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Bliss Hiring About Grace And Redemption More Than Basketball

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BETHANY, Oklahoma -

Dave Bliss knows his name doesn't bring warm, fuzzy feelings to the minds of those who remember when he was a major college basketball coach. He knows convincing those people—whose sons he's about to start recruiting—he's not the man he once was won't be easy.

“I don't have all the answers to that but I am a survivor of God's grace and I want to share that with them,” Bliss said Wednesday. “That will help them more than basketball ever will.”

Two days after the shocking reports of his hiring first surfaced, Bliss was formally introduced as the new men's basketball coach at Southwestern Christian University Wednesday afternoon.

Bliss is best known for his rule-breaking and issues off the court, something that overshadows his success on the court at four different schools. Bliss may be a decent coach, but does his track record make the hire a risk worth taking?

“There's a risk with anyone you take,” SCU athletic director Mark Arthur said. “I honestly feel like Dave has received the grace of God. He knows he's made mistakes, he's admitted to those mistakes and we're willing to take the chance with him.”

Grace. That's what this is all about. If Bliss was ever to return to college coaching, it makes sense it's at a Christian university willing to give grace to someone who understands his past behavior was and is unacceptable. This hire is less about basketball and more about forgiving past mistakes and setting an example for others to do the same.

Those mistakes—which are well-documented—include paying players at SMU and Baylor, as well as trying to cover up a Baylor player's murder by portraying him as a drug dealer. Bliss' violations at Baylor were so bad, the Bears were lucky to not have gotten the death penalty.

“It's been 13 years since all of that happened,” Bliss said. “What I went through was a very difficult time. I've spoken enough to know there are a lot of people that go through difficult times. I draw from them the strength each day to get back to being the man I was meant to be and that's trying to help people and not hurt people.”

This opportunity to change was just a God thing, Arthur said. Bliss spoke at the NCCAA national championships back in March where the SCU women's basketball team was playing. Those who heard him spoke to Arthur and floated Bliss' name as a candidate for the open position. Arthur's initial reaction was the same as everyone else's, but as he talked to Bliss and got to know him, he saw a changed man who was genuinely repentant.

“When I heard his heart and heard it's not about the big arenas and it's about the kids and that sort of thing, I understood why he wanted to come here,” Arthur said. “I just thought it would be a great story, him starting in college, making a complete 360 and then ending his career in college. Really, it was his heart that sold me and where he is right now.”

Right now, Bliss is looking forward to building the Eagles' program. 40 years after being named the head coach at Oklahoma at the young age of 31, Bliss is eager to once again mine the area for basketball talent. But based on the past few days, he's going to have a much wider recruiting base than Oklahoma and Texas.

“I think in the last three days I've been amazed at how many people know where Southwestern Christian University is because of the publicity it's been given,” Bliss said. “I've had people call me with players from Michigan, from New York, New Jersey, Florida. I'm excited about the aspect of getting the word out about what a great school this is, what a great opportunity this is for young people.”

Arthur has heard from plenty of people as well, but he said he's had a lot more positive phone calls and emails than negative ones bashing the hire.

“I've just had people calling me and emailing me—some of them know Dave, some of them don't know Dave—saying great hire, he deserves another chance,” Arthur said. “One of his former players who played in the NBA for five years called me and said thanks for giving Dave a chance. He's a great coach and he deserves it.”

Realizing he deserved a second chance was something Bliss struggled with before taking a head coaching position at Allen Academy in Bryan, Texas in 2010. But rejecting grace is the height of arrogance, Bliss said, and that accepting it is difficult for performance-driven people.

“To realize grace, the greatest thing that's out there, is free, is difficult for a man to accept,” Bliss said. “The difficulty I had was I felt badly about the people I put in difficult positions. So yes, I felt like I wasn't deserving. But then you realize what Easter Sunday is all about and it changes everything.”

That's what this story is really about. It's not about basketball and it's not really even about Bliss. It's about grace and second chances. If Bliss can capitalize on this opportunity and end his career on a high note, perhaps it can wipe away some of the stains from the mistakes of his past.

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