Auburn chaplain says ‘this could be the best thing that ever happened to you’
When Auburn meets Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl tonight in the Georgia Dome, the defensive and offensive coordinators will handle the drama on the field.
Auburn’s “spiritual coordinator” troubleshoots the drama off the field.
Williams became known as one of the hardest-working, fiery team players until his playing time got cut and he started partying. Punishment in those days was Williams running the stadium or coliseum with a concrete block strapped to his back, until he threw up, then again until he passed out.Chette (pronounced Chet) Williams grew up fierce and angry in Douglasville, and his bad-to-the-bone attitude made him an Auburn linebacker then got him kicked off the team.
Today, his gutter-to-pulpit journey complete, Williams is the team’s chaplain. He handles the heartaches on and off the field. At 44, he draws from a wealth of personal drama.
When he broke curfew as a sophomore, an assistant coach dropped by his dorm room to kick him off the team.
A desperate Williams sought comfort from God, and could think of only one person who would pray with him — teammate Kyle Collins, “a redneck country boy from Gadsden who talked too much about God.”
Collins recalled: “He was a mean, bitter, angry-looking guy. And a little scary. I was going to pray for Chette, and [other Christian teammates] said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding! … He’s a lost cause.'”
But Collins prayed, and out of that moment eventually came a new Williams — one who now prays and cares for a generation of players with attitude, family and other issues.
Williams rejoined the Tigers and became such a charismatic leader that Dye had him accept the 1983 Liberty Bowl trophy. He became ordained in 1988 after attending New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
The right armor
Today, Williams works to be the safety net for Auburn players, present and past. They are a tight, needy congregation that calls his cellphone all the time, especially this season, a rollercoaster of 8 wins and 4 losses.
“Some of the teams we lost to, I never though Auburn would lose to,” Williams said. “South Florida, Mississippi State — when have we ever lost to Mississippi State? …
“In the shock of getting beat by South Florida, you question yourself, your team, your philosophy. For us [failure] becomes an opportunity to share and look forward, and that’s how we’re looking forward to this bowl game.”
The response to hardship has shaped Auburn’s program over nine years of valleys and mountaintops.
In 1999, Auburn lost five games in a row, which Williams likened to 40 biblical days of wilderness. At a Friday night prayer meeting to ask God about anything except football, problems, secrets and tears started pouring out, Williams recalls in his book:
“A position coach told the team about his daughter’s severe illness. A player said his parents were struggling to hold their marriage together. Another player’s little brother had become caught up in drugs. An injured player feared he might never again enjoy the love of the game; that was as close as we got to actually praying for football.”
In those revelations, trust began to form.
At another prayer meeting in 2004, “Hard Fighting Soldier” debuted as an unexpected musical accompaniment to Williams’ talk about competition as a form of spiritual warfare. Roman soldiers, Williams said, wore armor that hooked them to one another, and if one was wounded, the others would carry him.
The team copied that in their own way by running onto the field with their elbows interlocked with each other. Auburn finished undefeated. Tuberville was voted Coach of the Year.
Williams “has made the biggest difference in my life, our coaches’ lives, our families’ lives and our players’ lives than anything I have ever seen,” Tuberville said in accepting the award from the American Football Coaches Association.
More often, Williams works in the shadows, praying with an injured player, or reaching out to another whose behavior got him booted off the team.
He knows how football seems like that young man’s whole world at the time.
But he believes in something far greater.
“I let them know it’s not the end,” he said. “Look at my life. This could be the best thing that ever happened to you.”