By Marilyn H. Tinnin
By far, the greatest attribute of a role model is an ability to inspire others.
He is pretty transparent, a very solid All-American man’s man who works hard, loves the Lord, adores his family, and serves other people. Breck Tyler, Executive Vice President at Trustmark and President of Mortgage Services, has worked on virtually the same block in downtown Jackson for the past 30 years. His personal story is without drama. No crushing circumstances that changed the course of his life—just a very blessed life as a husband, father, and professional. A kind of “mom and apple pie” existence is this story of a man intent on a mission to glorify His God in the place God has put him.
However, he is a rather larger than life fan of football! You could say that he literally cut his teeth on a steady diet of the sport. The son of successful, former football coach Bob Tyler, Breck says his earliest memories involve sitting on the bleachers beside his mom. Even as a small child, he gave rapt attention to the details of each play. While some little boys were into super heroes or matchbox cars, for Breck it was always about football.
He also owns bragging rights that his team never loses in the Egg Bowl. As a former SEC wide receiver, Breck has worn both maroon and white and red and blue!
Judging by the memorabilia displayed on the bookshelves in his office today, he has a most unusual allegiance to both universities! That love for both Bulldogs and Rebels comes as no surprise when you find out what really matters to him.
The Football Dream
By the time Breck was in the second grade, he had already experienced Friday night high school football in several cities across Mississippi. As his father kept moving up the coaching ladder, he was always there, sitting beside his mom whom he calls the “strength” of the Tyler family. As a third grader, he was certain he had arrived at the pinnacle of privilege when his dad led his Big Eight Conference team at Meridian High School to an undefeated season and captured the State Championship. But bigger things were to come. Legendary Ole Miss Coach John Vaught hired Bob Tyler as the Rebels’ receivers coach in 1968.
The greatest perk for Breck in that move to Oxford was being a ball boy during the Ole Miss football games. He was on the sidelines right beside the action for every game. Archie Manning was the quarterback at the time, and Breck was well aware he was living the dream of every fourth grader south of the Mason-Dixon Line!
It was also during his dad’s stint at Ole Miss that Breck got his first big disappointment in life. Coach Vaught had suffered some health issues during the 1970 football season, and he was planning to step down as head coach. Vaught came to the Tyler’s home one evening, sat down on their living room sofa, and told the family that he was going to recommend Bob Tyler to take the reins as head coach the next year.
Breck was sitting there beside Coach Vaught at the time, but he felt like he was on cloud nine. He was one devastated little boy when, a few days later, the decision makers chose to move in another direction, naming someone else as Coach Vaught’s successor. He says he learned a big character lesson with that unexpected heartbreak as he watched his parents handle the disappointment with grace and without bitterness. Their explanation to their son was that God had other plans for their family, and they were going to be just fine.
“Days later,” says Breck, “Alabama Head Coach Bear Bryant, offered my father the receivers coaching position at Alabama and also asked him to be the dorm director at Bryant Hall where all the athletes lived.” Could there possibly be a living arrangement more idyllic for a young boy and aspiring athlete? Breck says, “Imagine getting off the school bus every school day at 3:15 at the Alabama practice field as a football manager—and then going to the athletic dorm after practice to eat steak and ice cream for supper with the football team!”
And there was even more. The apartment where the Tylers lived was small. There were just two bedrooms, and it was decided that Breck’s younger brothers, Cam and Drew, would share a room in the apartment, but Breck would live down the hall in his very own crimson and white bedroom next to the players.
As awesome as that arrangement was, it was not the most significant thing that happened to Breck during those two years at Alabama. The most significant thing was not related to football at all.
All-American defensive end John Croyle was one of the star players. John, who is probably best known today as the founder of Big Oak Ranch, operates a Christian home for children who have been removed from their families because of abuse, abandonment, or neglect. He had a tender heart for younger children even then. John took Breck under his wing, inviting him to join him at a Christian sports summer camp in Lumberton, Mississippi.
That was, according to Breck, the defining event of his life, because “By God’s design and John’s discipling, I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior at this camp. I still remember John reading and discussing with me Romans 3:23, ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ and Romans 10:9, ‘If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’”
Croyle’s influence on Breck’s life was the real thing. Breck didn’t have one of those emotional summer camp come-to-Jesus moments quickly forgotten when school began and the world pressed in. Breck counts John Croyle as one of several key mentors God placed in his life at just the right time, and he has prayed for those same kinds of mentors to show up in his own kids’ lives. It appears that is a prayer Breck has been faithful to pray and one that God has been faithful to answer.
