Carlson: This longtime Sooner lived a dream. Here's why he is leaving college athletics for the ministry.

·7 min read

NORMAN — Kenny Mossman walked into the field at the Rose Bowl and found the massive, majestic stadium empty.

No one in the stands.

No one on the turf.

Only an hour or so earlier, OU had walloped Washington State in the 2003 Rose Bowl. Mossman, then the overseer of media relations for the Sooners, found himself with a bit of time after the press conferences finished and before the buses left, so he returned to the field.

He walked to the 50-yard line, and as soaked up the scene, he called his parents.

“They were sitting there in Winfield, Kansas, where I was from,” Mossman said of a moment that still chokes him up, “and it was just something else for a small-town kid to be in that situation.

“That’s a moment that I’ll never forget.”

Mossman has been awed by many such moments during two decades at OU. He witnessed national titles and Heisman winners and games in some of college sport’s most storied rivalries on some of its most hallowed grounds.

He lived a dream.

But now, he’s living a new one.

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On Dec. 31, Mossman not only retired as OU’s executive associate athletic director for strategic communications but also left college athletics after almost four decades. He is saying goodbye to a career that gave him behind-the-curtain, up-close-and-personal access for which many sports fans would sacrifice an appendage.

So, what has the power to draw Mossman from all that?

A higher power.

Mossman is going into the ministry.

“I can’t tell you how recharged I feel about this,” the 62-year-old said, “and I think that’s part of the calling, in my opinion, is just that the energy comes along with the call.”

Mossman’s Christian faith has long been an important part of his life. He taught Sunday school classes at Emmaus Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. He was twice the chair of the Oklahoma FCA State Board of Directors. He was even asked to speak or preach on occasion.

But a couple years ago, he was having lunch with Hance Dilbeck, a friend who was then the executive director of the Oklahoma Baptists. Mossman mentioned in passing he’d checked his retirement accounts for the first time ever.

Dilbeck sat back in his chair, tilted his head and leveled his eyes at Mossman.

“Have you ever thought that God’s calling you into ministry?” Dilbeck asked.

“The thought had crossed my mind,” Mossman admitted. “I have thought about that.”

“What I’d like for you to do is to go take that up with your pastor and develop a plan.”

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Former OU senior associate athletic director Kenny Mossman recently retired to go into full-time ministry.
Former OU senior associate athletic director Kenny Mossman recently retired to go into full-time ministry.

Until that day, Mossman figured the ministry would always be a pipe dream, something he thought about but never acted on. He thought he’d be a lifer at OU instead.

“But when someone of his stature calls it to mind,” Mossman said of Dilbeck, “then you tend to read it a little bit differently.”

Mossman soon started the ordination process, and in October 2020, he was ordained.

While taking some seminary courses to build a better foundation, he started preaching at different churches. Some had a pastor out on vacation. Others were without a pastor entirely. The congregations were different sizes and different locations.

But no matter where Mossman preached, he always had the same sense.

“I never felt any more at home than I did in those 40 minutes or so that I was in the pulpit every Sunday,” he said. “I felt like that’s where I belonged.”

When the First Baptist Church in Carnegie asked him to be its interim pastor, Mossman quickly said yes. He’s been making the hour-and-20-minute drive to the Caddo County town west of Norman every Sunday for more than a year.

He feels more convinced than ever that retiring from OU and transitioning to full-time ministry is what he’s supposed to do.

“It’s the right decision,” he said, “but it’s not easy because of the people.”

Mossman recalls walking through the football locker room during his first week at OU in 2001. Frank Romero, a Sooner offensive lineman from Moore, stopped Mossman, knowing he was new to campus.

“How are your kids handling the transition?” Romero asked.

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University of Oklahoma Sr. Associate AD, Kenny Mossman, right, walks with athletic director Joe Castiglione during an OU football game. Mossman recently retired to go into full-time ministry.
University of Oklahoma Sr. Associate AD, Kenny Mossman, right, walks with athletic director Joe Castiglione during an OU football game. Mossman recently retired to go into full-time ministry.

Mossman stood there stunned.

Was a college athlete really asking him about his kids?

“It kind of told me right off the bat that I had landed in a place where people matter,” Mossman said.

He was reminded of that repeatedly over the years.

In 2005, for instance, he was inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame at Southwestern College in Winfield, where he went to school. When Mossman got on stage for his acceptance speech, he looked into the audience and saw OU athletic director Joe Castiglione.

“I had no idea that Joe was going to be there,” Mossman said. “He was flying to a women’s basketball game in Manhattan. He had the plane put down in Winfield so he could come to my ceremony, and then he got back on the plane and finished his trip to Manhattan.

“Those are the kinds of people I was working with, and that’s why this isn’t an easy decision for me.”

But in addition to the way Mossman feels when he’s ministering and preaching, he got what he felt was a sign from above when Bob Stoops ended up coaching the final football game of Mossman’s OU career. Stoops had a hand in bringing Mossman to OU, having worked together previously at Kansas State.

When Mossman decided to retire several months ago, it seemed more likely that the Sooners would be finishing their season in the College Football Playoff.

But then Lincoln Riley left, Stoops stepped in as the interim coach, and Mossman got to go out with the head coach who helped bring him in.

“It was surreal,” Mossman admitted. “Kind of a fairy tale for me.”

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Kenny Mossman dreamed of a life in sports, but after nearly four decades, he is leaving it and OU behind for the ministry.
Kenny Mossman dreamed of a life in sports, but after nearly four decades, he is leaving it and OU behind for the ministry.

For as surreal as the end of his time at OU was, Mossman is under no illusions about the new career he is undertaking. He feels equipped to handle the work of being a pastor. Managing. Budgeting. Programming. He’s done similar jobs in athletics.

But he knows ministering is difficult. Church attendance is on the decline across the country even as people face tumultuous times because of the pandemic, political turmoil, social strife and racial awakening.

“I think right now what we need a lot is care for one another,” Mossman said. “We like to throw the word grace around a lot, and we don’t extend very much of it. I think as I go into pastoring, the thing that I’m learning is people just need you to care about them.

“You’ve got to tell them the truth of the gospel — I don’t back away from that at all — but caring about people, loving people, giving grace to people, helping them to understand that hey, none of us have it together, we’re all walking on a faith journey together.”

Kenny Mossman is stepping out in faith.

And just like that walk he took into the Rose Bowl all those years ago, the steps he is taking these days leave him awed, too.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or jcarlson@oklahoman.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OU official Kenny Mossman leaving Sooners for a life in ministry

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