Charlie Weatherbie: “A Better Way”

Posted on May 4, 2010

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By David Ettinger

For Charlie Weatherbie, football has never gotten in the way of his deeply rooted faith in Jesus Christ. “For me, coaching was always about ministering to young people,” he said.

Caption: Charlie Weatherbie and his wife of more than 33 years, Leann.

These days, ministry is what Charlie is all about. After 30 years of coaching football, Charlie is currently serving as a Community Relations Ambassador in conjunction with the Hope Project, an outreach that will take the people of First Orlando and Hope Church into the surrounding areas, doing works of service as a way to share the love of Christ. In addition to his duties at First Orlando, Charlie, former head coach at Utah State, the U.S. Naval Academy and Louisiana-Monroe, will also serve as a liaison for the Promise Keepers City Transformation Conference to be held here in August 2010.

Now 55 years old, Charlie has been walking with the Lord for 43 of those years. Born in Sedan, Kansas, and raised in Fort Scott, Kansas, Charlie was the product of a Christian home. “My mom and dad were a very good influence on my life,” he said. “They were strong Christians and definitely servants. We went to church and Sunday school every week, evening worship and sometimes on Wednesdays.”

It all came together when Charlie was 12 years old. “A friend and I were sitting in the balcony at church one day, and the preacher was talking about the difference between heaven and hell. He said, ‘You’re going to spend eternity in one place or the other; which one are you going to spend it in?’ That’s when I decided I wanted to spend it in heaven, so I gave my life to Jesus Christ.”

Charlie’s newfound faith helped transform him. “I liked to fight and would do so at the drop of a hat,” he said. “I was a tough guy, a bully. I was also a poor student who didn’t care about school. But when I accepted Christ, I started studying and caring about school.”

Besides his love for Christ, Charlie had another passion — athletics. “I played football, baseball, basketball and ran track,” he said. “Basketball was my real love, but I was better in football.”

Football had a huge impact on Charlie’s life. “I had two coaches — Fred Campbell in junior high and Dick Hedges in high school — who took me under their wing, guided me and helped give me direction [in my walk with Christ].”

Charlie excelled as much on the field as in his faith. As the quarterback for Fort Scott High School, he was heavily recruited and eventually chose Oklahoma State University. He played in five games during his freshman year, but his real challenge was what was happening off the field. “My first year was tough,” he said. “Everyone was pulling me in different directions. I grew up in a home where there were firm guidelines, but, during my freshman year, it was wild and crazy times. I was on my own and can’t even remember going to bed before two or three in the morning.”

However, that changed during his sophomore season. “I was the starter that year, but got hurt. It made me refocus and get my life right again with God.” Charlie joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes between his sophomore and junior seasons and continued his renewed walk into his junior and senior seasons. “I was playing for the right reasons — playing for Christ.”

It was also during his senior year that Charlie married Leann Jonas. The two have been married for 33 years and have two children, Lance, 32, and Jonas, 30.

Despite a stellar college career (1973-76), Charlie was not drafted by a National Football League team and returned to Oklahoma State in 1977 as a graduate assistant coach. He also coached high school. However, he still wanted to play football. In 1978, he joined the training camp of the then-Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans) as a free agent. “I made it through the camp and through all the cuts except for the final one.”

In 1979, Charlie was in training camp for the San Diego Chargers, but didn’t make the final cut, either. He ended up playing several seasons in the Canadian Football League before beginning his college coaching career at the University of Wyoming. “In 1981, Leann and I went to a coaches’ convention in Miami. I had a pinstripe suit and a briefcase full of resumés and was looking to see what God had for me. I had offers from North Texas and Wake Forest, but I chose Wyoming because I could coach both quarterbacks and receivers.”

