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A lifetime of influence

Fifty years ago, David Dean experienced FCA’s powerful ministry. Fifty years later, he remains an inspiration.

Published on October 26, 2017

Nate Taylor
FCA staff writer

David Dean has entered thousands of rooms — high school coaches’ offices, locker rooms and living rooms — to discuss his passion for football, the value of higher education and the importance of his Christian faith. In his 30-year career, Dean, the coach at West Georgia, has traveled through the southeast region to recruit most of his student-athletes.

During his conversations, Dean will glance around the room. An image, if hanging on the wall, will always capture his attention. The watercolor painting illustrates a boy in an oversized No. 18 jersey holding a football in his right hand. The boy is watching older student-athletes sitting and conversing amongst each other in a Bible study.

Sometimes, Dean will bring up the painting, just to hear what the other person thinks of the portrait. Most of the time, he will not share the most important fact: the boy is him.

“It’s amazing the number of coaches that have that picture up in their office,” he said. “That’s quite humbling. That picture is something I see a lot.”

Influence painting
FCA's iconic "Influence" painting of David Dean by Arch Unruh.
Fifty years ago, at an FCA Camp in June 1967, Dean was the subject of what became the sports ministry’s most iconic image. Named “Influence,” FCA’s painting of the photo serves as a powerful representation of the positive impact and encouragement that Christian coaches and athletes can have on anyone who watches them model their faith.

Since FCA began promoting the painting, which was created in 1980 by Arch Unruh, the two versions of Dean — as an inspirational child and as an influential man — have ascended into prominence.

Dean, 53, has been one of the most successful coaches at the NCAA Division II level. At Valdosta State, as an assistant and head coach, he led the Blazers to three national championships. He is now in his first season leading the West Georgia Wolves.

FCA, through requests from staff members, has reproduced and framed the “Influence” painting almost 2,700 times, most often as a recognition award for donors. The image has also appeared at FCA National Camp guidebooks, banquet programs, business cards, newsletters and FCA’s Athletes Bibles.

The image of Dean has helped share the message of FCA and the gospel to countless people in ways few coaches and athletes have.

Dean, though, doesn’t embrace his unique fame the way most people would think. He chooses to let the painting present one of FCA’s biggest messages rather that speak often about it — until someone learns he’s the boy in painting.

“A lot of people don’t really know,” Dean said. “But when they find out, it’s like a magnet. They say, ‘You’ve got to come speak to us and tell us the story.’”

When Dean shares his life, and how he became an influence for others, he starts with his father.


Wherever Ray Dean went, so did his son. Throughout his childhood, David Dean followed his father to games, coaching clinics and camps. In June 1967, Dean was a 3-year-old when his family arrived at Black Mountain, N.C., for one of FCA’s most historic camps.

Ray Dean, the football and baseball coach at Sylvan Hills High in Atlanta, coordinated the Dogpatch Olympics, a multi-event competition, for student-athletes. Mike Dean, the oldest of Ray Dean’s children, was a Huddle Leader for a group of student-athletes after completing his freshman season as a defensive back at Alabama. Throughout the weeklong camp, David Dean was mostly there to observe.

“I’m appreciative of him giving me an opportunity to tag along with him,” Dean said of his father.

Dean followed his brother’s Huddle one morning on the Blue Ridge Assembly campground. He hoped to be included.

Gary Warner noticed Dean in the No. 18 jersey. Warner, the associate editor of The Christian Athlete, which was FCA’s magazine’s first masthead, was at the camp taking photos for the publication. At first, Warner didn’t want Dean to disrupt the Huddle’s Bible study. Then, in an impromptu moment, Warner grabbed his Minolta 35mm camera and a football.

Warner handed Dean the football. The memorable moment emerged in front of Warner, as Dean, with his back to the camera, watched his brother lead 12 student-athletes.

“Gary never knew it was going to be that big,” said Wayne Atcheson, who was an FCA staff member at the camp and wrote about Dean in his 1994 book, Impact for Christ. “He just thought he would use it in the magazine.”

The black and white photo of Dean was first published one year later in the Sept. 1968 edition, when Warner was the magazine’s editor. Atop the photo, only one word appeared: Influence.

“It was an iconic picture taken just at the perfect time that says everything FCA wanted to say,” Mike Dean said.

