Dabo Swinney is my spirit animal for 2019. It’s not just that he coached his Clemson Tigers to another national championship Monday night, or even that he reduced Alabama’s dark lord Nick Saban to a houndstooth-patterned poster boy for the overhyped. It’s that he did it with such infectious joy and a constant acknowledgement that his successes come from God. That joy, that bedrock faith is so inspiring to me—and something I’m going to be working on this year.
Over the past several months a group of us in my parish have been in formation to facilitate small group faith-sharing during Lent. A major part of the formation has been working on cultivating a relationship with Jesus through prayer in preparation for evangelization through these groups. I’m not very adept at conversation, or a natural “people person” so taking on a challenge to “evangelize” has brought me way out of my comfort zone. But we’ve been deepening our understanding of just what evangelization looks like. And I think it looks a lot like Dabo.
Unabashedly Christian, Dabo can segue from talking about power matchups to the power of God in his life. He is a humble winner (“All the credit, all the glory goes to the Good Lord number one and number two, to these young people”) and and a gracious, thoughtful, loser (“Bad things in life happen but it’s how you respond to them”). He’s not the traditional, stoically tight-lipped coach (for those of you old enough to remember, Dabo is the alt-Tom Landry). He wears his heart and his faith on his sleeve. And while self-righteous “God-talk” can turn people off, Dabo’s is couched in genuine thankfulness and joy, which makes it magnetic.
And isn’t evangelizing our faith just being a Catholic “coach”? Inspire through our actions, radiate the joy that having a relationship with Christ brings and don’t take yourself as seriously as you take God.
“Let the light that shines in you shine brighter than the light that shines on you.”–Dabo Swinney–
So how am I going to try to channel my inner Dabo this year?
Embrace this challenge to evangelize, even if it’s not in my comfort zone: “The only disability in life is a bad attitude,” says Dabo. I was dragged into this ministry figuratively kicking and screaming by our leader, Sr. Jane (I have a hard time saying no to a nun), but as God has worked in the formation process, I’m feeling prepared, if not totally comfortable. I know my attitude, my joy, will determine what we get out the small group, so I have to keep my attitude positive.
Have faith in myself: My favorite Dabo quote is “Don’t let anyone walk through your mind with dirty feet.” I would add, “even yourself.” Hand in hand with a positive attitude is trusting that God will provide what I need, and I shouldn’t talk myself out of it. Getting rid of that little voice in our heads that tells us we aren’t good enough allows us to face our challenges productively and positively.
Give my worries to God: Another great Dabo-ism is “When you have the cross as the foundation of your life, football ain’t gonna bring no pressure.” Substitute any worry, any anxious thought for the word football. Nothing we worry about is too big for the sacrifice of the cross. With that firm foundation, we can move mountains. Or win national championships. Or even go out of our comfort zone and lead a small group.
So this year, it’s not just Jesus who is going to help me prepare for my challenges. I’m going to bring a little Dabo wisdom into my world, too. Go Tigers!