By ANDREW HANSEN
Dan Marino. Barry Sanders. Dick Butkus. Paul Brown. Marty Schottenheimer. Those are just some names of National Football League (NFL) greats to have never won a Superbowl. Winning just once on the sport’s biggest stage — perhaps the biggest stage in the world — is a moment every player and coach dreams about.
For Brendan Daly, the Run Game Coordinator/Defensive Line coach for the Kansas City Chiefs, he has lived that dream four times.
But getting to the big stage comes with a price. Moving constantly, long hours, working weekends, high stress, and not as much time with family and friends is what Daly has endured since he started coaching in the late 90s. So, how does the Springfield native who attended Christ the King School and Sacred Heart-Griffin High School (1993 graduate) in Springfield deal with the high pressure to win, long time commitments at work, and the constant uncertainty of his future that comes with coaching in the NFL? Leaning on and living our Catholic faith is his answer.
Catholic Times editor Andrew Hansen interviewed Daly to talk faith, family, and football.
Let’s start first with your time growing up in Springfield and attending Catholic schools. What was your experience like?
It was a tremendous experience for me. I have a lot of fond memories of both of those places (Christ the King School and Sacred Heart-Griffin High School) and lifelong friendships for sure. Those places for me were very special not only for the people I was with in terms of classmates, but some great teachers, some great communities in terms of parents and the values and principles that were instilled in me during those years. Some of my friends have kids at those schools now so it’s interesting to see that dynamic unfold from a distance.
What did you learn from Catholic education that has helped you in your NFL coaching career and vocation as a husband and father?
It has been a foundation for who I am. It taught me to put others before myself. It definitely gave me an appreciation for the differences in other people and the will-
ingness to accept other opinions and other cultures and other views. That is probably the biggest thing I have taken from it. Those are things that have served me well. I try to put that into practice with own kids and with my professional life and my personal life and how I live day to day.
You have coached at colleges such as Drake, Maryland, Oklahoma State, and Illinois State, and then in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings, the then St. Louis Rams, New England Patriots, and now the Kansas City Chiefs. You have certainly had to “keep the faith” as you moved around and up the coaching ranks. How have you leaned on our Catholic faith during what I am sure were plenty of ups and downs and moving to different time zones so frequently?
There have been a lot of moments of euphoric in terms of highs and very disappointments in terms of lows. Trust in God. Trust that He has a plan for us. Trusting that ultimately, I don’t have control over this whole process. There are certain things you can control but being able to let go of things that you don’t necessarily have control over. That faith, that Catholic upbringing certainly comes into play in a lot of those instances.
I would also say, some of the career decisions I have had to make, and they are not in a negative way as I have been extremely fortunate, but they have been difficult decisions, there has been a lot of prayer there. There has been a lot of prayerful moments in terms of trying to navigate through those decision-making processes. I have always prayed that I would have the open mindedness to accept whatever God’s plan has for me and my family. It has certainly been a journey, not a destination, which I think that is what life is. Certainly, the faith that I have from a Catholic standpoint, I have had to put into play from a navigating life standpoint.
Your vocation as a husband and father is at the top on your list. You and your wife, Keely, are blessed with three children, one son and two daughters. But the life of an NFL coach is busy and stressful. How do you and your wife make it all work and how do you balance time with your children?
That is definitely a challenge and Keely, my wife, is kind of the glue of our family and holds things together. She does an unbelievable job. I wouldn’t be able to have the career that I have without her and the way she handles our family. That is the first thing. But we do the best we can. I would say, we try to be where we are. When I am at work, I am at work. When I am home, I try to be fully present when I am at home and engaged with the kids. I try to coach their sports teams whenever possible. I coached softball this past spring. I have coached baseball and basketball throughout my son’s athletic endeavors, and I love doing that. We try to carve out time that is special to our family and where we are turning off screens, and we’re going on day trips or adventures or doing things with all five of us together. Those are special times. We all enjoy those moments.
