Don Corielle, the other coach that I’d had, had just got a job with the chargers. I prayed a prayer. I said, “God, don’t have him call me unless you want me to go.” The next day Don called me and he offered me a job. The only problem was this job was not being the offensive coordinator. I was going to have to back up in my career and go back to being a backfield coach and work under another assistant coach. Man, with pride and stuff, that bothered me, but I prayed about it and took the job but I had no peace about that decision. I made up my mind that I was going to see that old spiritual father of mine back in Arkansas.
I got on the plane and there weren’t even any players there to work out that year but I was going anyway. It was snowing that day and we had to divert the landing and we went back and landed in a little town called Fort Smith. And again I’m saying, “Why, God, why you doing this?” Questioning God all the time. I got to Fort Smith and I said, “I’m still going to Thalo” and I grabbed my bags and I went out front and there was two little guys out there renting a car and I heard them say they were going to Thalo, Arkansas. I went over and I said, “Are you guys going to Thalo?” and they said, “Yea and I said, “I’m going with you.” I opened the back door and just threw my bags in there. These two guys are looking at each other.
We get in the car and we start driving down the road and these guys must have been from Louisiana or Georgia or something because they were all over the place on the road. The snow is starting to accumulate and I can tell these guys are making it. We get about two miles down this freeway and I said, “Hey, pull over and let me out” and I think they were glad too. They pulled over.
I got out on that freeway and took my bags and I went across and climbed across the center divide in the freeway and I hitchhiked my way back to Fort Smith. I went in there and I got my flight. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to go to Thalo. I’m really down and questioning God. I went over to sit down in the airport at Fort Smith. I sat there kind of praying and I looked over and there was a Bible sitting in that airport. How many of you have ever seen a Bible in an airport? Not many. I picked this Bible up and I turned to the first chapter in James because that’s the chapter I claimed on making decisions in this career.
Without me saying a word a young guy about my age tapped me on the shoulder and he said, “I claimed that verse and those verses in that chapter in my life about six months ago.” I said, “Really, really?” Without me saying anything else this guy rattled of a story that paralleled mine almost exactly. He’d had a job one he always wanted then lost it and was trying to get it back and God had given it back. Now the world would tell us that was just a coincidence. That Bible just happened to be there. This guy just happened to tap me on the shoulder. Are you kidding? That’s like the two amoeba in the puddle of water. That’s not an accident. I look at it this way. God either put that guy there or that was an angel. That’s the way I look at it. I got up and put his name in my Bible and ran and jumped on that plane and I said, “God, I been wanting to be a head football coach all this time but I’m going to leave that up to you from now. You’ve convinced me. I’m putting my career in your hands.”
I went to San Diego and two weeks after I was there the guy that I was going to be working under got another head coaching job. Don called me in the next day and said, “Joe, I want you to be the offensive coordinator.” Two years later I was the head coach for the Washington Redskins. I’m just sharing from my heart the way God has guided my life and my vocation.
The second thing I want to share with you is in 1980 I came home one night when I was an assistant coach for the chargers and my wife was at the house. I’ve got a wife and there’s not many like her, I don’t think. I got there that night and I could tell that she had been crying. There was about two weeks left in the football season. I started prying it out of her. What’s the matter? What’s the problem? She didn’t want to tell me but eventually I got it out of her. She had gone to the doctor and she had lost the hearing in one ear and they had found a brain tumor and she was supposed to have surgery at the first of the year.
We finished the season and two weeks later I took my wife in for surgery. That brain tumor was located very close to all the facial nerves. My wife had one of the prettiest faces in the world. Perfectly round with beautiful lips and big eyes. When we came out of that surgery she had partial paralysis on one side of her face. For me and my boys nothing has touched us like that. The great comfort that I got from that was knowing that God loved her and she belonged to Him. The promise we have in His Word is that all things work together for good to them that love God. What a comfort that was. Maybe you have loved ones that have suffered like that. Maybe you yourself have suffered like that. I just cling to that. That’s the only thing in my life that I can’t wait to get to God and ask Him why. I know there is a reason because she belongs to Him and she loves Him. That is a comfort when things don’t go well in your life.
The third thing I want to share with you is that I have a problem with finances, I think. I don’t gamble but it seems like I want to gamble on big things. I got my job at the Redskins and I had a three year contract and man I said, “I could get fired here.” I wasn’t going to put my faith in God. I was going to make some money. I jumped out and made a financial investment over my wife’s best opinion. I found a way to make her say yes.