Ten years later, as FCA began promoting the significance of athletes’ influence, David Dean looked at the photo with his father. Ray Dean shared the photo’s backstory and wanted his son, who was about to start playing high school sports, to grasp the importance of the positive impact he could have on children — the same way his brother was an encouragement for him.

David Dean was also given the poem “To Any Athlete” from his father, one he still has in his office. The last stanza of the poem reminds Dean of why he was on the field next to his brother’s Huddle in 1967.

There's a wide eyed little fellow,
Who believes you're always right,
And his ears are always open,
And he watches day and night;
You are setting an example
Every day in all you do,
For the little boy who's waiting
To grow up and be like you.

“It was a great life lesson,” Dean said of his father. “He was a huge influence on my life.”

Dean returned to Black Mountain in 1979 as a camp attendee when he was 15. On Wednesday night of that week, Dean prayed next to his Huddle Leader and received Jesus Christ as his Savior. As Dean grew in his faith, he too became an exceptional athlete. He was an All-DeKalb County athlete in football, basketball and baseball.

But in 1981, during his junior year at Avondale High, his father died from a heart attack.

“I didn’t get to spend enough time with him,” Dean said, “but the time I had with him I cherish.”

Without his father, Dean began to question his faith. Why did God allow his father to die? Why did he have to experience such grief at such a young age? Why couldn’t God keep him alive longer? Dean began to become bitter.

When he arrived at Georgia Tech, Dean was also upset that most major college football programs didn’t recruit him. He received a baseball scholarship, but soon convinced coach Bill Curry to let him to join the football team. As a walk-on, Dean’s perseverance was rewarded. He excelled for the Yellow Jackets as a receiver from 1983-85 and earned a scholarship.

However, his biggest breakthrough in college — rededicating his life back to Jesus Christ — came from the help of three men.

Mike Dean, who was then the team’s secondary coach, supported David during his freshman and sophomore seasons. One of Dean’s close friends was Mark Price, who became a four-time All-Star guard with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. The two men attended the same Bible study through Young Life. Before one of Georgia Tech’s games, assistant coach Jack Fligg led the team’s devotional by using FCA’s painting. Fligg surprised the Yellow Jackets by revealing the boy’s identity. Dean remembers his teammates’ reactions, the conversations that began and how it allowed him to share his faith.

In 1987, Dean returned to Black Mountain as a Huddle Leader. He helped lead student-athletes to Jesus Christ while also coaching them in the Dogpatch Olympics. The experience had a profound effect on him.

With his college career finished, Dean told his brother his next goal. He planned to follow their father’s lead into coaching.

“Seeing how he interacted with people and how he changed people’s lives, that’s what I wanted to do,” Dean said of his father. “I felt that my best avenue to be able to do that was to be able to coach. I wanted to get myself in a position where I could teach life lessons and see people grow.”
Influence photo
Gary Warner's historic photo of David Dean at FCA's Camp in 1967.


More than a decade ago, Marty McGhin met David Dean.

At the time, McGhin was a volunteer and booster for Valdosta State’s football team and Dean was the offensive coordinator. Sure, McGhin knew Dean possessed all the usual traits of a successful coach — a masterful strategist, an aggressive recruiter and someone who developed student-athletes. But Dean was also different. To McGhin, Dean wasn’t the typical coach because he didn’t yell or seek praise.

“He’s not a hard guy to get along with,” McGhin said. “He loves the Lord, he loves his family and he loves coaching football.”

Humble is how McGhin described Dean, one of his closest friends.

The two men developed their relationship through long conversations about football and Jesus Christ. When Dean became Valdosta State’s head coach in 2007, his first challenge was to assemble his staff. During that time, Dean asked McGhin and Bubba Thomas, two FCA volunteers on campus, to be the team’s chaplains.

Dean intertwined McGhin and Thomas within the team. They traveled with the team, watched practices and were on the sidelines during games. They hosted pregame chapels and a Bible study every Sunday. McGhin said about 40 players attended. Every practice ended in prayer.

“Both of those guys did an outstanding job,” Dean said of McGhin and Thomas. “They were a big reason for our success.”

The Blazers, in Dean’s first season, went 13-1 and won the national championship. Dean was named the AFCA Division II coach of the year. At the award show, Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore, the Division I-AA coach of the year, mentioned Dean during his acceptance speech.

