GREEN BAY — Packers offensive assistant David Raih (pronounced “rye”) keeps a note in his Lambeau Field office. It reads “God will not bless what you do not do. God blesses doers.”
Subscribing to this message has worked for Raih, now in his second year in Green Bay. Guided by faith, he has followed his instincts and taken risks on a journey from an unfulfilling path to the NFL.
Raih, 35, grew up in Edina, Minn., as the fourth eldest of five boys in a very athletic family. His father, Tom, an orthopedic surgeon from humble beginnings who coached his sons in youth sports, scored more than 1,000 points as a college basketball player. His mother, Mollie, a teacher, was a Rocky Mountain ski instructor.
Raih affectionately describes his mother as “strict, convicted and talented.” He admires his father for his hard work, inspiration and selfless generosity.
“Imagine waking up five boys each day,” said Raih. “Every day, he would walk through our rooms saying, ‘Time to get up boys, we got a big day.’
“All my brothers were good athletes. I’m (6’5”) the fourth smallest of the group,” he added. “We had a very strong Catholic upbringing.”
Raih attended Catholic schools, including St. Thomas Academy in St. Paul, where he was a standout high school quarterback and a member of the Cadets’ state championship basketball team as a junior. His prep success on the gridiron led him to the University of Iowa to play for the Hawkeyes.
Raih climbed the depth chart to become the backup quarterback in Iowa City. Unfortunately, his college career was cut short due to an injury to his throwing arm.
“My career is not a big injury story,” said Raih. “That (college) was the best I was going to be. It was difficult. I had been playing since I was in the fourth grade. When anything ends, it’s tough.”
Raih graduated with a degree in finance and received a job offer.
“Some guy offers me a sales job, so I took it,” he explained. “I go, ‘Sounds good.’ I think I asked him what I was going to do after I had already signed.”
His job, in Iowa City, was as a sales representative for a manufacturer of orthopedic devices. Raih applied his football work ethic in the business world.
“As I did in everything, I just dove in,” he said. “I studied like crazy. I did the best I could. This is a job where you sell the implants. You go into surgery with the surgeon. I was in 1,200 cases. I would build a great relationship with the (operating room) nurse. She would tell me who was on call. I would find out when the cases were coming in and go there in the middle of the night. The other reps wouldn’t be there.”
His efforts produced results. Following three years at Iowa hospitals, he was rewarded with a top account — Cedar Sinai Medical Center in Beverly Hills — so he moved to California.
“I thought that the more success I had and the more money I made, the more fulfilled I would be,” said Raih. “The truth is, it was the exact opposite.”
A moment in the Cedar Sinai cafeteria was an awakening for Raih. Two doctors were discussing life expectancy — 76 years old for a male.
“I’m 26 and I’m sitting there thinking that I have 50 years,” said Raih. “I always liked numbers and goals. Fifty years, for some reason, sounded short to me. It hit me. There is no way that this is what I want to be doing for the next 50 years.
“You learn the business, make the sales, hit the numbers, but my thoughts were back to football,” he added. “Where do I even start? The business world had taken me further from my football roots. You don’t move to Hollywood to go into football.”
Raih spent much time in prayer at St. Monica Church in Santa Monica, Calif. Looking back, he’s thankful for the elderly women of the rosary group who welcomed him to join them. He became consumed with coaching football and prayed for guidance.
Back to football
When Raih returned to Minnesota for Christmas in 2007, he had made up his mind that he was not going to continue in sales.
“I flew back to LA on Dec. 29,” he explained. “Rick Neuheisel is hired as the new coach at UCLA. I’m sitting in my apartment and the announcement is made. I immediately stood up. I was going to do whatever it took to get into coaching. Nothing was available at Iowa.”
On Dec. 31, 2007, Raih decided that he was going to UCLA to meet Neuheisel.
“I’m not going in there to call plays,” said Raih. “I just want to help out. I showed up on campus and little did I know that it was the day of the press conference. Nine months of thinking, working and praying, and the door opens at UCLA.”
When Neuheisel stepped off the podium following his remarks, he began greeting people. He may have thought that Raih was a former UCLA player when they met.
“I had come too far not to get it done,” said Raih. “I thought to myself to be brief, bold and be gone. I said, ‘I’m David Raih, I played quarterback at the University of Iowa and I’m here because I want to work for you.’ He was totally thrown off guard. I said it to him like we were the only two people in the room.”
Neuheisel asked for information, so Raih handed him his resume. They later met at Neuheisel’s office. Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz had placed a call on Raih’s behalf, but the new Bruins’ coach did not know if he could add to the staff.
“I said, ‘Why don’t you just let me start working here? I will work hard. I will do whatever you need me to do. If it works, great; if it doesn’t, come up and say, ‘Hey David, it’s not working out,’ and shake my hand. I’m serious about coaching.’ He offered me a 10-week, no pay internship,” explained Raih.
