Cardinal virtues set the Catholic University Cardinals apart

Catholic University of America Head Football Coach Mike Gutelius with the Catholic University Cardinals. Credit: Catholic University football team. Catholic University of America Head Football Coach Mike Gutelius with the Catholic University Cardinals. Credit: Catholic University football team.

College football is an intense competition that challenges young men to push their abilities to the limits. Catholic University of America Head Football Coach Mike Gutelius takes this challenge to a whole new level by training his players in philosophy.

“There’s glory to be had if you’re willing to sacrifice. That resonates deeply with young men,” Gutelius said.

Now in his 30th year of coaching, Gutelius has instituted a program in which he teaches the Catholic University Cardinals the cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude

“As I’ve done this as an assistant and now a head coach, I’ve been going through all these leadership books and it seems like a new one comes out every ten minutes,” Gutelius said. “There is a certain wisdom that’s about 2000 years old that’s available to me. And I’m finally at a place, coaching as the head coach of Catholic U, where I can coach these virtues as a model of how to operate your day to day life and also be a good team member.”

Gutelius, a 1992 graduate of CUA, returned to his alma mater in 2016 in order to revamp the program. After his arrival, he began including presentations on the cardinal virtues in his team meetings.

“I looked around and saw that there is a tremendous wisdom in the Church and all virtuousness hinges on these four cardinal virtues. So, I thought, I’m crazy if I don’t access this incredible fountain of wisdom that’s out there in the Church.”

Gutelius said he centers his team on the cardinal virtues, with the goal of graduating his players with a degree, winning championships, and creating virtuous leaders.

Gutelius told CNA that focusing on the spiritual life has helped to change the culture of the team. He said that thinking about these virtues adds weight to his team’s decision making.

“Say you get tackled or brought down, and you feel it was done in an illegal way. Do you stand up, turn around and punch the guy and hurt the team by getting a fifteen-yard penalty? Or do you stand up and say ‘okay, I can’t retaliate right now. I don’t need to accept it. But I’ve got to find a way to get back at this guy as I can in a very competitive way within the rules.’”

Gutelius also noted that there is a modern-day crisis with young men in the spiritual life.

“Football players in general, they have that Don Quixote internal sense of wanting to go fight against something. They’re ready to battle. No one today is pointing young men towards where the battlefield is. The battlefield is inside of each of us.”

Gutelius said that when young men learn about the battle of the interior life they can change themselves, change the team, create championships, and win at life.

Before his start to create a culture built upon philosophy, Gutelius questioned whether opening up about his passion for the faith was a good idea, because the team is not all Catholic.

“Can I be authentic with these players. Can I really let them know who I am? Or will it scare them away?”

However, Gutelius said that he was convicted about the priority of his faith. “If I hide that,” he said, “I’m doing a disservice to me, to the team, and to God.”

In addition to instructing his players on the virtues, he began a team Bible study and rosary before game days.

“Late into my first year there, I kind of really shared that I was Catholic. I think it was a Friday after a win, and I said ‘hey let’s pray a rosary this Friday.’ I said that and thought ‘Oh my gosh I sound like the crazy Catholic guy.’ But eight guys came. I mean how many college students do you know who want to go pray the rosary with their Catholic coach on a Friday night before a game?”

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2021 team captain Brendan Webster said Gutelius has affected his faith tremendously over his past four years: “Starting from the first Mass I went to during my freshman year camp, to Bible study he led for players, to simply praying after each and every practice, he has shown me how to live life as a Catholic man who truly loves Jesus. He has influenced my faith life more than he probably even knows.”

“During the COVID-19 pandemic he has been the rock for our team and has had the strength to confront uncertainty with grace, and that truly seeped its way into every player and coach on our team,” Webster said.

CUA’s Athletic Director Dr. Sean Sullivan said that faith and character are central tenants in Gutelius’ life.

“In any sports related profession, so much of the message often comes in the form of what is said when instructing others,” Sullivan said. “Coach Gutelius goes beyond that; purposefully living a life of high character and thoughtful maturity himself while also expecting it from those he coaches.”

“It can be difficult for any developing student-athlete to recognize the critical nature of making the right decisions off the field when so much of their focus relates to how to excel on it,” Sullivan said. “However, Coach Gutelius consistently reinforces to his players how they must think beyond the immediate, the here-and-now, to position themselves through sound decision-making which will enable them to lead a life of virtue and of consequence.”

“I’m proud of the football program Coach Gutelius continues to build at Catholic University,” Catholic University President John Garvey told CNA. “He requires his players to be not only excellent football players, but also excellent people. That is what makes him and his program so essential to this university.”

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