Climbing the Coaching Ranks Isn't For Everyone

Climbing the Coaching Ranks Isn’t For Everyone

Outside observers might look at my husband’s resume and assume he has difficulty finding jobs, so he’s compromising to stay part of the game.

The truth is, climbing the coaching ranks made him and our family miserable. Thankfully, he was is willing to follow his calling rather than society’s expectations. Ordell’s choices have allowed our entire family to thrive. Here’s our story:

In 2021, Ordell coached his twenty-second football season. This was his sixth team. For most of his career, he coached college football and is now coaching at the high school level.

We all know coaches don’t coach for the money. Coaching is a calling, and my husband is absolutely in his element on the field, whether it’s practice or game day. Regardless, small college football does not pay well, and finances were stressful for our growing family.

Ordell remained at his first college for ten years and worked for two different head coaches. He was promoted from defensive assistant to defensive coordinator and assistant head coach.

We grew to a family of four through this time, and Ordell had completed his master’s degree. That original college salary increased some through the years, but not nearly as much as his job responsibilities.

The most common question asked was when was Ordell going to apply for a head coaching position? And for many coaches, there comes a time when they start to see distinctions in how they might run a program if given the opportunity. The thing is, the higher you go, the more removed from athletes as your time is divided between administrative duties, fundraising, leading coaches, and leading the team.

Regardless of Ordell’s preference to remain on the field coaching, he began interviewing for high school and college head coaching jobs when we heard that our head coach was leaving. Eventually, Ordell was named the next head coach of the current institution, and by the end of his first season as head coach, he earned the conference Head Coach of the Year award (voted on by the other coaches in the conference) and took the team to NCAAA Victory Bowl which they lost.

The layers of stress off the field were often overshadowed by the fruitful seasons of ministry we both experienced and the team’s success. However, with a contract requirement to retain a roster of 108 athletes, reflecting on joy and happiness wasn’t something we did often.

But the thing about watching your kids grow up from a distance is that whether you spend five minutes or five hours pondering your emotions, you will clarify your non-negotiables in life.

Ordell challenged the team every year to consider their priorities using a team talk adapted from John Ortberg’s book When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box. This talk was also a yearly opportunity for my husband to inventory his priorities as he asked his staff and team to do the same.

Even with all the on-field success, there was one career goal Ordell hoped for, and on November 17, 2012, he earned that title with an amazing team and even better staff. The college received its first post-conference title as Ordell led his team to win the NCCAA Victory Bowl in overtime.

As we hugged in celebration on the field after the game, Ordell said, “I’ve achieved every dream. What am I going to do now?”

At the moment, I laughed and said something like, “Dream bigger dreams!” because isn’t that the obvious choice?

But dreaming “bigger” with his current career path conflicted with Ordell’s convictions. As a result, I didn’t create space for Ordell to consider slowing down, putting family first, or choosing a different career trajectory. Even though it wasn’t a mandate, my encouragement impacted my husband.

Several months later a new coaching opportunity came knocking, and it was a bigger dream that my husband seized. That four years taught our family a lot, which I write about in my book Lessons from the Sidelines.

New jobs create new routines. Ordell enjoyed teaching his new college courses and realized he missed the classroom. Additionally, he was in charge of picking our boys up from school, and for the first time ever, he spent a consistent 30 minutes with them every day in the afternoon. This time revealed how much Ordell was missing from our own kids’ lives because he spent all his time investing in other people’s children.

We were four years into that second college job when a year contract extension arrived in the mail. I sighed and filed it away. So imagine my surprise when Ordell had to put his resume together three weeks later after learning he was fired.

Sometimes God works in weird and amazing ways. This timing was the blessing our family needed. The space to breathe, recalibrate, and step off the insanity of the college coaching hamster wheel.

Ordell accepted a teaching and coaching position at a high school a few hours south of our family three months later. This position has allowed us to breathe financially for the first time in our marriage and drastically reduced his workload.

Watching my husband pave a new path in the classroom and on the football field has been a joy. But, what is even more fun is seeing him deepen his relationships with our sons. The bond he has with them would not exist if he were still coaching college ball because it required an investment of time and energy that he couldn’t offer before our move.

The more settled in our “new normal” we’ve become, the more selective Ordell has become about his job choices. Over the chaos of the odd spring season, he decided that he would rather walk away from football altogether than continue in the role of a head coach.

My husband has loved all the coaching opportunities and experiences he has had. Ultimately, Ordell is called to develop athletes on and off the field to become current and future leaders in every space of their lives. He also uses football to be salt and light in dull and dark places. He does this best as a position coach who doesn’t divide his time between administrative duties, parent conflicts, and other challenges that a head coach juggles.

Twenty-two years later, Ordell is working in the role where he started his coaching career. He’s a high school varsity defensive coordinator, and he is the most relaxed I’ve ever seen him. Of course, he has always loved his job, but somehow, he has a new energy every time he steps on the field, and it’s a joy to watch.

Coaching is a calling, but that calling looks different for everyone. Ordell is most interested in making a life-long impact on athletes and investing in our sons. He knows his limits, and he’s made the choices that work for everyone. The best part is that he is thriving with every intentional choice.

If you’re facing a difficult choice, I hope this story will encourage you to make the best choice for your family and ignore outside opinions.