What We Learned From The National Championship Game


By Howard Gauthier

Wow, what a game! If you missed the Division I football national championship game, you missed one heck of a game. It will go down as one of the all-time best football games in the history of the sport. It’s one of those games where you walk away saying it’s too bad someone had to lose. In the end, Clemson scored the winning touchdown with one second remaining.

The game was hard fought. The execution was sharp, and the hits were hard. But as a student and researcher of positive leadership, it’s what happened after the game that struck me as being pretty special.

As the clock expired, the crowd, teams, and media rushed the field. It took Alabama head coach, Nick Saban, about two minutes of wading through a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd just to be able to personally congratulate his friend and competitor, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney. After a short conversation, ESPN reporter Sam Ponder tracked down Swinney where she asked him his thoughts on the game. In an emotional state, Swinney responded:

“It’s indescribable, I mean, you can’t make it up, man. I mean, this is … only God can do this.” Swinney continued by sharing, “And to see my guys fight, just believe. I told them tonight, I told them that the difference in the game was going to be love. It’s been my word. My word all year’s been love.  And I said, ‘Tonight we’re going to win it because we love each other. We’re going to love each other. I don’t know how we’re going to win it. I told them at half time, ‘Guys, we’re going to win the game. I don’t know how, but we’re going to win it.’

Dabo Swinney is definitely a positive leader. Of the five strategies that a positive leader uses to build an extraordinary team, it’s evident that the Clemson Tigers are a close-knit team, and Coach Swinney is why the Tigers won the championship. The love that Swinney talks about is core to what positive leaders espouse. Positive climate and positive relationships make your players and employees want to work hard for you as a leader. This in turn leads to great results. Let’s not forget that a true leader inspires their people (not motivates or forces them). And when a leader is convinced that they will succeed, and can impassionedly convince their players or employees that they will win, you and your team will find a way to win. Positivity leads to positive results.

It was a fun game – a game that nobody should lose. But in the end, the leadership lesson is to build positive relationships, inspire your people, and you can achieve greatness within your team, company, or industry.


Howard Gauthier is an Associate Professor in the Sports Science Department at Idaho State University. His research interests include topics in positive leadership and career development in sports. His books include Getting Hired in College Sports, Execute for Success, and The Positive Leader. For more information on positive leadership, go to our website at www.ThePositiveLeader.org.