Cover Story, October 2018

Memories of Family and Faith with Coach Dale Brown, Cover Story

memories of family and faith

by dale brown

Dale Brown was the men’s head basketball coach at Louisiana State University from 1972 to 1997. During his 25 years at LSU, the Tigers won 448 games, appeared in 13 NCAA Tournaments, and earned Final Four appearances in 1981 and 1986.

Two days before I was born, my so-called father—I’ve always referred to him as “my mother’s husband”—left my mother, two young sisters, eleven and twelve years of age, and me, and he never returned. His departure put my mother in a difficult position. She had an eighth-grade education, came off the farm in North Dakota, and couldn’t get a job during the Great Depression in 1935. She became a maid and baby-sitter to earn money, and she had to put our family on welfare.  We lived in a one-room apartment above a bar and hardware store, and I remember my mother getting $42.50 monthly from Ward County welfare.

Two times during this difficult period, my mother taught me a lesson that has stayed with me during my entire life. I saw my mother put on her winter coat, walk down a flight of stairs, and take back to the Red Owl and the Piggly Wiggly grocery stores 25 cents and 40 cents, because the clerks had given her too much change for the groceries she’d brought home. Her actions remind me of a poem by Edgar Guest. 

I’d rather see a lesson than hear one any day 
I’d rather you walk with me than to merely show the way
The eye is a better teacher, and more willing than the ear  
And counsel is confusing but example’s always clear 
The best of all the teachers are the ones who live the creed 
To see good put into action is what everybody needs 
I soon can learn to do it if you let me see it done
I can see your hand in action, but your tongue too fast may run 
And the counsel you are giving may be very fine and true

But I’d rather get my lessons by observing what you do. 

My mother always followed the advice of St. Francis of Assisi when he said, “Preach the gospel every day, and if necessary use words.” I saw other lessons in the life of my wonderful mother. Not once, after being abandoned, did I hear my mother talk negatively about the man who had walked out on us and never returned, never sent any money, never wrote. She never, drank, smoked, or used profanity. She was never bitter, angry, or ever complained about her situation in life. I learned from her that if you are looking for a helping hand, look at the end of your own arm. 

My mother’s faith was unbelievable.  She brought me to Mass and Communion daily — not just Sunday, but daily. For me, the daily trip to church was a ritual. To my numerous fake illnesses and attempts to avoid going, my mom’s response was always, “Get up, Son. We’re going to Mass and Communion.” I never slept in a bed the first 21 years of my life but the spirit that grew in that little one-room apartment we lived in, uncomfortable and cramped though it was, made it attractive and peaceful. I was blessed. 

Being a small place, the apartment never provided any place for me to get away on my own. So at night, I often went to sit above the alley on the fire escape. One night, the faith my mother instilled in me deepened when I came back in from sitting out there. My mom asked me to sit in her little rocker.

She pulled up the footstool and said, “Son, I notice you go outside at night a lot. What do you think about when you’re out there? I said, “Mama, I think of two things. I think of travel.” (We didn’t own a car, a bicycle, or any other form of transportation.) “I think of climbing mountains.” (North Dakota is a very flat state, flatter than the top of a table.) That dream came true — I have been in 90 countries and climbed the Matterhorn.  

My mother hesitated just a moment and then said, “You know Son, I’m embarrassed to tell you this, but I need to teach you a lesson. You know when these people come to pick me up to go baby-sit? I’m so embarrassed. There’s no husband in our house. We live in this little one-room apartment. I’ve just got an eighth-grade education. My clothes smell of mothballs.” (She bought her clothes at rummage sales.)

“So I’m so worried about my image when these big shots come to pick me up. I look up big words in the dictionary, and then all the way to their house, I inject these words into conversation to try to impress them. That’s called making an image. When you sit out there on the fire escape at night, it’s just you and God, that’s your true character. And Son, if you spend too much time polishing your image, you’ll eventually tarnish your character and be an unhappy man.”

That night, my mom taught me that being my true self was far more important than trying to impress people or pretend to be someone I was not.  Your character is who you really are and your image is what you are perceived to be.

