There’s one difficulty in interviewing Dabo Swinney 2017 after you have interviewed Dabo Swinney 2016.
You get the same Dabo.
The circumstances surrounding Swinney might change, although in this case they haven’t changed that much as he brings his Clemson Tigers back to the College Football Playoff championship for a second straight year. There are some Tiger players who have moved on, of course, and some new faces who will play important roles in Monday night’s game against Alabama. None of that causes any alteration at all in Swinney’s demeanor, his relentless positive outlook and pride in what his team has accomplished or his sense of semi-wonder, after nearly eight years at the Clemson helm, that all of this is happening to him.
“I don’t think I even remember last year,” Swinney said as he sat down before the media day throng at Tampa’s Amalie Arena. “This is great. This is awesome. Did we have all this last year? I can’t remember.”
Swinney’s hackles were raised by one leading question, one that suggested his Clemson team would be “a failure” if it doesn’t reverse last year’s outcome and defeat Alabama.
“That couldn’t be further from the truth,” Swinney said. “Nothing you said is even close to reality. We’ve never had a goal to win a national championship on our board. Our goals (are) to win the opener, win the division, win the state championship, win the ACC and win the closer. If we can hit all five, then we’ve got a chance to win it all. God, you could have a big injury to a key player and lose one or two games. That doesn’t mean a team is a failure.”
Why did that question rankle Swinney? Perhaps because he’s been told so many times that he couldn’t succeed.
“That’s the thing about Dabo,” his longtime assistant (and former position coach at Alabama), Woody McCorvey said. “He’s never had it easy. Being a walk-on isn’t easy. Being an assistant coach and your first job is at Alabama isn’t easy. He became the head coach at Clemson and he’d never even been a coordinator before. That’s not easy.
“But every time someone has given Dabo an opportunity, he’s succeeded. Every time.”
McCorvey said that Swinney got the opportunity to serve as interim coach at Clemson in 2008, his stepping-stone to the head coaching job, because the Clemson AD at the time, Terry Don Phillips, was a former football coach, “and he knew coaches.”
“Terry Don hired Les Miles at Oklahoma State, then (Mike) Gundy,” McCorvey said. “Those are good hires. And he said he gave Dabo the chance because there was just something about the way the players responded to him, even as a position coach, in every drill he coached. And that hasn’t changed.”
Swinney has a different personality than his friend, Nick Saban. But if he wants one quality in common, it is consistency.
“I know Alabama,” Swinney said. “For the first 33 years of my life, that’s where I wanted to be, where I wanted to play. So it’s an unbelievable foundation and tradition, and they have all the No. 1 (recruiting) classes and all that. But you’ve still got to develop them, still got to coach them. You’ve still got to create a buy-in, week-in and week-out.
“They know they are going to get every (opponent’s) best shot, every time they play. That’s sort of where we are as a program now.
“Winning (on Monday night) would be the cherry on top. This is the only thing we haven’t done.
“Sooner or later, we’re going to get it done.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.