Changes Brought Unprecedented Success to Clemson

Lyn Scarbrough

January 20, 2019 at 3:25 pm.

Jan 7, 2019; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney locks arms with his team before the 2019 College Football Playoff Championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Levi's Stadium. Photo Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 7, 2019; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney locks arms with his team before the 2019 College Football Playoff Championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Levi’s Stadium. Photo Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

This feature/column is reprinted from “National Champions,” the Lindy’s commemorative edition celebrating the 2018 Clemson season. The publication can be purchased through Lindy’s web site. on newsstands in the South Carolina area or by contacting Lindy’s publishing office at 205-871-1182.

Things were disappointing for Clemson fans midway through the 2008 season.

Tommy Bowden became head coach in 1999 and his teams were respectable. The Tigers were bowl eligible every year but never lost fewer than three games in a season. He had been Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year twice, but never won the league title.

This was to be the year. Ranked preseason No. 9 by the Associated Press, the team struggled to a 3-3 record. After back-to-back losses to Maryland and Wake Forest, Bowden resigned in mid-October, replaced by receivers coach Dabo Swinney, named interim for the rest of the campaign. After his team went 4-2 and earned a Gator Bowl bid against Nebraska, the first-time head coach signed a five-year contract, removing the “interim.”

Swinney realized that things needed to be changed … quickly.

“We needed to build an infrastructure and build our brand,” Swinney told Lindy’s in 2015. “We needed to be All-In from the start. I told the team that the first day.

“We needed to do a better job from a recruiting standpoint. Great programs out there don’t plateau. You have to constantly reinvent yourselves and grow. We also needed to improve our facilities.  We were going in that direction with the west end zone, but we have done so much more since then.”

So much has been done, not only with facilities, but also with every aspect of the program.

Success on the field has been easiest to see. Football, always competitive and respected, has exploded, evolving seemingly overnight into an annual national powerhouse.

Swinney’s first full season (2009) brought a 9-5 record, the ACC Atlantic Division title and a win in the Music City Bowl. The following year, the Tigers slumped to 6-7, Swinney’s only losing season.

Since 2011, Clemson has never failed to win at least 10 games and has won or tied for six Atlantic Division crowns. The Tigers have lost just eight league games during that span and have won the ACC Championship Game four consecutive times. The overall record in those eight seasons is 97-15, including three College Football Championship Game appearances and two national titles in the past four seasons.

But change has been everywhere since Swinney took over the program.

Clemson, the small college town, has prospered economically with new businesses and greatly increased numbers of out-of-town game day visitors with a demand for upscale hotel accommodations.

The university itself has seen an increase in interest from prospective students. Athletic and academic facilities have benefited from new construction. And fans of the football program have greater expectations, higher than ever before in Tiger football history.

The Clemson football program’s success has been the major catalyst for these things and Swinney’s compensation package has changed to reflect that. His base salary is reportedly in the $6 million range, not including life insurance premiums and performance incentives. That doesn’t include the cars and the country club membership and tickets to other Clemson athletic events.

Most members of the Clemson family would agree that the perks have been well-earned.

Swinney’s success has also earned respect and the freedom to express opinions on most any topic … which he often does. His outgoing personality and dynamic approach to life has been a near-perfect fit with the Clemson fan base.

An outspoken Christian, he claims his faith as “the foundation of my life.”

“Coaching makes some of the things I’ve experienced in life make sense to me,” he has said. “It allows me to use my life experiences to impact young people and to serve God through what I do. I’m very passionate about seeing young people graduate, mature and develop.”

He doesn’t mind speaking his mind about other things.

“Everybody kind of lives their life in fear,” he said, explaining his opposition to players skipping postseason bowl games. “Anybody can get hurt in any game. Why play your senior year at all? I personally don’t live my life that way – wrap yourself in bubble wrap. You can get hurt doing anything.”

He “got in the face” of All-American defensive lineman Christian Wilkins when he struck the Heisman pose in the end zone after scoring a touchdown against South Carolina.

“He just is holding me to a high standard,” Wilkins said in accepting the admonition. “He’s challenging me not to get out of who I am, what I stand for, what the program stands for.”

Swinney didn’t hide displeasure with Tiger fans who were critical after Clemson’s 56-35 win over South Carolina.

“I ain’t ever going to apologize for a 21-point win over our rival, and winning five straight games over our rival,” he said. “Our program is not going to be like that. If 12-0 ain’t good enough, then it’s time for me to seek other places.”

And he had an answer for fans showing Clemson-Alabama fatigue as they faced each other in another College Football Playoff Championship Game.

“I’m not going to apologize for having a great team and a great program and a bunch of committed guys,” he said. “I think the objective is to get the two best teams. That’s kind of the way it is.”

Telling you the way it is and consistently putting a championship caliber team on the field, that’s how Dabo Swinney does things with the Clemson program. There’s not much disappointment anymore and don’t expect that to change anytime soon.