Charlie stayed at Wyoming for three seasons, then moved on to the Air Force Academy from 1984 to 1989. Following a brief six-week stint at the University of Arizona, he was an offensive coordinator at the University of Arkansas for two seasons, 1990-91. That led to his first head-coaching job at Utah State University. His three-year stay included a 1993 victory in the Las Vegas Bowl. From 1995-2001, Charlie was head coach at the U.S. Naval Academy, where, in 1996, Navy won the Aloha Bowl. He then took a year off from coaching until becoming head coach at Louisiana-Monroe, where he stayed from 2003 through 2009.

Charlie always considered coaching to be a ministry. “When I was in high school, I knew there was a way I could share my faith and still be a coach,” he said. “But when I got into college coaching, everything was the opposite. Coaches cussed and treated players like pieces of meat. But I came to the realization that there was a better way. For me, being a coach was my pulpit. That was my way of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with those around me.”

For Charlie, it was a matter of caring for his players off the field as well as on it. “Whether they went to the NFL, to the Air Force, Navy, or anywhere else, my job was to help them and be a mentor.”

Charlie’s attitude made an obvious difference in many of his players’ lives. “I remember when I was getting ready to leave the Air Force Academy after being there for six years. I was packing up my office when one of our young quarterbacks came in and said, ‘I want what you have.’ ”

The coach was confused. “I thought he wanted something in my office. I couldn’t imagine what I had that he wanted. He said, ‘I want that personal relationship [with God] that you have.’ We got down on our knees and prayed for him to receive Jesus Christ into his heart. It was absolutely amazing. I realized then that God brought me to the Air Force Academy for that one person.”

During his 30 years of coaching, Charlie had a significant impact on his players. “Over the years I have gotten calls from players who said things like, ‘What you did has really changed my life. You are definitely doing what God has called you to do.’ When you hear things like that, you say, ‘Thank you, Jesus.’ ”

Besides his players, Charlie also impressed his staff. “When I became a head coach [at Utah State], I went out and got the best coaches I could, whether born-again Christians or not. But one thing I told them was, ‘Listen guys, we’re not going to cuss on the field. We’re not going to cuss the players, and we’re not going to cuss just because something happened that we didn’t like. This is going to be a family atmosphere. I want us to be able to bring our wives and kids out to watch practice.’ ”

To enforce his policy, Charlie fined his coaches $1 every time they used an obscenity. “After the first spring, we had quite a bit of money,” he admitted. “But every spring [the cursing] lessened. Like I said, I truly believe there was a better way. I told the coaches that they could express themselves and get on somebody without cussing. I was always telling the coaches that they were better than that.”

For Charlie, it was all about being as Christ-like as possible at all times. “I believe my job is to encourage instead of tear down. I always tried to get the best out of my players with an arm around their shoulders instead of a kick in the tail.”

Finally, after three decades, he decided to go in a new direction. “All throughout my coaching years, I felt God pulling at me to help in ministry. It’s not that I haven’t been ministering all along, but after my last job at Louisiana-Monroe, there was a great peace in my heart that God was going to use me to do His work and that He would put me where He wanted.”

During Charlie’s years in Louisiana, he attended First Baptist Church of West Monroe, where David Uth was the senior pastor. “After Pastor Uth came to First Orlando, he would ask me if I was interested in becoming a head coach or athletic director at the University of Central Florida or The First Academy when those positions opened. But I felt I had to honor my commitment to Louisiana-Monroe.”

When LA-Monroe didn’t renew Charlie’s contract following the ’09 season, he texted Pastor Uth and told him that he was ready to come to Orlando if there was a position for him. Eventually, that text led to Charlie being hired as First Orlando’s Hope Project Coordinator and Communications Ambassador, despite the fact that he had offers from two schools to become their offensive coordinator. “I just didn’t feel the Lord leading me back into football,” he said. “I feel that this is where God wants me.”

And though his current position — as well as that as a Promise Keepers liaison — is a work in progress, Charlie knows he is at the center of God’s will. “I’m just looking to surrender to Him in everything. My job is to do God’s will and go where He leads me.”

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