This was supposed to be a great month for me. The NCAA college basketball tournament was upon us, and my hometown team, the Virginia Cavaliers, were ranked No. 1 in the nation--the favorites to win the national championship.
Then, Friday night happened.
The unheralded University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) Retrievers, a No. 16 seed in the tournament, defeated my beloved Cavaliers by a score of 74-54.
In 135 attempts, a 16 seed had never defeated a 1 seed (never mind the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament). And it wasn't just that the Cavs were defeated; they were blown out by 20 points. Considering Virginia has been one of the best teams in the country for the past five years, with a suffocating defense and an amazing head coach, this was unbelievable.
So, how would Virginia coach Tony Bennett respond to this historic loss?
What follows is what may be the best postgame speech I've ever heard, bar none:
"This is life," Bennett said. "It can't define you. You enjoyed the good times and you gotta be able to take the bad times. When you step into the arena...the consequences can be historic losses, tough losses, great wins, and you have to deal with it. And that's the job."
Wow. After what must be one of the toughest losses of his career, here stood a man with outstanding poise, a man who refused to stay down or feel sorry for himself, or for his team.
Instead, he humbly credited his opponent. He focused on the positive, helping his guys to see the bigger picture.
And most of all, he taught his team not to let a single negative experience--albeit an especially painful one--define them.
That's emotional intelligence at its finest.
Of course, I shouldn't have expected any less. In a sport ridden with scandal and cheating, Bennett has long been recognized as one of the few who does things by the book. His philosophy emphasizes teamwork and principle. His fellow coaches describe him as a "class act" and a "genuine, great human being."
Truth be told, I've never been more proud to be a Cavaliers fan.
This team may have been on the wrong side of basketball history, but they had the privilege of being taught how to handle one of life's more difficult moments in a positive way. They learned how to keep that moment in perspective, and most important, how to grow from it.
I bet these guys would be ready to step right back into the arena with Coach Bennett any day.
And that's what leadership is all about.