Sunday — the big day of the week for Catholics — going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist. During the season, NFL games are mostly on Sundays. How do you practice our Catholic faith on those game weekends?
One of the things I have appreciated is, and it has been the case in every NFL team I have been with, whenever we are playing, typically, the evening before the game, there is both a chapel and a Mass that is available to the players, coaches, and support staff. Everyone who is in the travel party. I have always been a regular participant at those. It has been a fun experience in terms of getting to know a number of priests in the various teams and cities I have worked in, but then also as you travel on the road and you are in a hotel somewhere, it’s usually a priest from one of the parishes there that you get to know. So, I have had the privilege of getting to know a lot of different priests and going to a lot of different Masses. I have enjoyed that experience.
So that is day before. The day of the game, we do typically pray in the locker room before and after the game, which I struggle with at times because certainly not everyone in that locker room is Christian, but the aspect of prayer is definitely respected, and I participate in. Some guys choose not to, and that’s fine. But that is one of the things the Catholic faith has taught me — to be able to respect those individuals and the fact they view things differently.
What is the biggest challenge of a career in coaching, especially the NFL?
There have been many. The constant challenge is getting each individual to put the needs of the team first before their own goals and agendas. That is a constant battle in our society. I don’t think that is unique to my line of work or the NFL. But that is a challenge on a daily basis. It’s one that I enjoy working on. There is nothing more fulfilling than getting a group of people to buy into something that is bigger than them. A greater cause. My Catholic faith has definitely centered me and grounded me in that regard. Humbling yourself and believing in something bigger than you for sure.
You have won four Super Bowls. Three with the New England Patriots, one with the Chiefs. Most would do practically anything for just one. What is the feeling?
It has been a privilege for sure. I have enjoyed it. It has been a fantastic run. It’s a wonderful feeling when accomplishing that goal. Some of the best moments of my life have been after winning the Superbowl and having my wife and three kids come and run out on the field and join me. That feeling is something I have not been able to replicate.
You still have family in Springfield. How often do you come back to your native city and what are some of the staples you have to do while here?
I love getting back to Springfield. The food. I mean some of the restaurants and places I miss so much. I miss horseshoes, Maid-Right, the pizza places in Springfield I love. I almost always go to SHG and visit with the coaches there, many of whom are still there from when I played. I enjoy meeting with the players who are currently there. Those have been some fun relationships I have built over the years. Washington Park is favorite of mine. I love taking my kids to the playground there, bike rides, and just hanging out with family.
Who has inspired you the most when it comes to our Catholic faith?
My grandmother (Josephine) and my mother (Anne). That’s kind of where my core roots of my faith originated. They were my first inspiration and mentors. I have had a great family background. Catholic faith and Catholic education have served my family extremely well. I have had some great teachers along the way. Msgr. David Lantz, who was at Christ the King (now at St. Mary in Taylorville) and then taught at SHG, was a tremendous mentor. There have been some very special ones.
We saw last year Philip Rivers, a former NFL quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers, in his retirement statement mention our Catholic faith and St. Sebastian, as he is the patron saint of athletes. Do you have a favorite saint you turn for help?
I would say I turn to my namesakes. My first name, Brendan, is after St. Brendan, an Irish saint who was a sailor and came to American long before Columbus. And St. Patrick. My middle name is Patrick. Those have been two key ones for me. All the way through my life simply because of my name.
What is your advice for young athletes today?
My first advice is to simply enjoy the opportunities. Enjoy your youth. Enjoy your ability to be involved in athletics. I would say, don’t turn it into a job. Limit the specialization. Play multiple sports and don’t allow adults to screw it up for you. I think our society has turned to the constant pressure to succeed, gain an advantage, and year-round specialization and club sports. I honestly would like to see kids play everything and enjoy it. Just go to the park and play.
Quotes taken and edited from an interview Brendan Daly did with Andrew Hansen on Dive Deep, the official podcast of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, that aired on Sept. 3. To hear more from Daly’s interview, go to dio.org/podcast to listen and subscribe.