Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney mixed faith with football Sunday as he delivered a long, rousing talk at Gainesville’s Free Chapel as part of Fellowship of Christian Athletes Day.
“I don’t care what that scoreboard says at Auburn, Ala., next Saturday night and I don’t care what it said out in Arizona back in January,” Swinney told the thousands gathered for one of two morning worship services.
“I don’t need a scoreboard to tell me that I’m a champion. When you are a Christian, you are a champion.”
Swinney certainly didn’t dismiss football either, as one of the nation’s most highly touted college coaches pumped up his own No. 2 Clemson Tigers, which start their season Saturday against Auburn and are led by a Gainesville native, quarterback Deshaun Watson.
He talked for about an hour about needing to depend on God and set the right priorities in life. He shrugged off his own success as a coach, saying “that was what God’s calling for me was.”
“Success is knowing who your Lord and savior is, having true peace and happiness and using that to impact other people’s lives,” said Swinney, with several people in the audience responding with “amens.”
The Alabama native talked a lot about his upbringing, including problems at a home and marginal church attendance as a youth. He said “got his swag” when he became a Christian through his involvement with the FCA chapter at his high school.
“I didn’t do anything to deserve what God did for me — nothing,” he said. “Jesus gave me a peace and a hope in the midst of all that mess.”
Swinney talked about his years as an Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver and his climb in the ranks as a coach after graduation. He went into real estate for a couple of years after a new coaching hire at Alabama ended his tenure there.
He lost out on a chance to coach at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, while working as an assistant coach at Clemson. He became an interim head coach, then full-time coach, in 2008.
Swinney’s career reached a peak in January, when Clemson competed in the national championship, losing a close one to Alabama.
Before his talk, Swinney shared the stage for a few minutes with Watson in a conversation with the church’s pastor, Jentezen Franklin.
“He’s a great human who just happens to be a good quarterback,” Swinney said of Watson, grinning. “... He’s at Clemson because that’s where God put him.”
Watson, a favorite for football’s highest award, the Heisman Trophy, also spoke of his personal faith.
“That’s the main thing,” he said. “This gift (God) has given me isn’t a promise — he can take it away at any moment.”
Watson said it’s important for him “to stay prayed up and not just reading the (Bible) but applying it to my life.”
“What an amazing day,” Franklin said after the service, “not only for the Free Chapel family but for the entire Hall County FCA community.”
He said he appreciated Swinney’s “timely and dynamic message of faith in action.”