Summer 2024

'Deep man of faith' Trent Dilfer relying on God's guidance as he takes over UAB football

The way new University of Alabama at Birmingham football coach Trent Dilfer tells it, the story of how he got into coaching begins at a church. It was October 2018.

“I’m at church one day,” Dilfer told CBS Sports in a recent interview, “and I don’t want to bang you over the head with the Bible, but I audibly hear the voice of God say, ‘Quit saying no to Me.’ And I am rocked.”

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After the service ended that day, Dilfer sat there trying to process what had happened. He had found plenty of success after retiring from a 13-year NFL career — working at ESPN for nine years and helping train the country’s top quarterback prospects at the annual Elite 11 camp. Life was good. However, he was sure God was trying to tell him something.

“I’m a deep man of faith,” he told CBS Sports. “I do believe the Holy Spirit lives within us and communicates with us. … It was like a murmur in my ear on my right shoulder. And my whole body tingled. I was in a little church in Austin [Texas]. I actually stayed after [the service]. I was quiet, saying, ‘What just happened to me?'”

Through conversations with his wife and daughters, Dilfer realized he missed being challenged. That led to the former Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion to become the head football coach at Lipscomb Academy, a private Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee.

Dilfer told CBS Sports that when he arrived at Lipscomb, the team consisted of 36 players. Six of them were lifting with PVC pipes. He had found exactly what he was looking for.

“I love things that are super hard,” Dilfer told The Athletic in another recent interview. “Those are my two core values: Do hard things and be uncomfortable.”

Lipscomb went 7-6 in Dilfer’s first season in 2019, but lost only four games total from 2020-22, winning back-to-back D2-AA state championships. Dilfer’s success at Lipscomb and NFL background caught the attention of some college programs, including his alma mater, Fresno State. He was announced as the seventh head coach in UAB history on Nov. 30.

Dilfer takes over for Bill Clark, who resigned due to health issues and led the Blazers to two Conference USA championships. Dilfer’s task is not to rebuild the program as much as it is to elevate it with the school officially joining the American Athletic Conference on July 1. UAB will face defending national-champion Georgia in addition to a conference schedule that includes last season’s Cotton Bowl winner (Tulane) and Conference USA winner (University of Texas-San Antonio).

Speaking on the Sports Spectrum Podcast in 2019 shortly after accepting the job at Lipscomb, Dilfer explained how God led him to the school and discussed the responsibility he has as a leader of young men.

“I feel an incredible burden to make sure that I’m being changed daily, I’m being renewed daily, I’m being laser-like focused on allowing God to make sure I’m saying the right stuff,” he said on the podcast.

That challenge is similar to one he’s long felt as a father.

“I want to raise kids that are blessings from God. That’s the bottom line,” Dilfer said in the November 1998 edition of Sports Spectrum Magazine. “That’s our goal as parents — to raise children who are blessings to God, who know Him personally, and who serve Him diligently throughout their life. The biggest people I want to be a witness to in my life are my kids. When they’re asked about their dad they can say, ‘Oh yeah, he played in the NFL,’ but I want them to say first, ‘He loves Jesus.’ That’s a great, great challenge.”

Dilfer and UAB begin the 2023 season at home against North Carolina A&T on Aug. 31.

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