The Church’s Effect on Me  
No matter how financially tight things got, Mom always scraped together enough money for me to attend Catholic school. I learned a great deal over the course of the 12 years I attended a Catholic school. I learned that rules were important. I learned we all are on this earth to help each other. 

Two particular lessons stand out in my mind. One morning, I was standing with two friends by the radiators in the hall at school, warming up. We had religion class before school every day at 8 a.m., and we were out there before class, talking about the things kids talk about. One of the guys said, “Yeah, the Salvation Army, isn’t that funny what they do? You know, they’re outside ringing the bell, and they’ve got that little pot.” Not really making fun of the Salvation Army, but sort of jesting, like kids do.

Well, the bell rang, so we went to religion class. Our religion teacher was Father Hogan. He called on the three of us who had been talking in the hall and asked us to stand up. He said, “You know, I heard you three boys out there talking about the Salvation Army. I wonder, do any of you guys know the motto of the Salvation Army?” 

We each responded, “No, Father.” 

Father Hogan continued, “Well, let me tell you what it is. It’s to love those who aren’t loved by anyone else. The next time you good Catholics are going to make fun of something, remember that.” To this day, that lesson about compassion and sensitivity has stayed with me. Every year at Christmas, when I’m shopping with my wife or daughter and we encounter a Salvation Army volunteer with a red kettle and a ringing bell, I walk over and put money in the pot. I also share with that volunteer what that wonderful priest taught me. 

Father Hogan taught me a second lesson on the importance of being prompt. There are rules — and they are not meant to be bent, twisted, manipulated, or bartered with. The moment I learned this lesson is vivid in my mind. The sports teams at our tiny Catholic school played the biggest schools in the state. I thought I was a big shot athlete. I was the leading scorer in the history of North Dakota High School basketball. I broke the school record in the 440, and was a star on the football team. I thought I was something! Getting a little full of myself, I felt some of the rules didn’t necessarily apply to me.   

Every Monday afternoon by 1 p.m., we had to turn in an eligibility slip to play sports that week. One Monday afternoon, I took my eligibility slip down to the office and laid it on the desk of our principal, Father Hogan. Holding my eligibility slip in one hand, he looked over the top of his horn-rimmed glasses at the clock on the wall. “Dale,” he said, “what time does that clock on my wall say?”  

I had no idea where he was headed, so I said, “One-fifteen.” 

He held my eligibility slip in front of my face and he said, “What time was this due?” 

I said, “One o’clock.” 

“Ah-hah, that’s good you can tell time. And you knew when it was due in my office.” He started ripping my eligibility slip into small pieces, then deposited the pieces in the wastebasket and said, “Now get back up in your classroom and start learning promptness. This slip was due at one o’clock. You’re not going on the road trip this week.” I thought he must be joking. After all, I was the superstar. Well, guess who didn’t go on the road trip?  

Stay tuned for more next month, Getting Over the Four Hurdles of Life, with Coach Dale Brown. 

The long relationship between former LSU coach Dale Brown and former Tigers Star Shaquille O’Neal is one of Browns fondest memories as a coach
Dale Brown had a winning season his first year at LSU, and achieved success for the LSU men’s basketball team for the next 25 years

True Leadership Brings People Together 

If there was ever a moment in our history when leadership was needed, it is now. With all the greed, dishonesty, selfishness, evil, and bad things going on in the world, we need good leaders. A common quality of great leaders through the ages has been their mastery at articulating a vision of the future. They see something that is not yet there and can relay the image to others. In any leadership position, the most important aspect of the job is getting everyone to work together. 

However, working together is only a beginning. The world needs leaders who find their strength in faith and character. Exceptional leaders will get their team members to feel they’re an integral part of a common goal. How is this done? This may sound odd, but the underlying theme of teamwork is our ability to convey a renewed sense of optimism. Teamwork doesn’t just happen – it takes a captain to steer it in the right direction. The role of the captain – whether it’s a coach, teacher, father, mother, or whomever – is to give the ship direction, purpose, and ultimately success. 

