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No Matter What

Published on October 22, 2018

Drew van Esselstyn
Jimmie Keeling’s mail runs at Hardin-Simmons University, especially during the mid- to late-1990s, very often were so much more than just an errand.

The veteran football coach would find his way over to the gym at the Abilene, Texas, school to the office of a young women’s basketball coach named Julie Goodenough.

While he hand wrote notes to his recruits or boosters, they swapped updates on their highly successful teams. Ultimately, the conversations went much deeper.

“There was something different about her,” Keeling says. “She was always inspiring and motivating. … But every day I would go in, we would always get around to talking about her faith and how she wanted to be a Christian coach and teach girls to become young women.”

Those were formative conversations amongst two coaches pouring wisdom and encouragement into each other’s professional and personal lives.

“I don’t know why (Coach Keeling) decided to befriend me and invest in me as much as he did,” Goodenough says now. “It’s such a treasured friendship. He taught me so much of what it looks like to be a coach.”

Two decades later, the vision of coaching for Christ defines Goodenough more than her 400-plus victories. 

Hers is a career – really, a calling – that values relationships over championships and holds culture every bit as dear as competition.


A quick tour of the influential coaches and mentors in Goodenough’s life reveals that she hasn’t forgotten a single one.

ACU’s core values:
• Accountability
• Control the controllables
• Grit
• Honesty
• Integrity
• Respect

Originally from Haskell, Texas – a 3.6-square-mile dot on the map halfway between Fort Worth and Lubbock – Goodenough grew up in a hometown that was like many small farming communities in the Lone Star State. Sports mattered deeply. The daughter of Betty and Conrad Roewe,who ran a sporting goods store and attended First Baptist Church, Julie accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior in seventh grade at church camp. She excelled in basketball, golf and track in high school, and coaches Jim Bob Mickler and George Martin fostered a high level of athletic intensity.

“They expected max effort at all times,” Julie says now, “but you just really knew that they loved you and cared about you. That’s why they pushed you so hard.”

Julie went on to have a solid college basketball career – playing first for Western Texas College and then Jerry Isler at Texas-Arlington.

Isler “was the most intense coach I played for,” Julie says. “But he was this awesome, funny, loving dad and husband. I really got to witness that you can have it all and coach at the Division I level. He was huge in my decision to pursue a coaching career.”

Not long after graduating, Hardin-Simmons named a 24-year-old Julie their head women’s coach in 1993.

“I’d never been a full-time coach,” she says, “so that was definitely a God thing.”


Hardin-Simmons brought a lot of change and a lot of successes, personal and professional. She and Rob Goodenough were married in the summer of 1994 after her first season, and Julie is quick to say he has always been “an incredible support that’s allowed me to do this job that I love, that I call my ministry.”

Huddle Break
FCA honored Goodenough with the Kay Yow Heart of a Coach award.

By 1996, the school moved up from NAIA to Division III. And in 1998 and 2001, the Goodenoughs welcomed daughters Bailey and Macy, respectively.

“It's hard to be a head coach at any level. I think it's harder to be a woman head coach, especially when raising small kids,” says Steve Keenum, who coached at Hardin-Simmons then and now serves as the Multi-Area Director for Big Country FCA. “She's a great mother, and she's a great light in what could be considered in some circles a dark culture.”

Hardin-Simmons had a winning record in each of Goodenough’s nine seasons, winning at least 22 games five times. They won seven conference championships.

That resume drew attention of Division I programs Oklahoma State (2002-05) and then Charleston Southern (2006-12).

Eventually, Goodenough got the call to come home to Texas to build a Division I program.


Starting in 2012, Goodenough navigated Abilene Christian’s transition from Division II to Division I. Her program is predicated on “Godly women striving for excellence,” which has certainly shown up as the Wildcats have won 70 percent of their games the past six seasons.

Goodenough partners with FCA campus representative Aleah Dillard at ACU, and she serves on the Big Country FCA leadership board that supports Keenum and his staff.

Intense competition has been tethered to legitimate love for her assistant coaches and players. FCA’s ministry to her is also flowing through her.

“If you're not maximizing your gift, you're cheating yourself, cheating your team, and basically not following the plan that God has for you.” -Coach Julie Goodenough

“She wanted us to use our God given abilities to their fullest so that we were living Christ-like,” says Whitney Swinford, who played for ACU from 2012 through 2016 and worked for FCA until her family moved out of the Abilene area this summer.

Goodenough tells recruits they will be part of a family that loves one another … also, no matter what.

“We really feel an obligation to take care of our players and to help them understand God’s got a great plan for them,” Goodenough says. “Their giftedness is part of God’s plan, so how are they going to use that to enhance the Kingdom of God?”

They don’t need to look far for inspiration.


Photos courtesy of Tim Nelson