Breck had learned early on that the life of a football coach involved frequent moves. As he got older, he learned that every address and every “home” was just temporary. It was never easy to pick up and leave, but he knew it was just the way it was.
He saw the teamwork in his parents’ relationship, and being part of a loving supportive family definitely lowered the anxiety level when he found himself walking down a new hall in a new school surrounded by unfamiliar faces. When Bob Tyler accepted an offer as offensive coordinator at Mississippi State University, Breck enrolled at Starkville High School about the time he was playing varsity sports himself.
Bob Tyler was named head Bulldog coach the next year, and as Breck says, “I was living the dream again!” He traveled with the team, sat on the sidelines during the games, and saw everything from a privileged position. A highly recruited player in his own right, he was taking in every technique and lesson he could as he studied the college squad. Selected as MVP in the high school All-Star Football Game in 1977, he signed a football scholarship with MSU a few months later. He was thrilled to be playing for his dad.
True to the pattern of the coaching profession, two years later Bob Tyler was replaced as head coach. Breck had the opportunity to transfer to Ole Miss and decided to do so even though Division One rules prevented him from eligibility for football that first year. When the next season rolled around, Breck was again on the field—this time wearing red and blue.
It was 1980 and not a year the Rebels had a whole lot to brag about. Breck admits to having unusual anxiety over the faceoff between Ole Miss and MSU. Playing against his former teammates produced a range of emotions that tied him up in knots. State had had a much better year than Ole Miss, but every football fan on either side knows you can just about throw all bets aside when these two teams play each other. “Obviously,” says Breck, ”I was not reading Philippians 4:6, ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’ Instead, I was obsessing over the Egg Bowl.”
The game was very close. Midway through the fourth quarter, the coaches decided to line Breck up as a tight end. They had a two-play strategy that gave Ole Miss a good shot at pulling an upset with a final touchdown, and Breck would be the one to carry the ball over the goal line. On the first play, a tackle by the MSU player resulted in torn knee ligaments and a broken ankle for Breck. “Game over for me,” said Breck. “Now I was being assisted off the field on a dark drizzly night in front of 62,000 fans in Jackson Memorial Stadium. I can remember looking up at the top of the stadium as they carried me off the field and asking God, ‘Why me on this night and why this game?’” This was not at all the way Breck had expected this night to end.
Broken bones took longer to mend in those days since there was no arthroscopic surgery. A successful surgery was performed by the Dallas Cowboys team doctor at a small hospital outside Dallas. With a two-week recovery, he had a lot of time for reflection and gathering his perspective as it pertained to his relationship with God.
He learned a profound lesson with lifelong implications in the middle of a great disappointment. He read his Bible, and he searched for answers among some fine books by a few Christian authors. “God communicated His love for me but also something else. God let me know that it is not about me, it is about Him. This realization was life changing.” God was far less concerned with Breck’s status as a star athlete than with his spiritual growth.
Years later he came across the scripture in Revelation 3 where John is writing to the church at Laodicea—the church admonished for their lukewarm approach to God and their false pride in themselves and things that are not eternal. He thought about those words for days. He had a new and intense desire to make God’s priorities his priorities. And that desire qualifies as a very defining moment.
There Is Life After Football!
Breck had loved those years his dad’s job had taken the family to Starkville. He had certainly had a stellar high-school athletic career there, but he will tell you in a heartbeat that football was not the best thing about high school. Instead, it was one Miss Denise Crocker, who caught Breck’s eye during a pep rally his junior year.
“I know it sounds corny,” he says. Breck describes watching Denise as a tenth grade cheerleader. “I just knew she was the girl for me.”
They agree that from the beginning they seemed to be on the same page. Both claim the added blessing of observing their parents’ strong marriages. Denise says, “We had such similar goals and common values. We both knew God was important to us, family was important to us. We clicked from the start.”
Unlike most high school “forever” romances, this one has stood the test of time—seven years of dating, 33 years of marriage, three children—and with all the ups and downs those dynamics can bring, this couple still “clicks.” Time may have rearranged some things on their plate, but they are still very much on the same page.
Denise is a former physical therapist turned full-time wife and mother. She and Breck married in 1981, lived in Oxford for one year while Breck completed an MBA at Ole Miss, and moved to Brandon in 1983. Daughters Whitney and Perryn arrived 17 months apart in 1987 and 1988. Their son, Reed, who is 11 years younger, has basically grown up with three mamas keeping him on the narrow path!