“The role of most leaders is to get the people to think more of the leader. But the role of the exceptional leader is to get the people to think more of themselves.” — Booker T Washington 

We need to make a difference, but we can do it only through the grace of God. I am convinced that we are capable of solving any problem, whether it’s race, crime, poverty, terrorism, pollution, drugs, or whatever plagues humanity. 

You, with God’s help, are responsible for your future. You’re really free the moment you don’t look outside yourself for someone else to solve your problems. You will know that you’re free when you no longer blame anyone or anything, but realize you control your destiny and are capable of changing the world. People can be divided into three groups: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened. We’ve got to decide which group we will be in. 

The most important thing to God is our relationships with one another. He made us in such a way that everybody needs somebody. And God’s idea for success is a community, a group of people who are committed to each other and who strive to follow his will. Humans have not advanced a centimeter in the history of the world if we are still fighting, hating, killing, and cheating. 

The only notable advancement humans have ever made is becoming brothers and sisters who labor toward a common goal. You see, the best potential of “me” is “we.” So the question in our life journey is not whether God can bring peace, love and happiness in the world. 

The question is, can we?

Cover Story, March 2016

Nikki Caldwell Fargas: Called to Coaching

by Krista Bordelon

caldwellnikki1“There is an obligation that, as a woman, we just carry a lot more than men will ever imagine. But we have a gift to give, and as long as I’ve got life to live in this body it is going to be a life of service to others.”

One of the hardest struggles with faith for many is balance. The busyness of daily life, our families, our careers, even our ministries, take up most of our time leaving few hours to focus on our personal walk with Christ. So, how does Nikki (Caldwell) Fargas balance her prestigious career as head coach for the Lady Tigers basketball program, her role as a wife to her husband, Justin, and mom to their daughter, Justice, and her faith?

Nikki was raised in a small town in Oak Ridge, Tenn., by a single mother. Church was not just a “Sunday occurrence” for her family. Five generations of her family had attended Spurgeon Chapel.

“When you grow up and your great-grandmother was exposed to so much, your faith is very strong because of so much that they had to endure. As a minority that’s what you kind of fell back on to get you through the day,” Nikki says. “It was your faith and belief that there is a purpose and a plan. It strengthens the foundation of your family when it starts way back with your great grandparents. You knew on Sundays exactly what you were going to do, where you were going to be, what you were going to wear, and you had to participate. I can’t sing a lick, but I was in the choir.”

She describes church as an understood aspect of her life just like sports. “I had choir practice just like I had basketball practice. I had to go to church on Sunday, the same as I was expected to practice my free throws. It was a part of us. It was something we shared as a family, and that is the part I regard the most: the foundation instilled in me from such a young age.”

With her career she has definitely had to get more creative. They have a weekly Bible study with her staff, and having her daughter enrolled at Parkview Baptist gives her the opportunity to talk about Christ even at the tender age of 3 because of the papers sent home from the school. “I love that we get to go through readings together, they make it so easy. It’s been so good to be able to have that interaction with her. They’ve [children] got to see you because they remember a lot of it.”

FargasNikki4976As far as faith and coaching Nikki says, “You know when you know your calling? This is my calling. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. When I wasn’t doing coaching I just felt this overwhelming need to do more. I’ve been very blessed to have that round little ball in my life to allow me to have the opportunities I’ve had.”

“Basketball is a vessel to reach our young kids. To me, when you find what you are supposed to do in this life it’s not work, it is very easy. It’s very easy to juggle all these different hats because that’s what I’m supposed to do. It’s a lifestyle I live and He has allowed me to use all my teachings and all my experiences, good and bad, to help guide these ladies to make good decision and prepare them for life after basketball. I can let them know they are beautiful inside and out. That we just happen to be women who play basketball, but being a woman isn’t an easy thing and I can help them with that.”

“I’m just a little bridge. I get these girls for four years, and I want to make sure I send them out prepared.” Nikki does this by modeling for her girls exactly how she expects them to be treated and treat others. She holds them accountable as great ambassadors for the university and puts them in a position where they know to serve the community.

