Sports Spectrum Magazine Summer 2021

Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy says faith in Jesus drives him despite Parkinson's diagnosis

On Sunday, 7-seed Texas A&M advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament after beating North Carolina 86-65. For head coach Billy Kennedy, his Aggies are now in the round of sixteen for only the third time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

“I got tremendous faith and know that God’s got my back and we never gave up,” Kennedy said after the game. “These guys bought into how we needed to play. We got good kids who make mistakes but they came together when they needed to come together. I never did doubt and never gave up.”

For head coach Billy Kennedy, basketball is what he is known for, but he’s been in a different kind of battle off the court the past 6 years. Just weeks before the start of his first season as the coach at Texas A&M, Kennedy received the news from the doctors that he was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease,  a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that is incurable and causes shaking.

“My verse, and I’m not trying to throw all these verses on you,” he laughs, “is Job 3:10. It is something I have embraced my first two years of going through Parkinson’s. The verse says that God knows the way that I take, and when He has tried me, I will ‘come forth as gold.’ He’s got me. He knew it. I’m going to go through the trial and come out of the trial, but come forth as gold.”

The following is an excerpt from the December 2013 interview Sports Spectrum did with Kennedy.

Here he was, on the brink of starting his dream job, only to find out three months later he had Parkinson’s.

“It was just the understanding that God had given me a dream situation (at Texas A&M), but this was also getting brought with it,” Billy says. “It was at a time when practice was about to start, then boom.

“But there is a verse, and I’m not comparing myself to this by any means, because my disease is very manageable, and now that I know that, I can flourish with it, and it can be my ‘thorn in the flesh,’ as Paul said. But there is a verse (John 12:27-28) in the New Testament where Jesus cries out, ‘Lord, take this away from me.’ But then he said, ‘No, this is the purpose: You put me here to glorify Your name.’”

Mary says her husband never asked, ‘Why me?’ He tried to ignore it at first, like any man would, but then he came to grips with it. He accepted it.

They also accepted it as a couple. They may have asked, “Why now?” as he was about to begin his dream job, but they didn’t allow their minds to venture down the victim’s road.

“I just knew that my Father has cattle on 1,000 hills,” says Mary, quoting Psalm 50:10. “I knew He was our provider. God just gave me such a peace that this was where He brought us, that this was His plan for us. Would I have written it exactly like this? Probably not. But this is His perfect plan for us. He is blessing us. He has blessed us beyond measure.”

To Billy, as strange as it sounds, something like Parkinson’s is very ordinary—a disease in a diseased world, a bruise in a fight. Even when diagnosed at the young age of 47.

“We live in a fallen world, and I’m not indestructible,” Billy continues. “I’ve learned to embrace it over these two years. I have to embrace it. This is not permanent. Hope is for the eternal. I am content with the situation. To die is gain; to live is Christ…We are here, on this earth, just for a brief moment.”

His faith, he believes, isn’t even something to be praised. Because that is what genuine, ordinary faith does according to its definition. It endures. It is strong. It trusts.

“My verse, and I’m not trying to throw all these verses on you,” he laughs, “is Job 3:10. It is something I have embraced my first two years of going through Parkinson’s. The verse says that God knows the way that I take, and when He has tried me, I will ‘come forth as gold.’ He’s got me. He knew it. I’m going to go through the trial and come out of the trial, but come forth as gold.”

Everywhere he goes, people ask him, “How ya feeling?” and they tell him, “You’re looking good.” He jokes he could fund the multimillion-dollar renovations of A&M’s football stadium, Kyle Field, if he got a dollar every time someone told him he looked good.

And, though he appreciates the support, there is something very ordinary about Billy Kennedy on this ordinary October day in College Station—as he watches the NCAA’s officiating videos in A&M’s film room, as he answers media requests, as he prepares for the game that evening against Texas Christian University—so ordinary, so seemingly routine, you begin to wonder if you would ever know he had the disease if he hadn’t gone public with it two years ago.

“He’s doing everything the same way he did 10 years ago,” Mary says. “He’s in the best physical shape he has been in…in years. The Parkinson’s is a non-issue. He is able to do the job that he loves to do at the highest level. It’s not slowing him down or changing him. He’s out there working out with his guys and doing everything like he has always done.”

Then, after talking to Billy, it all seems very clear. Faith has a way of freeing you from future uncertainty. Faith on good soil has a way of freeing you from your circumstances, of producing 100-fold, of allowing you to continue doing what you love, of helping you “come forth as gold.”

“None of us are promised tomorrow,” Mary says. “It doesn’t do any good to look down the tomorrows. All we get is today, as best as we can possibly do it. And we’re so blessed to be where we are today.”

Billy continues: “If you have a challenge, but you have a faith in Jesus, you can keep doing what you’re doing. He’s got it.”

YOU CAN READ THE ENTIRE 2013 ARTICLE ON BILLY KENNEDY BY CLICKING BELOW

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