By now you’ve likely heard of Tony Bennett. No, not the legendary 92-year-old singer – the 49-year-old head coach of the NCAA National Championship basketball team from the University of Virginia.
A former star college player in his own right who also played three seasons in the NBA, Tony Bennett shepherded his team of collegians to a national championship a year after having suffered an embarrassing loss in the first round of the tournament.
The ignominious defeat in 2018 – the only time a # 1 seed has lost to a # 16 seed – could have easily demoralized Bennett and his squad. Instead, they received it as something of a challenge and barreled back with a thrilling victory over Texas Tech in Monday’s final game.
What was Coach Bennett’s reaction after the overtime win?
A strong Christian, the Wisconsin native was clear about his priorities, saying in a post-game interview, “I do want to thank the Lord and my Savior.”
Bennett’s faith has served as the foundation for his life since high school, when he was first introduced to Jesus at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp here in Colorado.
The championship coach credits pastor David Chadwick, a former basketball player with the University of North Carolina, with helping him nurture and grow his faith during his three seasons with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.
As he transitioned from playing to coaching, Bennett’s faith and focus was further refined.
“If my life is just about winning championships—if it’s just about being the best—then I’m running the wrong race,” he once said. “That’s empty. But if it’s about trying to be excellent and do things the right way, to honor the university that’s hired you, the athletic director you work for and the young men you’re coaching—always in the process trying to bring glory to God—then that’s the right thing.”
As a coach, Bennett regularly prays for his players, whether they’re Christians or not.
“How many people are mad at you when you tell them that you’ve prayed for them?” Bennett once asked a reporter.
“It’s my hope that they’ll be able to find the truth in their lives that has really transformed my life. But I realize they’re all on a journey, and I certainly try to be respectful of that.”
To help his players navigate the journey, Tony Bennett structures his coaching philosophy around something he received from his father. He calls it, “The Five Pillars.”
- Humility: Know who you are – and know who you’re not. In other words, don’t think less of yourself, but think of yourself less. Conceit is a cancer.
- Passion: Have a plan and purpose. If you’re going to try to do something, throw your whole self into it. Don’t be lukewarm.
- Unity: Division only weakens – stick and work together.
- Servanthood: You should always be thinking about how you can help the other person.
- Thankfulness: Do you have an attitude of gratitude? If not, why not?
Though not couched in blatantly biblical terms, all five pillars are solidly rooted in Scripture. That a state university is employing a coach whose philosophy is informed by his Christian faith might be upsetting to some. I get the sense Coach Bennett is unfazed.
Most of us will probably never play high-level competitive basketball, but many of us are nurturing a spouse, raising children, caring for a loved one and/or pursuing a career of some sort. I’d like to challenge you to compare your life against these biblically-based pillars.
How do you stack up?