The head of the medical supply team offered him a significant raise to stay with the company, but the salary didn’t matter. He wanted to coach.
Raih worked with the quarterbacks and assisted with recruiting at UCLA. He was happy to be back to a “life of faith, family and football.”
“I love the Parable of the Talents (Mt. 25:14-30),” said Raih. “We are supposed to exhaust our capabilities. That’s what football does for me. It exhausts my capabilities.”
Following two years at UCLA, Raih returned to Iowa as a graduate assistant to work with the offensive line and coach tight ends. He earned a master’s degree in sports management while serving on the coaching staff for three years.
“After you are done as a graduate assistant, you have to get a job,” he said. “You have this incredible experience. Sometimes you don’t get a job. I was praying about this like crazy. ‘God, I sold out for this deal, help me figure out what I’m supposed to do.’”
Raih made a list of possible college head coaching changes in anticipation of openings on a new staff. He wanted to find a program with a spread offense. Former Wisconsin quarterback Brooks Bollinger, a friend, alerted Raih that Kliff Kingsbury was likely to be named the new head coach at Texas Tech the next day. Bollinger and Kingsbury were once backup quarterbacks together with the New York Jets.
“I’m about to go to my master’s graduation,” said Raih. “The cap and gown are on the office door. I get online and I buy a one-way ticket to Lubbock (Texas). I’m not working with a large cash flow at this point.”
Kingsbury was announced as the new coach. Raih arrived on campus early in the morning the next day, hoping to speak to him. A custodian let him into the building where he recalls praying in the Texas Tech helmet room.
“I remember getting on a knee and saying a quick prayer,” he said. “’God, if this is what you want for me, give me the words.’ … A couple of coaches had texted him (recommending Raih). He knew I was coming, but that’s all. He was surprised that I flew down.
“I said to Coach Kingsbury, ‘You are going to get 100 resumes and phone calls in the next 24 hours. To me, that doesn’t work. I’m here, let’s talk about it.’ He offered me a job that day.”
Raih was hired to work with the quarterbacks, but was then promoted to wide receivers coach at Texas Tech. It would be his only season with the Red Raiders. Mike McCarthy contacted Raih about interviewing for a position with the Packers. Kingsbury had played in New Orleans when McCarthy was on the Saints’ staff.
“The first person to ever seek me out was the head coach of the Green Bay Packers,” said Raih. “I was grinding for all those years. I believe that any struggle or challenge is a huge blessing. If you are challenged, you are blessed. It brings out the best in you. That’s what football constantly does for me.”
Tested in faith and football
Raih’s work with the Packers includes breaking down film of the opposing defense and assisting with the offensive line. The schedule for an NFL assistant often requires long hours, but Raih finds that the profession supports a strong faith life.
“Football and my hiatus from it in business really brought me back to my faith,” he said. “The collision of football and faith work in my life. You are tested in both.”
Routine is important to Raih. He reads from the “One Year Bible” each morning. He chooses the New Testament reading and makes daily notes, which he carries throughout the day in his back pocket. He writes about his identity, purpose and something from Scripture or something else he has read.
“It’s personal, a faith-based thing and it’s important,” said Raih. “You have to get your mind right. I have a plan every day. To me, you can’t walk into an NFL locker room unless your mind is right and you’re confident.”
Raih has sought guidance in his faith life from priests at all his coaching stops. Norbertine Fr. Jim Baraniak, Catholic chaplain for the Packers, is a good friend. A gift from Fr. Baraniak is displayed in Raih’s home. The poster features an image of a climber with the quote “The higher we go, the better we shall hear the voice of Christ.”
More inspirational works are displayed on the walls, including an art piece by Raih depicting David.
“I have a creative side,” he said. “Who doesn’t love the story of David and Goliath? It’s the ultimate lesson about facing the impossible.”
Raih also has a print of world leaders throughout history surrounding Jesus. Another special item is the text of his maternal grandfather’s morning offering, which he wrote and read every day. His grandfather, Joseph Mulheran, founded Great-West Life (insurance).
Work in progress
Last March, Raih, a regular at the Packers team Catholic Mass who also attends liturgy at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay, shared his faith story at “A Day for Men” at the Norbertine Center for Spirituality at St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere. He said that he appreciated the opportunity, even though “I knew I would be speaking to men who are much better than me.” Raih emphasizes that he is a work in progress in his spiritual life.
“I’m far from perfect. I struggle as much as anybody,” he said. “The morning routine is a direct attempt to be the best version of myself.”
Raih admits that, early in his coaching career, he thought about a fast track to a head coaching position, but his focus is to do the best work possible in his current position. He has no regrets about his years in sales. Stepping away from football makes him appreciate the game even more.
“If we have a passion, we are blessed,” he said. “It will scare you, but you must follow it. It was put there by God and if you expect it to be easy, you will always be disappointed. But if you know the road is going to be long, the satisfaction that comes from faithfully pursuing your passion will make your life meaningful.”