October 26, 2012 11:52:53 AM
STARKVILLE --It only happens every once in a while, but, inevitably, every few weeks it comes up.
During football season, there is no escaping it.
They all want to know the same thing -- is Bill Buckley having an influence on Dan Mullen?
"They read his lips, they know (he's cussing)," Buckley said. "And we know how Christians can be: Sometimes, we're like, 'Man, just get the guy to stop cussing and everything will be fine.' Well, I am not there to get Dan Mullen to stop cussing."
As the chaplain for the Mississippi State football team, Buckley sees his job as a little broader than cleaning up a coach's colorful vocabulary in an emotionally-charged environment.
And actually, Buckley said if he were going to be completely honest with those people, he might get a little sentimental. Buckley is a Dan fan.
Buckley said he hopes he has been half the influence on Mullen as Mullen has been on him.
"He has taught me so much about leadership, about excellence, about relentless effort, and I have definitely taken notes," Buckley said. "I hope he has gotten something from me, because I know I have already taken so much from him."
On Saturday, Buckley will accompany the MSU football team as the 13th-ranked and unbeaten Bulldogs travel to Tuscaloosa for a much-anticipated showdown with top-ranked and undefeated Alabama. There has been an almost electric buzz all over the campus and city of Starkville, but most of the time, Buckley's duties as a chaplain are far more serene.
In his third year on the job, Buckley has settled in. His life, though obviously devoted whole-heartedly to his family and his God, revolves around football.
Buckley has an office right there in the football complex, just like any other coach.
"I am just never in it," he said. "But the door is never locked; the kids can come in and eat lunch, pray, take a nap, do whatever."
And just like any other coach, he is privy to every facet of Bulldog program. Nothing is off limits; Buckley can sit in on any coaches' meeting and he is on the sideline for every game, every practice.
"Sometimes I just go in and shut up and listen," Buckley said, laughing a little. "I am in those early morning sessions and then I am at practice. I really get a feel for what the coaches and players are feeling and understand what we need to do as a team, and all of that helps me speak to them in chapel."
But Buckley knows he is not a coach. Not now, anyway.
Prior to arriving in Starkville, Buckley was the receivers coach at Mississippi College in Clinton, where he also served as the campus director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Needless to say, his hands were full.
Buckley is also a former New York Jet (which he humbly failed to mention) and Mississippi State Bulldogs receiver. Not just any receiver either, Buckley held the single season and career receiving records for touchdowns until another NFL-bound star, Eric Moulds, eclipsed his records.
So, yes Buckley knows football inside and out. He said that knowledge plays an unprecedented role in his dealings with the team, both coaches and players.
"It's not like I am God's answer to their life," he said. "I think they know that I understand where they are and what they go through. During a game week, the conversations I have with some of these guys is just incredible."
No one can say Buckley is uninvolved, that is for sure. His devotion and love for the Bulldog family is evident in his voice. As a former player and former non-believer, he knows coming back to Starkville in his capacity is more than a blessing.
"I get spoiled with it," he said. "It really messes you up; those kids really just have a passion for the Lord. Without shoving doctrine, without the sign out front, it's a pure thing."
And as much as he loves football, Buckley looks forward to Monday nights more than anything. That is when FCA meets.
"When I walk in and see all those kids -- black and white, rich and poor, football, basketball, baseball, non-athletes, regular students -- all coming together for one purpose, for one Lord...man, it's just the way the church ought to be," he said.
Saturday night, Buckley will be right there with them, exactly where he is supposed to be.
"Here we are, about to go to Bryant Denny on Saturday," he said. "It doesn't get much better than that."