CLEMSON — Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney has coached the Tigers to their second 13-0 season under his watch — the third in school history, following their 42-10 win in the ACC Championship on Saturday.
But for Swinney, this journey to 13-0 was maybe the most memorable one yet.
“It's really just indescribable. I've been doing this a long time now. The years, it becomes a blur,” Swinney said on Saturday night. “I got into coaching in 1993, then I got this job 10 years ago today. I can't even believe I've been the head coach 10 years here. This is my 16th year overall at Clemson. I came here thinking, I'll be here a year, two years. Here I am. It's just crazy.
“But that was God's plan for me. I'm just so thankful.”
Swinney has every right to be thankful, as his Tigers’ have put together an already-historic season. Led by true freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the Tiger offense ranks fifth in scoring offense (45.4 points per game), 10th in rushing offense (259.77 yards per game), fifth in total offense (529.8 yards per game) and has defeated their last eight opponents by 21 points or more.
“I mean, these guys won 11 games by 20 points or more,” Swinney said. “We set the school record for touchdowns, offensive touchdowns. That offense we had in '16 was pretty good. These guys shattered it tonight. We still got more games, hopefully two more games.
“Most of these guys are back on offense next year. We have an unbelievably special group. What I love more than anything is just coming to work every day and knowing that you're around good people, people who really care about what you're doing, they're passionate about it. This team has had an unbelievable focus.”
Now as the Tigers prepare to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Dec. 29 (4 p.m., ESPN), Swinney believes that the closeness of his team will pay dividends when it comes to the 24-day break before they play again.
“These guys have just been locked in all year long,” Swinney said. “They love each other. They really, really like and appreciate and love each other. It's a very close football team. Our practices, it's just no nonsense. It can be a grind. I mean, there's a lot of monotony in what you got to do to get ready week in and week out. Every week we've been favored. It don't matter.
"These guys just get ready as if we're playing the Saints every week. That's kind of the mindset of these guys. They want to play well.”
Each year before the season begins, Swinney makes every player on the team, every member of the coaching staff and himself choose a word of the year.
That word is the thing they want to focus on throughout the grind of the season, fall camp, the long summer workouts and the postseason. It should come as no surprise to those who have seen the Tigers’ head coach this season, that his word was joy.
“My word for the year has been 'joy' all year. I've had so much joy with this team,” Swinney said. “Incredible joy in the journey. At the end of the day, that's what it all comes down to. I'm going to miss these guys. I love these guys. Got a lot of guys, this is the most senior class I've ever had, most veterans I've ever had on a team.
“Man, to be a part of their lives for four and five years, to see the transformation, to see them achieve what they've achieved is just incredible. I know as a grown man what that's going to mean to them down the road. For them, this is kind of a cool moment in life. This is just who they are, what they're doing. But, man, I know what it's going to mean to them when they're 35, 40, down the road, when they have a chance to really reflect. It's going to be the relationships, it's going to be the journey that they're going to remember.”
While the Tigers continue to work towards achievements with this group, the hope remains to hoist more hardware this postseason. However, it's not the trophies that Swinney will remember, but rather the journey.
‘Man, it's the practices, it's the grind in August, it's those meetings, Friday night meetings,” Swinney said. “It’s the bus rides. That's the stuff. It's the guys messing around, having fun.
"Those are the things you always remember.”