2015-2016, , ,“Community service is the biggest team bonding experience you could ever do.” She’s also a proponent on making sure they are grateful by exposing them to many different cultures and to see how others are living so they can be thankful for what they do have. In fact, Nikki has built a team of women from around the world. Five separate countries are represented on the team, including: Japan, Denmark, England, Australia, and the U.S. “We are probably one of the most diverse teams in women’s basketball. It’s very neat to bring these women from around the world and make a team and make a family out of them.”

Nikki views wins and losses as the superficial measurement of her career. “Wins and losses are not my judgment. My judgment is so much more than that. We are children of the Lord.” Nikki says her goal as a coach is to leave a lasting impact on these children so that they can in turn reach out and impact others.

“What you do in the dark will come to the light, so we need to make sure we are not in the dark places. I want to make sure I’m keeping our kids alive. I want to ask them every day, ‘What are you filling your tank with, where is your self-worth being held at?’ And just like I tell them, it’s not just do you have their back, but how do you have their back? We have to get into their world; we just have got to take that time to get into their world.”

“Even if I’m not necessarily talking about God, everything comes from a faith-based place to expose it. It could be spoken, or the power of touch or just listening. They know, and need to know, we will be there for them all the time,” she says. “Through perseverance you test your faith, and I really hope they know at the end of the day you’ve got to be able to lay your head down at night and feel good about what you did today. At the end of the day can you say, not from me and the assistant coaches, but you say, ‘Job well done,’ and pat yourself on the back? That’s what I want them to leave with from LSU.”

IMG_5798Nikki says her inspiration for balancing her own family came from seeing how coach Pat Summit balanced hers when she had Tyler, Nikki’s freshman year. “The good thing is my husband is retired, so we can travel as a family, and my mom took on the responsibility as ‘granny-nanny.’ If you said to me, ‘What would you like your set-up to be?’ I have a good foundation at home. I’m able to go out and do the work I’m doing knowing that home is safe.”

She says she has many coaches reach out and ask how she does it because it is not easy, and many have not been as fortunate as she has been when it comes to having the support and ability that she has had with her family. When asked how parenting has impacted her coaching, Nikki didn’t hesitate to say, “patience.”

“I don’t take for granted that that is someone’s child. I’m hopeful that I’m teaching them the way I would teach Justice. It also gives me perspective and she [Justice] brings everything back to reality.” As far as what she, as a leader, desires to see more of in leadership she says, “Be the person that shares your walk because it doesn’t get more truthful than that. If you’re not comfortable being vulnerable you cannot lead. I, personally, am not sure I’m going to be able to follow someone who hasn’t been there.”

Beyond that, Nikki says it is all about truly getting to know people beyond the surface, and finding a common denominator between you and that person. You have to be in tune with those you are leading and not always wait for them to come to you, but know when to go to them. “It all goes back to being vulnerable. I’m a basketball coach, but that’s not who I am. I have to share that with others. We’re all human here. I can’t be anything other than Nikki.”

“When you are struggling, and I’ve done this, get in your closet and have your good old-fashioned come to Jesus meeting. Just me and you [Jesus], stripping yourself bare, saying I need your help, and then getting yourself there. I’m doing what He wants me to do. I ask Him to guide me and He has not steered me wrong,” she says. “I’m talking about what college to attend and when to go or not go into coaching, everything I have placed on Him. This is the conversation [with God] I have to have because I am responsible for so many more lives than just my own. It’s things that won’t show up on a box score, that will never be printed on the front page of a sports column, that will never be tweeted, or retweeted, or liked, or commented on, those are the things we need to get at.”

Family Life, October 2015

Q&A with Coach Dale Brown

by Beth Townsend & Dale Brown

CoachDaleBrown-2As you look back on your career as the winningest coach in LSU basketball history, what is your fondest memory of your Hall of Fame career? What was your most difficult hurdle?  

