Yesterday, Liberty Football Head Coach Turner Gill responded to my column entitled, “This Isn’t A Purge”. Rather than chop it up and comment throughout, we decided to publish his response in its entirety. We believe doing so is in the interest of fairness to everyone involved. As the story of departures from Liberty Football continues to develop, expect additional quotes and information from both players and coaching staff to come forward over the coming days. We expect to hear more from Coach Gill this afternoon. Below is Coach Gill’s well thought out response. I would like to thank him for taking the time to write this.
I am writing to respond to the negative blog statements concerning the Liberty Football Program, my staff and myself. Just as the blogger has expressed his opinions, this is mine.
First of all, let me commend my staff. They are the highest quality coaches in the country. I chose them not only for their outstanding coaching ability, but for their commitment to excellence, their ability to relate to young men, and their outstanding character. It is my belief that men who are interested in helping young athletes become men make the best coaches. This is our number one goal.
Second, I need to address the athletes we recruit. One of the reasons the transition to FBS is helpful to our football program is that it gives us access to more of the athletes who will be able to compete against the FBS teams. We have consistently had the hardest schedules in FCS with playing at least two FBS teams, some of them Power 5 teams, as well as playing several Top 25 and Top 10 teams in the FCS. Recruiting has become much harder the last few years. This is big business to the coaches, the players and their families. High school coaches have been sued after they provided information which keeps a young man from being recruited or given scholarships by colleges. It is very, very difficult for a recruiter to know what type of person a young man will be when he leaves his home environment and arrives on your campus. We have many things in place to try to recruit students who can abide by the Liberty Way and we sure don’t hide it. We want athletes who want to grow as men, including spiritually, academically, emotionally, mentally, and athletically. Athletes and their parents are very committed to getting scholarships and they are very receptive to what we ask of them during the recruiting process. Some of the problems encountered occur when these men, aged 17-22, are away from home for the first time of their lives, and they sometimes consider themselves out on their own. Despite assurances by them and their family that they understand the Liberty Way and are prepared to honor it, these good intentions are not always met. This is a nationwide problem at our colleges, not a Liberty University problem or an athletic team problem.
Third, let me share our coaches’ hearts for our players. There are societal problems that exist now and are coming to light in our cities, our universities, and yes, our athletics programs. It is becoming increasingly hard to get through to our young people what is expected of them as members of a society. We talk to them daily as a group, as well as individually. We bring in speakers, we give them handbooks, we try to model good behavior. Unfortunately, sometimes these messages just don’t penetrate and have the intended effect. The things coaches used to see as the exception are increasingly becoming the norm. Our players know that they can come to us with problems and that there is always an open door. I truly believe that the majority of our players are trying to become better in the areas in which they struggle. Many of these young men have been through things in their past that most of us can’t even imagine. It is one of our jobs to help them look at the present and the future and to focus on those, rather than on the past which they can’t change. I can honestly say that I love every single athlete who has ever played for me. I know that is also true for my staff members. However, with 100+ players on the team, and 100+different backgrounds, struggles, and personalities, we are regularly addressing one crisis or another while still trying to meet the needs of the other players before situations reach a crisis point. I would love to spend more time with each of the players. Unfortunately, what are already 100 hour work weeks usually don’t allow for that. Besides our doors always being open for the players, we also meet with each one individually for 15-20 minutes after the season and again after spring ball. This is a mandatory appointment they have with their position coach and the head coach. I spend every single day for a week listening to every single player tell me his concerns, his joys, and whatever he wants to discuss. He can talk about his coach, his family, his school, his roommates, his struggles, or about me. I absolutely love those weeks of the year and I wish my job allowed me more of that time.
Fourth is my response concerning off the field issues and whether the coaching staff and I are there for the players. There are always several off the field incidences at each university every year. This has been increasing in number for athletic programs nationwide, just as it has been across the board at colleges. This concerns me greatly and it weighs heavily on my heart. I have repeatedly talked to people who are higher up than I am at the university about what I need to do in order to protect the university, as well as the players. Because of my role as a surrogate father to many of these young men, it is my heart that wants to believe them when they tell me their side of a story. However, my job is to also be their coach. I am not the law and I am not a detective. I do what the school policy says I am to do. I am to send reports of sexual assault and other violations of the Title IX policy to Title IX office and allow them to take the situation from there. They are the ones who investigate each situation, they are the ones who determine when it is appropriate to contact police, and they are the people who make the decisions on consequences. It is dangerous for coaches to start interfering in that. I need to let the university conduct its investigation and make its decision without me trying to get the player’s side of the story and trying to make that decision myself. Just as I teach my players that they have to follow the rules of the university, the rules of society, and the future rules at their workplace, I have to follow the rules of protocol that the university sets out before me. If I tell them to follow the rules, but I do not do it myself, then I am doing them a disservice. When the university has to let a player go, it leaves a sadness on my heart and I will never turn down any player who wants to talk to me and ask for my help outside of football.
Fifth, I want to address the players who are leaving due to the transition to FBS or not being able to play for a championship or because they can’t abide by the rules. These players know the rules when they come to Liberty. This ultimately comes back to what I have said previously about the problems we face as a society. What we stress is stepping up to be a part of something bigger than themselves. This is what life is about. You will never have everything go your way in life. You can still accept the new challenges and be the best you can be, for the sake of the larger good. I can say that for all of the years I have been coaching, most times you can tell which players are going to succeed in life by how they handle that adversity. I have had players who have selflessly changed positions or given four years on the field without seeing much game time. I have had other players who have transferred at the first whiff of adversity. I guarantee you that there will be players who say bad things about their coaches at every school. For some, it is to validate why they aren’t playing, why they don’t get to do this or that. Ultimately it comes back to maturity and learning to accept life with all of its ups and downs. I accept that some people will have valid criticisms of me, whether as a coach or as a person. I will never please everyone. But I also know that when I hit my knees that God knows exactly the place in my heart that I am coming from. It is my intent that all of my players have a great college football experience and that they leave here having learned more about being a man. I know that I fall short, but it is not because of a lack of trying or a lack of love.
Lastly, I believe that there is no better place for a young man than a Christian university, and I believe specifically Liberty University. The university tries to support and to help its students, and just like in life, we don’t succeed in every instance. It doesn’t mean we are going to stop trying. I sent my daughter to this university, and if I had a son, I would send him to play under any member of our coaching staff. I am proud of these coaches and I am proud of these athletes. Sinners all, just like me, but trying to do all for His glory.
Head Football Coach