Gary's passing was not the first time I've had to say goodbye to someone special. The difference is that with Gary, I had time to prepare for it. With Dale Lloyd II, he was healthy the same day that he lost his life.
It was my first year at Rice, my first year as a college football head coach, and on this particular day I had canceled practice. We were 0-4, and I had felt like we needed to hit the reset button. Just work out and lift, I told them team, and the next day we're going to treat this as if we're 0-0 this season.
I wasn't there as they worked out, but I was soon alerted that one of our players had collapsed. We had no idea what was going on, but after we rushed Dale to the hospital, his condition gradually deteriorated. Throughout that night things continued to worsen, and the doctors were trying to call their colleagues all over the world to figure out what was going on. Nobody knew. Later on we would find out it was Sickle Cell Trait, but at the time, everybody was left guessing.
I was in the hospital room when Dale died and went to be with the Lord. That day changed me as a coach forever.
I know that he's in heaven now, because he was a kid of great faith. He was just a true freshman on that team, but I knew of Dale's belief in God. I never questioned my own faith after that happened, but I do remember questioning if I wanted to coach anymore.
The very next day, I got a big wake up call from Dale's dad. “Hey coach, get up,” he said. “You've got to coach those kids.”
I still had a whole group of kids in that program that were in crisis mode, and my attention turned towards them. We had a team chapel that night, and I don't even know how many kids got saved, but it was a lot. God's hand was there, and it was so incredible to see all those players devote their life to Christ. God didn't abandon Dale or his family...He used that experience and Dale's faith to bring others to God’s kingdom.
Our kids rallied together that season, and we won 7 of the next 8 games as we qualified for our first bowl game in 45 years.
It was a crazy turnaround. I still remember when I took that job, people were telling me that I was making a huge mistake. When I got there after the 2005 season had ended, the program was coming off a 1-10 year and had recorded one winning season since 1997. But those kids taught me a lot of things. They showed that you should never believe it when someone says you can't do something, and they also showed me that my job is about a lot more than just wins and losses. I got to see that first hand during my six years in Tempe.