SAN JOSE, Calif. — Perhaps no one in college football knows what it takes to beat Alabama better than Dabo Swinney.
The Clemson coach is responsible for two of the last three losses for the Crimson Tide. His playing days came in Tuscaloosa, and his coaching career gestated there.
“I have so much respect for Alabama,” Swinney said Tuesday morning after winning his second national championship. “I mean, Alabama is home, it will always be a place that I love, and I’ve got a lot of family, and I look at it the same at Clemson. It’s home, it’s family. It’s a very healthy rivalry. I think there’s a lot of respect.
“It’s going to take me like two weeks to respond to my text messages because it’s like a double-up game for me. Usually I always get a lot of well wishes before or after games from all my Clemson family and friends, but then you play Alabama, and it’s doubled because I’ve got Alabama family and friends. It’s a lot of fun to compete against the University of Alabama.”
It’s more fun for Swinney when his Tigers come out on top. He has withheld two national championships from Alabama, winning the title in 2016 and 2018. Alabama prevented top-ranked Clemson from winning the national championship in 2015 and 2017.
Swinney declined to proclaim his program as a dynasty. He said Alabama is “in a category of its own” under Nick Saban. But he’s pulled his program alongside Alabama in recent seasons.
“First and foremost, you don’t make it about Alabama,” Swinney said. “You know, I’ve been at Alabama. I spent 13 years there, so I can’t tell you, there was a lot of times as a player I walked off the field and I wasn’t sure that we were better than that team, but they thought we were better, and we won a lot of games when we got off the bus.”
That wasn’t the case when Clemson arrived in California. Even Swinney didn’t expect to win 44-16, but the Tigers entered the night with confidence.
“I don’t think that we went into the game thinking we were going to beat Alabama by four touchdowns,” he said. “It just kind of went that way. It was our night, and we got control of the game.”
It may not be the final meeting between these programs, either. Clemson’s young nucleus on offense will return mostly intact for 2019. Alabama’s core of freshmen and sophomore skill position players will be back as well.
“I told Coach Saban last night, he was very gracious after the game, and I just told him,’ See you next year,’ because I don’t think they’re going to go anywhere,” Swinney said. “They’ll be back.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.