. But when Jesus came, He didn’t really hang with Ty. If He was in Norman today, He would probably be with Joe. He beckons to the weary and the broken, offering rest. God loves Joe. He is CRAZY about Joe. Joe’s brokenness breaks the heart of God, who longs to be Joe’s Healer. On this day, as I was trying to unravel the complex mystery of God’s divine nature with the tools of my head and of my heart, God allowed me to feel how simple He really is:
God is Love
I looked for God in the writings of a brilliant theologian. I found Him in the story of a homeless alcoholic.