Four current NFL coaches who are leaders on and off the field will continue a tradition that started last year as they embark on an NFL-USO Coaches Tour this summer. Vikings coach Brad Childress, Panthers coach John Fox, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and Eagles coach Andy Reid will travel to meet and greet members of the U.S. military for several days in the Persian Gulf.
The NFL and USO have organized overseas morale-building visits for more than 40 years. In 1966, the NFL teamed with the USO and became the first sports organization to send a group of players to Vietnam and other parts of Asia to demonstrate the league's support for America's troops.
In the past four decades, NFL stars including Terry Bradshaw, Larry Csonka, Franco Harris, Howie Long, Don Meredith, Lynn Swann and Johnny Unitas have visited service members on NFL-USO tours in locations such as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, Japan, Korea, Kuwait and Somalia. In 2008, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell joined players on a USO trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. In March, NFL players Vernon Davis, Joe Thomas, Mario Williams and Jason Witten spent a week traveling through Afghanistan and Qatar visiting the troops.
Coaches participating in the NFL-USO Coaches Tour are:
Brad Childress, Minnesota Vikings
Entering his fifth season as head coach of the Vikings, Childress has overseen a rebuilding of the franchise that has produced back-to-back NFC North titles, a berth in the NFC Championship Game and an NFL-best 10 players earning Pro Bowl honors in 2009. The Vikings' consecutive division titles are the first for the club since 1977-78. The team has notched 22 wins during the past two seasons, the most in the NFC in that time and second-most in the NFL.
Childress encourages player involvement in the community. The Vikings had every player on their roster participate in an outreach event for the past two seasons. Childress has a special appreciation of the USO trip this summer and of the armed forces because his son is enlisted in the United State Marine Corps.
"Since my son has enlisted in the Marine Corps, I have learned a new appreciation for the freedoms we all enjoy and take for granted," said Childress. "Our armed forces are the most highly-skilled, best-trained men and women in the world. Their character is on display on a daily basis because they're an all-volunteer force. We all owe them a debt of gratitude and this trip is a small way of saying thank you."
John Fox, Carolina Panthers
After inheriting a 1-15 team in 2002, Fox has turned the Carolina Panthers into a perennial contender. The Panthers' 76 victories under Fox over the past eight years are the seventh most in the NFL. Carolina has appeared in two NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl under his guidance.
Fox also has been very active in community affairs, helping to raise more than three million dollars for St. Jude Children's Hospital and as spokesperson for Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.
"As a son of a Navy Seal, I grew up in a military family and know first-hand the sacrifices the men and women in our military make," said Fox. "We get a lot of attention as players and coaches in the National Football League, but our service men and women are the heroes. They enable us to enjoy the freedom we have in our country and I look forward to this trip. I view the opportunity to spend time with our troops as a privilege."
Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
Lewis directed his second AFC North Division championship for the Bengals in 2009, earning 'NFL Coach of the Year' honors from the Associated Press and from Pro Football Weekly/Pro Football Writers of America. The team's 10-6 record included the franchise's first-ever unbeaten mark (6-0) in division play. Now in his eighth season as head coach, Lewis has tied Bengals founder Paul Brown (1968-75) and Sam Wyche (1984-91) for most seasons as Bengals head coach. He has posted 56 wins in his first seven seasons, second in Bengals history, and with nine wins in 2010, he would pass Wyche (64) into first place.
Lewis has been a tireless community activist and youth advocate, primarily through the Marvin Lewis Community Fund. His activities in support of the military have included a trip with Bengals players to Washington to visit wounded soldiers at major hospitals.
"Our military personnel make significant sacrifices on a daily basis to protect and ensure our freedom," said Lewis. "This USO trip is one small step that I can take to say 'thank you.' I don't know that you'd call it a 'sacrifice' on my part, because I am very much looking forward to the experience, but I hope my presence can be helpful in letting our troops know how much they are appreciated back home."
Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles
One of the longest-tenured and most successful coaches in professional sports, Reid utilizes a passionate, workmanlike approach as the head coach of the Eagles. With 118 wins during his Eagles tenure (including playoffs), Reid is tied with George Allen for 28th place on the league's all-time list. Along the way, he has earned NFL coach of the year honors twice, and compiled the best win total, winning percentage (.611), and playoff victory total (10) in team history. He has captured five division titles and five trips to the NFC Championship Game. Among coaches with 100 games under their belt, Reid's winning percentage is second among active coaches. Reid is second in the NFL behind Jeff Fisher as the longest-tenured head coach and is eighth among longest-tenured head coaches in the four major professional sports.
"This trip is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Reid. "The dedication and passion that these men and women display for our country is inspiring. I consider each and every one of them heroes. They sacrifice a lot of the comforts of their homeland and family life to serve our country to the fullest. To be able to spend time with them during their tour of duty is an honor."