Deep River Books | Author on the Rise: Randy TraegerRandy Traeger, cofounder of Traeger Grills and an award-winning football coach, has sold his businesses and redirected his focus to ministry and writing. But this refocus might not have happened if God hasn’t used his health as a wake-up call.

Barbecue aficionados around the world know Randy Traeger—or at least his last name—for his family’s groundbreaking wood pellet grills. Oregon students and their parents know him for his character-building approach as a football coach. And many residents of Mt. Angel, Oregon, know him as a former mayor. Here at Deep River Books, we know him as all that, but also as a dedicated author.

Traeger has published three books with us in as many years: Building Character: One Virtue at a Time, Voices of Virtue, and, last year, Fruit for the Spirit, Meat for the Grill. Each book shows his passion for building virtue, but this last one is particularly special, as it combines his family history at Traeger Grills with his mission to encourage men to be brothers, sons, fathers, and mentors of virtue.

These books might not have been possible, at least not at this rate, if health problems hadn’t brought Traeger to his knees, forcing him to let go of his businesses and focus on ministry.

A businessman, politician, and coach . . .

Business has been a key part of Traeger’s life since his youth. He started working for the family business, Traeger Heating, as a teenager in 1970, fifteen years before his father, Joe Traeger, invented the wood pellet grill. He later cofounded Traeger Grills and maintained a leadership role there for over thirty years.

Traeger wasn’t confined to leadership in a single business—he owned and managed a restaurant, Mt. Angel Brewing Company, from 1995 to 2005. His first two years as a restaurateur overlapped with the last of his eleven years as the mayor of Mt. Angel, a small Oregon town near Salem. This means he helped lead two businesses and an entire town at the same time.

Business ownership and a decade in politics would be enough to keep any man busy. But Traeger has held onto one more role over the decades, and this one’s stuck longer than any other: that of a high school football coach. His virtue ministries began in his coaching, as he sought to encourage the students’ growth not just as athletes, but as young men.

. . . brought down by health . . .

Between multiple businesses and coaching, Traeger’s focus was more spread out than most people would find sustainable. And it turns out that it was robbing him of the opportunity to focus more on God and ministry opportunities—something that, as Traeger tells in his preface to Fruit for the Spirit, Meat for the Grill, he didn’t fully realize until health problems brought him to his knees.

In September 2012, he contracted a rare bone infection in his pelvis, and he had surgery five months later. “I took the whole episode as God telling me that I had better slow down and pay more attention to Him,” Traeger writes. “He had put me on my knees to get my attention with this bone infection.” The surgery wasn’t the end of it, either. In his book’s preface, Traeger elaborates on later battles with health and stress that God would continue to use to refocus him. 

. . . to put virtue first.

It was time to devote a new level of attention to Virtue First, an idea he’d had since 2000 to “promote virtue and help rebuild the character of America.” When he’d first had that idea, he’d been coaching high school football for over twenty years. By then, he’d “come to the conclusion that it wasn’t about winning and losing. It was about establishing positive relationships with kids and equipping them with philosophies that will grow them into better husbands, friends, dads, and men.” He thought he was doing a good job balancing business with virtue-related ministry and coaching, but the wakeup call in 2012 said otherwise.

Traeger sold his businesses for the sake of his health, his coaching, and the Virtue First Foundation. Through this foundation, Traeger speaks at seminars, clinics, and conferences. For those unable to make it to these, Virtue First also provides online curricula for coaches, teens, parents, teachers, and youth ministers who wish to develop virtue in themselves and others. The foundation emphasizes “growing Virtue in America’s youth by education, deliberate acts of virtue, persevering in struggles, and following good examples.”

Fruit for the Spirit, Meat for the Grill

Traeger’s new ministry focus extends to writing as well. His first two works with Deep River Books, Building Character and Voices of Virtue, echo the wisdom on his foundation’s blog. Each holds quotes, stories, and tactics to help those who wish to develop their own characters. But Fruit for the Spirit, Meat for the Grill goes beyond the scope of its predecessors—and not just because it includes barbecue recipes at the end of each chapter.

This time, Traeger specifically addresses men and the need for a healthy perception of manhood. He emphasizes that young men need to learn about true, healthy, virtuous masculinity from older men they have relationships with—and he gives these older men advice on how to go about it. But he also addresses the younger men, rounding the book out to be useful in every stage of life. He dedicates a chapter each to six relational areas of men’s lives and how they can develop their character in each area: as fathers, brothers, teammates and coworkers, husbands, sons, and friends.

Fruit for the Spirit, Meat for the Grill is filled with two kinds of recipes: those for the grill and those Traeger describes as “relational manhood recipes for men who are fathers, brothers, teammates, coworkers, husbands, sons, and friends.” It’s hard to imagine a more fitting book for him to write. His insider grill understanding and his wisdom as a coach and ministry leader blend perfectly.

With Father’s Day and high school graduation both just around the corner, now is a perfect time to check out Fruit for the Spirit, Meat for the Grill. The men in your life just might appreciate it.