Heart of a Lion

Coach Corey Edmond helps athletes develop strength and faith.

The Bible study was to begin at 7 p.m. Victor Yates, former defensive back for the University of Arizona’s football team, had agreed to go with some friends—interested that the meeting was at “Coach Ed’s” house.

Desert landscape blurred as the car moved north of Tucson toward the Catalina Mountains. Then, Victor looked at his watch. It was 7:30 p.m.

“Dog! Do not take me to Coach Ed’s house,” he exclaimed to his friends. “Take me back home, for real!”

Victor remembered being five minutes late to a training session, and Coach Ed made him work out on the Stairmaster® set to level eight. Being late to Coach’s house, Victor thought, This dude is fittin’ to kill us!

As his friends knocked on the door, Victor stood behind all of them. Suddenly, the door flew open. A big smile greeted them. “Man, I thought you all was never gonna make it!” Coach Ed exclaimed. Victor had rarely seen Coach smile before. “I was thinking, Whhhaaat?! Who IS this dude?” he says.

Once Victor hesitantly stepped inside, he began to learn more about this man who had surprised many others with his unusual combination of faith and toughness.

For 20 years, Coach Corey Edmond—Coach Ed to the players—has trained athletes to be better performers. The 43-year-old former NFL player served as the director of performance enhancement for athletes at the University of Arizona. Yet as a Christian, he also cares deeply about a person’s spiritual side. Coach Ed approaches matters of faith with the same gusto and boldness as he does training athletes.

At 6:19 on a Monday morning, the sound of thumping bass envelops the university’s strength and conditioning center. Wearing black from head to toe, Coach Ed stands with arms folded across his chest near a set of free weights. His eyes are set on the door. Freshman football workouts begin at 6:30 a.m. If they don’t arrive by 6:20 a.m., Coach Ed considers them late. Clapping his hands together three or four times, he yells, “Let’s go, babies,” in an affectionate rather than condescending tone. “Let’s have a good day!”

After Coach Ed arrived at Arizona nine years ago, he met Doug Gotcher, a chaplain with Athletes in Action, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. Nationally, AIA has many individuals like Coach Ed who volunteer or become partners with the ministry. “Corey knows what we do and is supportive,” Doug says, “but doesn’t want to be labeled as an AIA guy. His role is different than mine. His influence is different.”

Doug and Coach Ed meet every Tuesday morning to touch base and see which guys Doug and the other AIA staff members need to pursue more intentionally. Using Coach’s Thursday night Bible study as a connection point, AIA staff members encourage individual athletes throughout the semester to consider Christ or take their faith more seriously.

Despite this partnership, Coach Ed remains strict in the gym. “He’s probably kicked me out of the weight room three or four times,” Doug says. Once, Doug was asking an athlete about his schedule in the middle of a workout. Coach commanded him, “Get out of the weight room.” Later, Coach Ed explained, “Look, these guys are in here to work out; you can’t come in distracting them. I know you’re talking about good stuff, but this isn’t the time and place.”

When it is time, Coach Ed takes issues of faith just as seriously. It doesn’t make sense to him that someone would give his or her life to Christ and not live it. He believes if you say you’re going to do it, you do it. When guys ask to meet with him concerning their spiritual life, he says, “I can’t, until you stop sleeping with that girl or move out of your girlfriend’s apartment. Until you start making different decisions, I can’t waste my time with you.”

He’s not afraid to talk about a person’s sin and sounds harsh to those accustomed to a more sensitive approach. He explains, “Me and Doug both love these kids; we just do it very differently.”

Doug agrees that he might be a little nicer to the athletes than Coach Ed, but it’s only because the coach takes faith so seriously. “I’ve been at this for 20 years, around hundreds of coaches in all different sports, and I’ve never met a man—even in our ministry—who lives it like Corey lives it,” says Doug.

Coach Ed’s Thursday night Bible study began five years ago with just a few guys. Now, there are more than 15 people attending. Coach Ed leads verse by verse, explaining each passage in depth.

Students know that Coach Ed and his wife, Laurie, are an open book. Laurie works with the athletic department, coaching student athletes with learning challenges. “If you don’t want to know, don’t ask,” she says, “but if you want to know, we’re gonna tell you.” They talk about abortion, sex and raising children. No subject is off limits. “Some of these kids think because they’re grown, they don’t need help,” says Laurie. “They won’t talk to their parents, but they’ll talk to us. God has placed us here for a reason.”

During his first year at Arizona, football linebacker Donald “Dirty D” Horton wanted to experience partying, drinking and meeting girls. It didn’t satisfy, and he was conflicted. “Something felt right about going to Coach Ed,” he says. “I knew I could talk to him.” After that, they met weekly before games to talk about life and God. “He helped me learn to open up and be real,” Dirty D explains. “That was always difficult for me. Coach Ed helped me learn some people are safe. His eye is always on me, looking out for me, caring for me.”

“These guys think being a Christian means you have to be limp,” Coach Ed says, nodding to the practicing football team, “but you can be a lion.”

For eight years Doug waited, assuming there would be a day when Coach Ed lost it, went crazy or cussed at the guys—but he never did. “He’s steady. He’s the same every day,” Doug says. “You know what you’re going to get when you talk to him.”

About four years ago at summer camp, an incoming freshman collapsed and died. Coach Ed was in charge of the workout. He was there when the student’s heart failed from an unknown condition. Doug thought for sure it would rock Coach’s world. “He was connected to what happened, felt horrible and ministered to the kid’s family, but his relationship with God remained strong,” says Doug. Coach Ed believes God is in control. God is the giver and taker of life. “It’s out of my control,” Coach Ed says.

“We’re here one day, and we’re gone the next,” he emphasizes. “We don’t have the luxury of waiting.”

And so he takes a tough stance in matters of work and faith. “I love my job,” says Coach Ed. “But the part that really disturbs me is that this isn’t about volleyball, football or baseball. This is about lost men and women who may perish if they never hear the truth about God. I look at these kids as lost souls who have a decision to make about God, their ultimate judge. That’s heavy. That’s serious.”

Dirty D agrees. “[Coach Ed] doesn’t say things to make you angry; he says it to get you to think,” Dirty D explains. “Then, he pulls you close and says, ‘Let’s work on this.’ He’s coaching you as an individual, a person, someone who might love the Lord.”

For Coach Ed, that’s worth taking seriously.

You can contact the writer at amber.kinneer@ccci.org.


Action Point:
>Coach Ed is serious about his faith, to the point of not caring about what anyone else things. How are opinions of others holding you back? Take some time to pray and ask God to reveal barriers in your life.