JAN 11, 2017 Devotional: Orange is the new……championship!

I’ll turn 50 years old later this year and I have no qualms admitting that I have a new “man-crush” in my life….perhaps an aspiring “bro-mance” down the road.  Clemson head football coach, Dabo Swinney.

Ironically enough, my brother-in-law, Kermit Murphy, bears a very striking resemblance to the coach and on a recent occasion when I asked Kermit if he ever heard that before, he just smiled.  Beyond the comparisons, Kermit shared that he had the opportunity a couple years ago to hear Coach Swinney speak at an event here in Charlotte.  “Best speaker I’ve ever heard,” said Kermit.  “Better than (Coach) Meyer; better than (Coach) Dungy; and (Coach) Richt shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same category,” added Kermit much to the dismay of Butch Tuck, my father-in-law, and longtime Georgia Bulldog fan.

Kermit’s thoughts are shared by many, including thousands who probably don’t care a thing about Dabo as a football coach.

So, in preparation for this week’s devotional, I did some research on the coach.  His biography is amazing.  His Christian testimony is breath-taking.

I Googled several videos and pieced together a pretty good story of Swinney’s character, coaching and more importantly, the events in his life that shaped those things for him today.  Dabo grew up in Pelham, Alabama, the youngest of three sons, with a loving mom, and a father who ran a small family business.  When things tanked in the economy, Dabo’s dad couldn’t maintain that business, and that failure became the catalyst for his father’s alcoholism and the eventual break-up of the family.  Growing up in those conditions were certainly hard and often times embarrassing for Dabo, having to explain why he couldn’t have some to of the things other kids had, or why he was sleeping on a friend’s couch.

Dabo was determined to be the first in his family to get a college education and when he qualified for a college grant, he began attending classes at the University of Alabama.  In 1989, he earned a spot as a walk-on wide receiver on the school’s football team.  He eventually earned a football scholarship to the team.  And in 1992, that same team won the national championship.  Dabo’s stats during his college career, you might ask?  In three seasons, he caught 7 passes for a total of 81 yards!  Obviously, no NFL team was going to be looking to draft Swinney.

Dabo was offered a dream job as a member of the University of Alabama coaching staff in 1995 and held a coaching position until the head coach was fired along with most of the assistant coaches on staff.  Dabo was without a coaching job, and questioned God as to how he could have lost his dream job.  He left coaching altogether and started a new career with AIG in commercial real estate in Birmingham.

Things were slowly picking up financially for Dabo after two years.  He was married to his elementary school sweetheart, Kathleen, and they had two young sons and another son on the way.  Swinney’s phone rang in 2003.  It was Coach Tommy Bowden at Clemson University and he wanted to talk to Dabo about possibly joining his staff.  Dabo was once again faced with a crisis of belief.  Accepting a job at Clemson would mean he’d be leaving a lucrative amount of commissions, close family, and his home state of Alabama, to pursue his dream of coaching.  Through prayer and discussions with family, Dabo joined Bowden’s staff in 2003.

There’s a lot of events between 2003 and today in Dabo’s life to cover and, well, we simply don’t have the time in a morning WAWA devotional to give all the details.  Dabo became the interim head coach at Clemson in 2008 when Coach Bowden resigned 6 games into the season.  7 weeks later, Dabo was offered the head coaching role “full time”.  And this week, Dabo’s Clemson Tigers won the national championship game defeating…..wait for it….the University of Alabama!

I’d encourage you to Google Coach Swinney’s background and make your own judgements.  I hope, like me, you’ll see that his life is a testimony well beyond football.

I’ll wrap up today by sharing four lessons that Coach Swinney’s says he’s learned from his own walk of faith.

First, handling adversity early in life will give us the ability to weather storms later in life.  Second, always stay humble with your success.  Third, always love other people.  And last, never forget to serve others.  Dabo says these are four pillars of his life and provide the foundation for his Christian beliefs today.  Many times, Dabo found himself asking God “why”.  However, today the Coach serves as an example of trusting in our Heavenly Father, and the plans He has in store for us.

Finally, on the day Coach Swinney was introduced as the new “full time” head of the Clemson football program, he shared a piece of scripture that he had received randomly earlier that week.

“I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”  REV 3:8 (NIV)

Nicely put, Coach.  Congrats on being a champion well before this past Monday night.