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Mormon coaches and callings: How they balance serving in the church with pressure-filled profession

Published: Thursday, Aug. 21 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

Updated: Friday, Aug. 22 2014 8:51 a.m. MDT

“I would have never done this before my mission," Sitake said. "It was a real strong experience for me."

Sitake recently moved to Ogden and didn't have a calling when he was interviewed for this article, but he most recently taught 4-year-olds in Primary with his wife, an experience he said strengthened their relationship.

During Stubbs' 1999 season at Alabama, his son Jay was a member of the team. That year, the Tide went 10-3, were ranked in the top 10 nationally and defeated Florida in The Swamp to win the conference title. In spite of that success, Stubbs was most proud when his son addressed the team and announced he was leaving after the season to serve a mission. Another son, Troy, also played Division I football and served a mission.

“The players didn’t understand why he would leave at that point," Stubbs said. "But the decision wasn’t just made recently, it was made years ago."

Scalley, Utah’s safeties coach and recruiting coordinator, estimates the University of Utah has about 35 returned missionaries (counting players and coaches) in the program and around 10 who are currently serving. He loves every player regardless but feels extra joy when one decides to serve a mission. It's a message he eagerly shares with the young men in his ward when the topic comes up.

"There are opportunities for me to bear my testimony to them. I’m not their stake president or bishop, but every opportunity I get to bear my testimony about serving a mission and getting out in the field and serving God, I love that opportunity because my time in the (mission) field was so good to me," Scalley said. "I want to make sure the young men out there know how great that is."

Being an example

Prior to joining Hill’s staff at Weber State, Sitake was the wide receivers coach at SUU. He said there were two players, both from California, who approached him with questions about the church. One was eventually baptized. It was a reminder of the power of example.

Other coaches have had similar experiences. Both Scalley and Hill interacted with former Utah player and current San Diego Charger Eric Weddle leading up to his baptism.

“There are opportunities all the time to stand up and be an example for your faith, what you believe in,” Scalley said. “It’s also great to learn from people who aren’t of your faith who are good people.”

Bevell gets questions from people all the time, he said.

“My standards are different," he said. "I’m not standing up in front of everyone and swearing. They bring (the church) up all the time. They ask how I carry myself, the things I do and don’t do. I’m willing to answer the questions when I get them.”

Profanity is prevalent in the world of football. But like Bevell, Stubbs tries to hold himself — and his team — to a higher standard. When he took over the Nicholls State program in 2010, Stubbs instituted a no-vulgarity policy. There was a learning curve the first year, but Stubbs believes it has had a positive impact on the culture of the program.

“It doesn’t happen here," Stubbs said. "People are human. If something slips, they apologize immediately. There are ways of coaching, of getting the message across, without doing that.”

Ena admits words slip, but he isn’t shy about telling players: “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say it.”

“Your language speaks volumes about who you are and what you do,” said the former BYU and NFL linebacker. “If you want that kind of representation upon yourself, don’t do it around me.

“Football takes care of itself. We just want our players to look back at their time at Weber State and say, 'You know what, I felt I progressed to be a better human being.' The X's and O's are great, but the satisfaction you get from kids progressing and becoming better men, that is the real benefit.”

Sustaining faith

When asked how his faith has helped him in his coaching career, Mendenhall closed his eyes and thought for a moment before explaining the unique challenges associated with being BYU’s head football coach, including the fact that people who see him at church and even in the temple feel they have a free pass to talk football.

In dealing with these dynamics, his faith has made all the difference.

“It’s the only sustainable force that would allow me to have been at BYU for going on 10 seasons," he said. "It’s a very difficult job. It’s a very visible job. Without faith and my relationship with my Father in heaven, I would have left this job years ago.”

The pressures in coaching are pretty high, and too many grind themselves the ground, Ena said. That’s why having a spiritual balance is so important.

“It’s huge," Ena said. "It’s everything. It’s the foundation of who I am and what I’m about. It makes me a better husband and father. God, family and football: Take care of those priorities, and football will take care of itself.”

Email: ttoone@deseretnews.com Twitter: tbtoone

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