CLEMSON — For the Clemson football program, success starts at the top with Dabo Swinney.
Swinney has been the Clemson head coach for just nine years, but during that time he has cemented himself as one of the legends of the football program after leading the Tigers to their second national title in 2016.
Clemson maintained that elite status in 2017 despite having only six scholarship seniors and losing most of the offensive fire power from 2016. The 2017 season might be the best for Swinney, who was a finalist for the AP, Bear Bryant, Dodd, Eddie Robinson and George Munger coach-of-the-year awards.
That is saying something for someone who has been named national coach of the year by at least one service four of the previous six years.
With all of the accolades and accomplishments, it would be easy for Swinney to become arrogant. It would be easy for him to become demanding, temperamental and detached. It would be easy if he weren’t Dabo Swinney. It would be easy if he weren’t at peace with who he is and what he is doing.
“Coach Swinney is the same person when we are winning as when we are losing,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said about his boss. “He is the same man on a Tuesday in the offseason as he is on a Saturday in season. He’s priorities are in line: faith, family, then football, and he’s not going to compromise on that.”
In 10 years (nine full seasons) as the Tigers’ head coach, Swinney has directed Clemson to a 101-30 overall record (.771, best by a Tiger coach) and 61-16 ACC regular-season mark (.792). He has also led the Tigers to the ACC Championship Game five times, won four ACC titles, won or shared six ACC Atlantic Division titles and won seven bowl games (five against top-10 teams). His teams have compiled 26 wins over ranked teams in his head-coaching career, including 13 over top-10 opponents.
From 2011-17, Clemson compiled an 82-15 record, the most wins in a seven-year period in school history. Fifty-three of the victories came against ACC teams. The 2017 seniors had a school and ACC-record 50 wins as well.
Even with all the accolades that have been heaped upon Swinney, including being named the recipient of the Bear Bryant Coach of the Year Award following the Tigers’ magical season in 2016, Swinney has remained true to himself and that is what makes him special to those coaches who call him “boss.”
“We’ve had five years of 10 win teams, of playing the best teams and beating them and Coach Swinney is still making it fun,” former defensive ends coach Marion Hobby said of Swinney. “He’s a family man and what you see from him is what you get. Does that mean that he doesn’t get up tight? No, sometimes the head coach has to coach the coaches — that happens. But it has been fun.
One might think success has Swinney becoming more hands-on or tightening the reins on his coaches. Not so.
If anything Swinney has become increasingly more hands-off, allowing his assistant coaches the freedom to coach their positions.
“He’s not a micromanager,” quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter said. “He hired us to do our jobs. He hired me to be the quarterbacks coach and I’m going to do the best that I can for him. He allows us to do our job and that’s awesome because we are able to have that camaraderie as a staff ... You don’t get that everywhere. There’s a lot of coaches that are micromanagers.”
However, that is not what drew Streeter home to Clemson, where he played quarterback from 1997-99. It was the fact that Swinney is a genuine person who sets an example that makes the other coaches not only want to be around him, they want to be like him.
“Ever since I came on staff for Coach Swinney, you hear all of these things about that he’s a faith and family guy and he’s exactly what everybody says he is. He’s not a fake. He’s very genuine, very enthusiastic, very positive and that penetrates us (as a staff). That’s contagious. When we come into the office and he’s like that — the same guy every day — that encourages us to be like him. That’s No. 1 when you look at him as a person.”