SNU Football Coach Building On and Off the Field

Up Close and Personal Interview with Coach Andy Lambert    

Did you have a good summer with your family?        

Yes, I did. I love what I do, but when I get a chance to get away, and when my family and I leave, I unplug - leave my messages to my great staff and enjoy my vacation time.

As the years go on, I am learning to take every day as it comes and enjoy the Lord blessings.

Your reputation as a coach is that you are talented at rebuilding programs. Is that a fair assessment?

In my first job, we won four games at Trinity my first year, and I could tell that the program was morphing. We went on to excel and win the conference in my seventh season there, reaching 19th in the country, with great school spirit, culture, great numbers and a team that was a vibrant part of the community. Soon after, my wife and I made a conscience decision to move to Sterling, Kansas – purposively taking a position where I knew there had been a disaster in years past.

I was at Sterling twelve seasons, where there was a great football culture since 1895. The first football game under lights west of the Mississippi was played at Sterling. The only thing they didn’t have was a winning program, so when we finally won nine games in 2013, something was accomplished that they hadn’t seen in 130 years. So I purposively knew that things were on their way, the time was right, and soon after that, started communicating with Southern Nazarene, who could see a fit for my success and their past.

So, I wouldn’t say that it is talent. I’d say that it is what I’ve done. Because of that, people have been very supportive of this providential part of my career. I’ve been very fortunate in both of my previous positions to be the right guy, at the right time; with the right people surrounding me. There must be a combination of efforts, and I can only hope that what happened in Trinity and Sterling can happen here at SNU as well.

Seeing the SNU program up – close and personal, what is your opinion?

My past schools have not had near the facilities and capital that SNU does. It is obvious at first glance that it is a much nicer place and that there have been resources spent in the past to make it a top-notch program. It certainly makes it a pleasure to recruit to SNU. Obviously, looking at the teams on our schedule indicates that we have a way to go in scholarships offered, but I totally believe that there is a real niche for SNU nationally as it goes forward in the next decade.

Speaking of recruiting, how did recruiting go for you and your staff this first season?

The whole Texas I-35 corridor is rich and vibrant with Bible-belt believing, qualified Division II players, who are involved in church life and who are perfect for us. In fact, going all the way through Oklahoma and north to Wichita, there is more potential that we could ever interview who fit our filter. We talked to so many legitimate Christian families that are raising their sons in a football culture. We worked strongly in Houston and Dallas.

With online recruiting services now available, I have over 2,000 names of freshman to seniors that are being heavily promoted to Division II schools. We have already had over 200 juniors on the SNU campus this spring looking at our program, so we are well ahead of the game from where we were last year. Legally there is a three-week window during the year when we can go and talk to their coaches. Then these same juniors can choose to come to our football camps that we hold as well.

Retention of our football players is the key. It unlocks everything that we want to do socially, academically, spiritually, mentoring and in discipleship. Success for our football program here at SNU will rest solely on our ability to retain our players. This process starts on the front end – with recruiting.

Tell me about the new class coming into SNU?

We currently have 62 new players – 10 of which are transfers, coming in the fall. We will field 120 total players. Out of that number, there are only 40 scholarship players. The potential at SNU is probably well beyond what anyone would anticipate.

As we recruit year after year the type of Christian young men that SNU is looking for, there becomes a tipping point where the university as a whole starts experiencing that Christ-like momentum. That is what we are starting here, and it is amazing to think about the future impact that they could have.

Looking at our depth chart, we have 30 new players on offense and 30 new players on defense. Overall, we were looking for speed vs. size. The core of our team this year will be on the offensive line and I am extremely pleased with what I’ve seen so far of their speed, agility and overall abilities.

What distinguishes your recruiting style?

With every recruit, we go through the SNU Lifestyle Covenant, how hard it’s going to be to win here and how willing they are to be part of a long-term process. We give them plenty of chances to opt-out – parents included. Some of our key questions to high school coaches are: is he involved in Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), has he been involved in a mission trip, and do you know if their family is active in a local church.

I don’t expect us to find 100% that are strong Christians, however we attempt to recruit constantly with that criteria.

Tell me about this year’s team.

From a pure football ability standpoint, I believe our offensive line is a proven, legitimate Division II unit. These guys are ready to play Division II football. The average guy in the stands will be able to see the talent from these 7 or 8 players. Unfortunately, we don’t have a proven group of legitimate Division II players at the other positions yet – but we’re working on it.

We have two returning quarterbacks, plus four scholarship recruits and three walk-on quarterbacks. Locally, we picked up a great player from Putnam City North, two players from Bethany High School and an excellent player from Bishop McGuinness High here in Oklahoma City. One of best picks is a player from Waxahachie that was offered full ride scholarships from the service academies.

Our offense will be spread – option. It will be fast operating and will see the quarterback running a lot. All of our quarterback recruits know that they will have to be fast, versatile and must think like a running back. Games are won with a great quarterback.

 A big part of your job is trying to rebuild a culture of fan support. How is that done?

We believe in our team. We believe in how they have prepared for every game. To the fans that would rather go to watch OU on a Saturday instead of SNU, God bless them. I feel very strongly that at the least the faculty and staff that spend all week with these players on campus, should come out and support our team. It starts there. I am excited about what we’ve got to offer this season and can only hope that the community and student body will support us as we try and represent the university.

Our job is to make that decision a very tough one. It starts and ends with the product that is delivered on the field. A product that they are encouraged by and blessed by, not just on a Saturday, but in the classroom, in chapel, and in the cafeteria will determine the fan interest. Win or lose; we have to get better every week and prove to everyone that we are a different group than what they might expect. That is the process that we are committed to, no matter how long that takes.

What’s your goal at SNU?

I believe that I have been called to a task here and as long as I can look into my heart and hopefully deal with everyone in kindness, gratitude and forgiveness then no matter what I might ask, people will hopefully respond to me in the same way. All the SNU departments have just been fantastic to work with in the player recruitment process, from Admissions to Financial Aid to player academic success.

Coming from two schools that had far more financial problems than SNU ever thought about, let me be clear that money is not the issue here. We have enough money here to do what want to do. The character that I can put on the field trumps any financial need that we might have. It is the synergy of common purpose among a group of 120 football students that has an opportunity to impact a campus.

I’m already proud of our players in how they are responding. We have five players that are Resident Advisors this year. That speaks to leadership and having what it takes to impact the campus. My goal is to turn the success of this team off the field before it turns on the field. This is my track record from my previous two schools for which I am the proudest.

Interviewer’s Note:

In the sea of potential coaching choices, Bobby Martin and the SNU administration should be commended for finding such a laid-back, quality, man of God, as is witnessed in Coach Andy Lambert. It is a fact that win or lose, his dynamic style of coaching and his impressive emphasis on developing young men of character is what will dramatically change this university.