In 2018, the University of Virginia men’s basketball team was the first #1 seed to lose to a #16 seed in NCAA tournament history. In 2019, the University of Virginia won the National Championship. Virginia Head Coach Tony Bennett has one of the most prodigious programs in the NCAA. He could claim to be important, but he recently considered others more important than himself.
"I want to coach winning character!"
He declined a substantial raise to instead pay his staff more and fund career development for the athletic department. Take twenty seconds to read Coach Bennett’s statements.
“Laurel and I are in a great spot, and in the past, I’ve had increases in my contract. We just feel a great peace about where we’re at, all that’s taken place, and how we feel about this athletic department and this community and this school. I love being at UVA.”
What do you notice about his attitude? Here are six things that stand out:
He says he’s “blessed beyond what I deserve” and has “more than enough.” I’m thinking about coaches here. Stress, pressure and undesirable circumstances come with Coach Bennett’s job, just like they do with yours. But ponder how anti-cantankerous our attitudes can become if we, A) believe we’re blessed beyond what we deserve and B) believe we have more than enough.
It’s rare in the economy of sports to turn down money when coaches and athletes typically seek to make as much as they can, even if the amount is exorbitant. In a culture where paychecks and contracts are often public knowledge, pride and greed are pervasive. But Bennett seems to value something more substantial than a paycheck.
It’s interesting how Coach Bennett’s “great peace” led to this decision. Does that mean every time a player holds out for a max contract or a coach leaves for a pay raise, they don’t have peace? Not necessarily. But lack of internal peace can keep us chasing external paper.
We often see prodigiousness and selflessness separate, but rarely together. It’s refreshing to see it. It’s sad we don’t see it more.
Notice how Coach Bennett said he “loves being at UVA.” I’m thinking about coaches again here. I’m sure UVA, like your school, has flaws. I wonder if the fact he loves it there has more to do with his ability to love than UVA’s lovability. When people great in love appreciate unlovable things, it makes unlovable things lovely. (That’s the gospel.) It says a lot about us if we love where we are, because where we are is never perfect. Instead of wishing your program had more appeal and funds, love it and see what happens. You might transform it and it might transform you.
University of Virginia President Jim Ryan said, “Tony is one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met, and this is just the latest example.” Coaches, you are a Christ figure. By virtue of your position you are a leader. What do leaders do? They die, so to speak. They give their very selves to lift up those around them. They consider not only what invigorates them, but what they can do to invigorate those around them.
Bennett's gesture illustrates the power of kindness. We mimic the power of God not when we boast of ourselves, but when we defer praise to raise others up.