The Tylers are the very definition of a “close-knit” family. And that is not by accident, but by intention. It is easy to trace the origins of most everything Denise and Breck hold dear regarding marriage and parenting. They have managed to find a healthy balance between involvement and support without becoming “helicopter” parents!
Breck points to his upbringing. His own father was gone a lot as a football coach, but he was certainly a long way from being neglected. He has also thoughtfully analyzed the significant influence on his life by several guys who played football for his father. It was important to Breck that his children have mentors, too—Believers who were just a bit farther along in their life journey.
Church has been, of course, a constant in their family life. Breck, half-serious and half-joking, says that as the father of daughters, he decided to teach Sunday School so that he would get to know all the boys who might be dating his girls! Actually, that turned out to be a pretty good idea because he fell into the role of mentor to many of them, as well as the young adults who worked with them!
One of his creative ideas was to hold a Sunday afternoon paintball competition on the grounds around his home, going to great lengths to set everything up and to pay for the paintballs for all of the kids who had been present in Sunday School earlier in the day. Anybody was welcome, but the promise of the “freebie” certainly incentivized the Sunday morning attendance!
Whitney says of her dad. “Dad could always take a boring situation and make it fun and crazy.”
There is a lot of laughter in the Tyler household.
Dr. Kevin Cooper, pastor at Grace Crossing Church in Madison, was the youth pastor at First Baptist Brandon for 12 years. He saw numerous young people open their hearts to the Lord because of Breck Tyler’s actions—sometimes quite behind the scenes. A lot of Breck’s initial motivation had to do with wanting to know those who were impacting his own children. There was nothing in the world more important to Breck than for Whitney, Perryn, and Reed to know Christ, but beyond that, he wanted their friends to know Christ, too. Kevin describes such a living picture of what the words in Proverbs 27:17 actually mean. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
Justin McAlpin, today a youth minister at Westmeade Baptist Church in Decatur, Alabama, was an intern at First Baptist in Brandon when Whitney Tyler began attending the youth group. Breck was a parent who asked questions like, “What can I do to help the student ministry? How can I pray for you?” Justin quickly realized “He was not just a man who went to church. He was constantly looking for ways to show us college kids Christ. He was our mentor, and I am who I am today because of Breck Tyler.”
Aside from sharing gregarious personalities and a perpetual appetite for friendly competition, laughter, and fun, Breck and Denise both genuinely enjoy the noise and activity of a house filled with young people. Whitney and Perryn may be gone from the nest, but Reed and his friends have picked right up where his sisters’ friends left off. Every day is “Open House” at the Tyler home.
Years ago Breck bought an Airdyne stationary bike and put it in an empty room over his garage. In an effort to maintain his lifelong standard of physical fitness, he would put on a rain suit, climb on the bike in the no heat/no air attic space, and burn off calories by the hour. To avoid boredom he began typing out scripture, taping one at a time to the wall in front of him, and memorizing while he worked out. As he learned one scripture, he would tape another one to the wall. It wasn’t long before the wall was covered, and he had to turn his bike around and start on another, then another.
Kids from the youth group began to come by to just sit in this happy and safe place to pray or to meditate surrounded by the scriptures and the quotes that made their way into the mix. Others began to decorate the walls and ceilings with their own meaningful verses. Bible studies began to meet there. They have even served the Lord’s Supper there on occasion. The Tylers decided to keep it unlocked and to keep the lights on all the time. It belongs to everyone, and it can only be described as a “God thing.” Half gym and half sanctuary, the space has come to be called either “The Temple of Doom” or “The Temple of Desire.” It’s all a matter of perspective!
The Tylers have land around Water Valley that has been in the family for generations. There is an old home place there, and a good deal of very old, salvaged lumber on the property. It is a retreat and a stress reliever for Breck to go out there, sit among the sense of history and family roots, and carve. Friends and family (and even this, your humble editor!) have been among the surprised recipients of one of Breck’s works of art. He usually carves a Bible verse, finishes the raw wood himself, and presents the plaque or cross with a note of thanks or encouragement. It is a tangible gift that reveals a lot about the heart of the artist.
Very typically Breck—he is always looking for ways to bless others. A grateful heart can’t help becoming a generous heart. And Breck Tyler is the poster boy.