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Column: Get High on Life

By Harold Keller / L’Observateur / April 22, 1998

Anyone can make a difference in one life

This past Saturday morning, I attended a breakfast hosted by the Baton Rouge Adult Chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I was invitedby my friend, Durel Matherne.

In attendance was Gus Kinchen, a teammate of Durel’s on the LSU 1958 National Championship football team and head of the F.C.A. in the BatonRouge area. Also in attendance were two of his sons, Brian and Todd, bothNFL players, along with Jerry Stovall, Jimmy Field, Mark Lumpkin, Mike Stupka and assistant LSU football coach Jerry Baldwin, to name a few.

The special guest was Sam Rutigliano, head football coach at Liberty University and former NFL head coach of the Cleveland Browns. He alsoserved as an assistant coach with the New Orleans Saints many years ago.

I have to admit that I accepted the invitation reluctantly. I didn’t feel likewaking up at 4:30 a.m. on a Saturday to ride to Baton Rouge for a meeting.I know now that I needed to be at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center at 7 a.m. to hear Coach Rutigliano’s partial testimony and his challenge to themen in attendance to dare to make a difference. You could feel as he spokethat he was real.

His talk centered on trusting God in the good and bad times. He sharedabout an auto accident that happened many years ago while he was driving with his wife and 4 1/2-year-old daughter. He and his wife survived, buthis daughter was killed.

After the accident, a Christian couple who were friends of the family told him that if he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior, everything would be OK.

He shared how in the coaching profession, the dream that drives every coach is to reach the top of the mountain, that is, being a head coach in the NFL. His call came when least expected in the midst of a disastrousseason as an assistant coach on a losing team. He was offered, andaccepted, the head coaching job of the Cleveland Browns. Just when thingslooked the darkest, God opened the door.

At Cleveland, he was named NFL coach of the year two years consecutively. Every coach knows that the day after you get hired, as BumPhillips once said, is only one day closer to you being fired.

After six years, he was fired. He was then a TV commentator for a shottime. According to him, this was easy compared to coaching, because yourfuture didn’t depend on wins and losses.

When Liberty University called, he accepted. He shared about the school,not so much the athletics, but he talked with excitement about the wholesome atmosphere on the campus.

Coach Rutigliano spoke about making a difference in someone’s life. Heshared a short story about a young man named Kevin who, you could tell, was special to him. according to Rutigliano, Kevin was trouble waiting tohappen – a kid who needed 24 hours of supervision and still found a way to mess up.

Evidently, Rutigliano, with a lot of tough love which included strict, consistent discipline, was the instrument God used to influence Kevin.

Kevin followed him to Liberty and later married a Christian girl who is now a lawyer. They reside in Miami.Rutigliano didn’t say it but I could tell that no victory on the football field and no money could match the satisfaction of seeing Kevin experience a victory in the game of life.

God used Rutigliano to make a difference. What an honor to be used by God!Rutigliano encouraged every man to carry the message of salvation to a hurting, lost world. “You can make a difference,” he said, “even if it’s inone life.”He concluded with: “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”As Gus Kinchen closed the meeting, it was evident that both he and Coach Rutigliano didn’t spend time dwelling on their past glory days but rather concentrated on making a positive impact on other people’s lives.

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