In what’s being called “the best title game in college football history,” the Clemson Tigers defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide last night on a touchdown with one second left in the game. It was one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen and Clemson’s first victory over Alabama since 1905.
For years to come, Clemson fans will be discussing the feats of quarterback Deshaun Watson and diminutive wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, who caught the game-winner. Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts nearly won the game for Alabama before Clemson’s last-minute heroics.
Both coaches say that winning titles is important, but what matters most are the young people they coach.
As great as the players were, the coaches impressed me even more.
Clemson’s head coach was born William Christopher Swinney. His older brother Tripp started calling him “That Boy,” which became “Dabo,” the name by which he has been known his entire life.
His childhood was more than challenging—his father became an alcoholic; his oldest brother was severely injured in a car accident and has battled alcoholism for much of his life. His parents eventually divorced, and he lived with his mother in a series of motels, apartments, and friends’ homes. Swinney was nonetheless an honor roll student and football star in high school.
He enrolled in Alabama in 1988 and eventually won a scholarship on the football team. His mother, who had recovered from debilitating polio (including an iron lung and fourteen months in a knee-to-neck cast), shared an apartment room with him while he was in college. He earned a bachelor’s degree and MBA at Alabama and eventually made his way to Clemson, where he has been head coach since 2008.
Swinney became a Christian at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting. He is so public about his faith in Jesus that the Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened to sue him and Clemson, but they could not find a player willing to file a complaint against the coach.
Alabama’s legendary coach Nick Saban is also a strong Christian. He attends Mass before football games and is a regular at his parish church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He and his wife are founders of the foundation Nick’s Kids, which has raised more than $6 million to help children in need. Last year, they built their sixteenth Habitat for Humanity house to honor Alabama’s sixteenth national title in the school’s history.
“Coach, you changed everybody’s life, no matter if you knew it or not.”
Both coaches say that winning titles is important, but what matters most are the young people they coach. One of Saban’s players said of him, “He doesn’t get enough credit for teaching guys how to become men.” When players from Saban’s ten seasons at Alabama gathered last year, one of them spoke for all: “Coach, you changed everybody’s life, no matter if you knew it or not.”
Similarly, Swinney says, “My driving force in this business is to create and build great men.” The most rewarding experiences of coaching, he says, have come when former players tell him he made a positive impact on their lives.
In our scientific age, it’s hard to value intangible souls more than tangible success. But of all God created in the entire universe, human beings are the only creation he made in his own image. Investing in people is clearly your best way to leave your mark on eternity.
According to national champion coach Dabo Swinney, “The value of life is measured in relationships, not results or riches.” Do you agree?
A version of this article originally appeared on the Denison Forum (denisonforum.org) and has been used with permission.