A letter to Coach Dave Bliss, my ragamuffin friend

Coach Dave Bliss,

I’m not sure when I started calling you “Coach.” It just kind of happened. I suppose it’s fitting since that’s what you are—from your assistant coaching days under Bob Knight at West Point and Indiana; to your head coaching days at Oklahoma, SMU, New Mexico and Baylor; and even now as the athletic director at Allen Academy in Bryan, Texas.

You’re a coach. And you have 500 NCAA victories to prove it.

But I also think I started calling you “Coach” because of how you’ve coached me. As I reflect on my week-long visit with you in Texas in October, I find it remarkable how a 70-year-old man and a 25-year-old kid can connect so well. You’re old enough to be my grandfather, but I feel like we were in the same fraternity. I suppose that’s the way it should be in the body of Christ.

I wanted to write you a letter because I know how much you like letters. As we spent hours sifting through boxes upon boxes of 36 years worth of your dust-covered coaching memories, I saw plenty of letters. Many were written to you after the scandal unfolded at Baylor in 2003 and the NCAA slapped you with a 10-year coaching ban, one of the harshest penalties in college basketball history.

I believe you saved the letters because of how much they meant to you. They breathed life into you. They kept you afloat when your career and everything you had built in three respected decades of coaching came tumbling down. You were broken over your sin—how you illegally paid for two scholarships out of your own pocket and an unrelated murder between two of your players brought your deception to the surface—and you fled from Waco, Texas, to Denver, Colo., trying to escape from all you had done.

Each letter of encouragement you received in Denver, whether it was from Baylor president Robert Sloan or Bob Knight’s ghostwriter Bob Hammel, was much more than a letter. It was a droplet of grace, a sealed, stamped envelope with a reminder of God’s love inside.