“He said, ‘This is a great honor, but the best honor I’ve ever had is I just had dinner with No. 18,’” Mike Dean recalled of Moore. “That was pretty powerful.”

David Dean, though, is quick to mention how his student-athletes have inspired him.

Larry Dean, a linebacker who was a member of the 2007 championship team, was one of those student-athletes. Dean was a three-year starter who broke Valdosta State’s record with 358 tackles and was named Daktronics’ national defensive player of the year in 2010.

David Dean offered Larry Dean a Federal Pell Grant worth more than $5,000 to help him hire a trainer for the NFL Draft. Larry Dean, a Christian, declined. As a senior, he wanted the grant to be given to a younger teammate. Although he wasn’t drafted, Larry Dean played four years in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings and the Buffalo Bills.

“I mean gosh, what an influence that was on me,” David Dean said. “I realized at that point that we were making the right impact on these kids as they go out and become fathers and leaders and husbands.”

McGhin has seen several student-athletes follow Dean’s path, whether into coaching or expressing their faith.

Sean Calhoun was a quarterback and an assistant under Dean before becoming the coach at Carrollton High in Georgia. Seth Wallace, the linebackers coach at Iowa, was Dean’s defensive coordinator for four seasons. Russell King, a former receiver at Valdosta State, has served on mission trips and is an assistant at North Gwinnett High in Suwanee, Ga.

“This adds so much richness to the story,” Atcheson said of Dean. “He could have done anything (after the photo), but he’s been a coach for God all his life.”

At an FCA banquet in 2010, McGhin was given the “Influence” painting. A few weeks later, Dean surprised McGhin.

“You know that’s me in that picture?” Dean said.

To prove it, Dean brought the small, faded No. 18 jersey from his house to show McGhin. Since then, whenever McGhin learns someone else has the painting, he, with pride, will share the story of David Dean, his friend.

“I don’t think David wants people to see David in that photo,” McGhin said. “I think he wants people to see Christ. He wants it to be transparent, where, yeah, that happens to be me, but don’t just look at that part. Look at the point that there’s a boy with a ball in his hand watching a Bible study and wanting to be a part of that.”
Dean at practice
Dean instructing his student-athletes during a practice.


Coaches, no matter how successful, will experience failure.

Dean left Valdosta State in January 2016 to be the co-offensive coordinator at Georgia Southern, a Division I-AA program. The Eagles went 5-7 and struggled on offense, even after Dean was given play-calling duties. Dean was fired two days after the season finale.

“He and I talked a lot during that transition,” McGhin said of Dean. “He never wavered in his faith. He knew God was going to take care of him.”

West Georgia hired Dean in January 2017.

Leading the Wolves, Dean has implemented much of the same culture he built at Valdosta State. Ben Weber from Campus Outreach is the team’s chaplain. Dean also encourages his student-athletes, such as long snapper Joe Skinner, to speak to local FCA Huddles. Practice ends with prayer.

Dean has also been supported by Jeff Hughes, FCA’s area director in West Georgia.

Hughes, since joining FCA in 2012, has given the “Influence” painting to donors. He was grateful Dean agreed to share his faith by being the morning speaker at West Georgia’s FCA team camps in June and July 2017. Hughes introduced Dean to the crowd the same way he was introduced at FCA’s national convention in 1990: Everyone welcome David Dean, the man from the “Influence” painting!

“I thought about how our ministry focuses a lot of ministering to and through the coach so that, in a course of a coach’s lifetime, the number of people they influence is just immeasurable,” Hughes said of Dean. “For him to grow up to be a very successful coach, I just thought it was fitting that that picture really encapsulates what we talk about all the time in FCA. Here’s a guy living it out. What a blessing.”

In front of about 3,000 coaches and student-athletes, Dean shared the importance of how influential they can be if they share their faith. He talked about his father, too. And he encouraged the crowd to have the same impact on people the way his brother’s Huddle had on him.

Then, before the Wolves’ season began, Dean returned to Black Mountain, one of the most special places in his life.

“I wanted to go back,” he said. “It meant that much to me.”

Bottom header
Dean leads the Wolves onto the field for a 2017 home game.


Photos courtesy of Caitlin Teknipp and Steven Broome of West Georgia athletics.