Ala. coach finds Christ, renews football zeal

OPP, Ala. (BP) -- Former University of Alabama football coach Mike DuBose says his two favorite words in the Bible are "but God" in Ephesians 2:4.

He believes the description of spiritual transformation those words introduce mirrors the work of God he has experienced, beginning toward the end of a trying stint nearly two decades ago as leader of one of college football's winningest programs.

"If it wasn't for the 'but God' moment," DuBose, 64, told Baptist Press, "there wouldn't have been a rebirth and old things passing away and all things becoming new."

From personal and football-related challenges in 1999-2000 that led to DuBose's forced resignation at Alabama, he has emerged with a personal relationship with Jesus, a strengthened marriage and a ministry to young football players.

His wife Polly said she and her husband are "an example of what God can do to put your life back together [and] make you new people."

Coming to a 'crossroads'

DuBose initially professed faith in Christ as a high school student, but he was not discipled and says he may not truly have been born again. So he drifted from Christ through nearly 30 years as a defensive lineman at Alabama, an assistant and head high school coach and an assistant coach in the NCAA and NFL.

He was hired as Alabama's head coach in 1996, leading the Tide to a 1999 Southeastern Conference title, an Orange Bowl appearance and earning SEC Coach of the Year honors. Yet he also experienced turmoil. Reports in 1999 of personal misconduct were followed by a 3-8 record in 2000, and DuBose was forced to resign.

"I was angry when I got fired," DuBose said. "But the reality is I should have gotten fired."

Unbeknownst to many, however, God began to work in DuBose's life during the 2000 season.

"We just came to that crossroads and knew I was definitely going down the wrong road, that road that leads to death and hell for eternity ... At that time, I recommitted my life to Christ," he said.

Then he paused: "Maybe recommitted is not the right word. It may have been, committed my life for really the first time. I got into the Word and built a relationship. And that was a journey. It was a process. It wasn't an overnight and total change."

Initially, DuBose thought his commitment to Christ meant he needed to deemphasize football. But during a year away from the game in south Alabama with his wife, he was walking by a lake and sensed the Holy Spirit saying, "I never asked you to love football less. I just asked you to love Me more."

DuBose responded by telling God he wanted to coach again -- at any level God opened doors.

'Football as a ministry'

Since then, DuBose has held multiple positions on high school and college coaching staffs, including as head coach of Division III Millsaps College in Mississippi and defensive line coach at the University of Memphis. Today he is a volunteer linebackers coach at Opp (Ala.) High School, his alma mater.

While DuBose has done some public speaking about his spiritual journey, his main ministries are to the young men he coaches and to his family.

"I was given a passion for" football, DuBose said. "And I think if you're given a passion, it's a calling of God on your life to do it. I see football as a ministry."

Polly DuBose recalled a former player who experienced challenging childhood and teen years before being mentored by her husband. Now that player is beginning his final season of football at UAB and is "an incredible young man of faith," she said.

"There are so many wonderful stories like that," Polly said.

In mentoring young men, Coach DuBose emphasizes the need for husbands to be the spiritual leaders of their homes. He also sees spiritual leadership at home as his top ministry.

Polly noted, "In the really hard places of his life, Mike took the high road. He started reading and studying God's word and walking in obedience. I would watch Mike daily get up early every morning to spend time in prayer for his family. When we all walked out the door to start the day, we had been covered in prayer. Mike has become 'a man after God's own heart' and he has my utmost respect."

DuBose said he regrets forcing his wife to be their family's spiritual leader for years and expressed thanks she stayed with him through challenging times. He called leading his family "the greatest responsibility and greatest privilege I have today."

Polly said her family's spiritual journey illustrates that "even when you make mistakes in your life and all seems lost, it doesn't stop The Father from loving you. He desires to have a personal relationship with you. God will meet you where you are and will give you a new heart and life in Him. That's just what He did for us."

In 2008, The New York Times seemed to note something of DuBose's newfound joy, stating he -- then head coach at Millsaps -- looked "as sunny as the weather" on a clear fall day and that the turmoil of Alabama "seemed a distant memory."

A 'much bigger' game

Reflecting back on his spiritual journey, DuBose said "football is a wonderful, wonderful game. But it is just that: it is a game. There is a game that is much bigger, much more important. That is the game of life, which leads to either heaven or hell. When we shake it all down, we're all on one of two teams. We're either on God's team or we're on Satan's team."

He added, "My family and I are choosing Christ."

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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