My fondest memory was watching youngsters become men and fully understand that the best potential of me, is we. There is only one way to get anybody to do anything and that is by making the other person want to do it. Manipulation is negative and builds nothing but barriers and distrust. Persuasion builds relationships and from that comes trust and success. People do not care how much you know, until they know how much you really care.

How were you able to develop relationships with young men so that you were able to influence in a way that 70 percent of your players graduated from the university? 

85 percent of our players that attended LSU for four years graduated and 70% of all of our players have a college degree. No one in my family had a college degree; my mother only finished the 8th grade and the only source of employment for her during the depression of 1935 was to be a babysitter and clean others homes. Living in poverty growing up was a stimulant to seek something better. I also stressed to all of our players a profound statement by Martin Luther King, “Man will only be free when he reaches down in the inner depths of his own being and signs his own emancipation proclamation and education is one way to do that.” I have always felt the best path to a better future is through education. I felt the embarrassment of being on welfare growing up and was determined that I wanted to never experience that again.

One of my passions is others finding their “purpose.”  Did God create you to be a coach…create you for that purpose? How did you discover this purpose? How do you advise others to discover that one thing about which they can be passionate in their life? 

I wanted to be an FBI agent but attended a small Teachers College in North Dakota and decided to be a teacher and coach. After a taste of coaching I was determined that it would be my vocation. My advice to those pondering a career is to do what gives you the greatest joy and fulfillment and not what gives you the most money or fame.

One of the most influential books that I’ve read is the Power of Positive Thinking by the late Reverend Norman Vincent Peale. I know that you had the chance to know him personally. How did the Power of Positive Thinking influence you most profoundly?

Growing up I had an inferiority complex because my father abandoned us two days before I was born and never returned or ever supported us in any manner. Being poor and living in a tiny apartment added to the embarrassment. However, a magnificent mother and ex-coach at the high school I attended gave me the support and confidence I needed to succeed. Athletics gave me the first good self-image I had of myself and I am eternally grateful. Norman Vincent Peale’s book, The Power Of Positive Thinking was another great stimulant for me to believe in myself and that anything is possible with hard work and the right attitude.

Since Dr. Peale was a pastor and his “self help” book was rooted in scripture, reading a blog by Richard Simmons III that you posted on your website, led me wonder if today the “self help” industry attempts to convince people that there is no room for God. In your mind what is God’s place in motivation?   

Even though I am still a work in progress God has always been my guiding light and I could not get through one day without him. My mentor of 40 years, Coach John Wooden, was a true beacon light of God.

One of your mentors was the late Coach John Wooden. I had the pleasure of meeting him at a Christian publisher’s conference a number years ago. What single characteristic about Coach Wooden meant the most to you in your personal development?

Coach Wooden was by far the most successful college basketball coach in history and was the paramount example of a servant leader. He was kind, caring, highly intelligent, vibrant, strong-willed, principled, humble and true man of God. Edgar Guest described him perfectly in his poem when he said, “I’d rather see a lesson than to hear one any day.” He did not preach; he lived the principles taught by Jesus.

You are known as a master motivator. What are the key components to being self-motived? 

The key components to being self motivated are knowing God never makes any junk, and to propel your dream forward you must have intuition, imagination, determination, perseverance, and faith. The only thing more powerful than fear is faith. It is easy to come up with a litany of excuses and that will only lead you to failure. Being a human being is so complicated that nobody can live their lives without mistakes and failures but if you do your best and never give up, you will be rewarded and your dreams will come true.

We live in a world where hostility towards each other manifests itself everywhere and seemingly all the time. Today your talks and writings go far beyond Coach Dale Brown and more to Humanitarian Dale Brown. What does God call us to do to erase these hostilities and work harmoniously?

Communities and nations will only be transformed when mankind returns to God for guidance. The world will only function properly when we show true love, respect, and tolerance to one another. Nobody makes a grater mistake than those who did nothing because they thought they could only do a little. Gandhi’s most profound statement is so very true, “We must be the change we wish to see.” All through history whenever evil and good compromised, evil always won. There can be no compromise with evil.