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Oscar-Winning Lessons: Defeating Circumstances with Bill Courtney (ep. 28)

Bill Courtney

Oscar-Winning Lessons: Defeating Circumstances:

“Coaching is a vocation to reach men who need to be reached.”

His Dad left when he was 4. His Mom’s 4th husband shot at him when he was 17. Bill Courtney didn’t have male role models at home, but he found them on the field and in the classroom.

Today, Bill is a business owner, husband, and father who believes: Giving back isn’t something nice to do. It is a responsibility. 

Bill chose to coach football in an impoverished North Memphis High School for a team that had only won 4 games in 10 years. Through the tenants of love, consistency, and self-assurance, he turned the team – and many lives – around.

This story won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2011 for UNDEFEATED. I recently watched this movie with my wife and we were both so moved I knew I needed to get Bill on the show to share his story with you. Here we go!

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  • Growing up, I tried to figure out what was wrong with me “since my father didn’t want me.” It manifested into me doing things to prove I was worthy.
  • In Undefeated, you see all of these fatherless kids and the destructive behaviors they had, I totally get it. I identify far more with them than you’d think. I look like a white, wealthy business owner.
  • North Memphis was a bustling blue-collar town. In 1968, Martin Luther King was shot 5 miles south. Memphis fell apart; big companies and industries left. Today, you’re on your 3rd generation of loss and hopelessness.
  • An 18-year-old man from North Memphis is 3 xs more likely to be dead or incarcerated by 21 than in college.
  • These kids had suffered so much. All they were looking for was some consistency from somebody. It was a great opportunity to give them their basic needs: Love, self-assurance, and consistency.
  • During Bill’s tenure: 19 players turned to 75; 35 of their 36 seniors in the last two seasons went to college; they had a strong winning record.
  • “We stayed consistent on the tenants that matter in a meaningful life. Even those with the biggest challenges found success with this consistent focus.”
  • You have to love despite not ‘because of’ and you have to hold them accountable. Then you start seeing changes.
  • Read Bill’s book Against the Grain.
  • Undefeated is not about wins and losses, it’s about not being defeated by your circumstances.
  • Every single day is an opportunity. We all have struggled. But every day the sun comes up is an opportunity to get it right.
  • Character is not about how you handle your successes, it’s about how you handle your failures.
  • Look in the mirror and say: I have a chance tomorrow to make it better. The only thing you can control is the remaining days of your life. It’ the only thing that matters.
  • Seize the opportunity. You get it every day.
  • Motive matters. Don’t be a fraud.
  • Accolades, money, and trophies are not a proper foundation. Service, leadership, character, selflessness, a commitment that’s a proper foundation. When you have it, you can handle all the blessings that come your way.
  • www.CoachBillCourtney.com


1. What is the best book you’ve ever read? The Bible.

2. Tomorrow you discover your wealthy uncle shockingly dies at the age of 103; leaving you millions. What would you do?  I would pay off all the debt in my business and home. I’d create a trust for my kids so they’d have a good start but still have to work. Donate the rest to worthy causes.

3. Your house is on fire, all living things and people are out. You have the opportunity to run in and grab one item. What would it be? My wedding ring.

4. You are sitting on a bench overlooking a gorgeous beach. You have the opportunity to have a long conversation with anyone living or dead. Who would it be? Christ. I would have him explain a couple things. I would talk about Romans 8 and 9. I would talk about how come so much science and so much theology agree and then so much of it also disagrees. I would ask him to explain why the social ills we are facing today are in such contrast to so many of the natural feelings we have as human beings.

5. What is the best advice you’ve ever received? Don’t tell people what they want to hear, tell them the truth, tell them what you are going to do and do it.

6. Looking back, what advice would you give yourself at age 20? Don’t try so hard to prove yourself to other people.

7. It’s been said that all great people can have their lives summed up in one sentence. How do you want yours to read? Through the grace he’s shown me, I’ve done my best to offer grace to others.


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I can’t wait to see you here next Thursday! Today is your day. Live Inspired.

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