I got into this investment which was a land deal and a partnership and I was going to be a passive investor and make some money. Instead of just trusting God and coaching football, I was going to get rich in real estate. I don’t think I’m an egotist about football because I always know there’s somebody around the corner ready to knock our block off but in the business world I was somebody who thought he had this all worked out. I got into this investment and it was for about two years and all of a sudden I started getting late notices right before a football season started. I have a friend of mine, a guy by the name of Don Meredith, who’s very close to me, and sent him down there. He went down there and spent sixty-four days trying to work on this problem. I just coached the season. I said,” Hey, I can’t worry about this. I’m going to coach the season.”
After the season I beat it down to Oklahoma and when I sat down with the attorneys there were nine banks involved and it was way over a million dollars in debt. The interest alone was over thirty thousand dollars a month. I was bankrupt. I can remember the night when I figured all this out I got on my knees in the motel room and said, “God, I am bankrupt. There’s no question about it. I’m willing to go through this if this is what you want me to do but I don’t feel like I should file for bankruptcy. I feel like I have an obligation to these banks and to these people and I’d like to work this out. I’m just praying to you and saying this is the biggest mess in the world. Only you could straighten this out.”
I went to all nine of those banks and they all worked something out and you know what’s a bigger miracle than that? Not a one of them let out one peep to the press or anything else. All it would have taken was for one of those people working at those banks to say one thing. Hey, Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins and that would have been all over USA Today. They would have had a ball with that. It was miraculous.
I learned so many things about myself and my wife. That Pat stood up for me during that process, and my kids. I’d ordered one of them a car and can you imagine what that is like getting a brand new car? My son told my wife, “Listen, you tell Dad I don’t need that car.” I learned some things that I never would have learned about my wife, my family, and myself during that family crisis. Now the point is this. The world will tell you that you’ve got to win in all those things but I’m hear to tell you that God will work in those down times and adversity and He’ll mold you and make you and work through those processes. We don’t want to miss those things.
That was one of the most serious times in my life and I didn’t like it when I was going through it but I learned from it. I wrote down fifteen things that I learned from that experience. The world says you have to win in everything and we all know you’re not going to win in everything. There’s going to be tough relationships. There’s going to be things that happen to you in the business world and in your personal life. Isn’t it great to know that no matter what I do or how bad I can mess it up God will love me through all of it. I’ll wind up getting stronger and stronger and stronger as He molds me and makes me.
I’d like to close by sharing a few little things. I stood at the foot of the bed of those guys and started questioning some of the things in my life. Maybe some of you have wasted some of the years in your life. The key becomes this. What are we going to do with the rest of our life? Where are we going to store up our treasures from here on? We need to store up our treasures in heaven. Invest in it and in other people. Maybe some of you have had some of those feelings that I had and have been second guessing things in your life. Maybe your battling adversity in some way. Maybe you could be having problems with you finances. You could be having a problem physically or maybe you could be battling some kind of an addiction. My hope is that by me sharing some of these personal things about my life you can say, “If God can do that for him, think what He can do for me.”
I want to close now with just a simple prayer. If you pray this prayer to yourself wherever you are and mean it and you ask Him to come into your life, He’s promised to do that.
Father, I want to thank you for each person here tonight. Father, we realize there’s no mistakes or accidents in life. You meant for each one of them to be here tonight. I pray if anybody here wants to make a commitment to you, I pray they’ll pray this simple prayer after me. Father, I know that I’m a sinner. I know that you sent your Son Jesus Christ to die for me. I know that He arose and sits at your right hand now. I want to have a personal relationship with you. I ask you to forgive me of my sins and to come into my life and live with me forever. I thank you for the promise that you’re going to do that. I believe it in your Son’s name, Amen
I hope you enjoyed my life story. If you prayed that prayer with me I would like to take a few minutes to share with you how you can continue on your spiritual journey. I would encourage you to begin to read God’s Word daily beginning with the Gospel of John.
Second, I would suggest you find a Bible teaching church and attend there on a regular basis. Third, pray and be open and honest with God. He knows what you’re going through. Finally, take the initiative to tell others about your decision to follow Christ. Maybe you’ve listened and you’re not ready to make a commitment. I challenge you to read the New Testament portion of the Bible and I encourage you to talk to someone about the questions you have regarding Jesus Christ. The things I’ve talked about today are important. I want you to know that God really cares for you and me and our spiritual walk. God Bless you on your spiritual journey.
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