NEW ORLEANS — Innocent minds should not be underestimated.
A couple years before Dabo Swinney was named Clemson’s head coach, there was a time he almost called it quits completely. He was ready to give coaching up, thinking it kept him away from his family too much. That included his three sons.
“I had this big speech ready,” Swinney said Saturday at the Sugar Bowl’s media day. “They looked at me: ‘But, Daddy, if you’re not a coach, we won’t get to know the players and we won’t get to ride the bus.’”
Bus rides are always important.
It was a simple yet genuine answer that completely changed Swinney’s mind. He no longer thought about what he was missing out on but rather the unique opportunities he shares with his family.
Fast forward to the present, Swinney’s eldest son, Will Swinney, now plays for him.
“I feel like I’ve been pretty normal, treated the same as everyone, and it’s been good,” Will said. “When I mess up, I get yelled at. When I do good, I get a ‘good job.’”
The same goes for Dabo’s nephew, Jack Swinney, who is also on the team.
“If I really messed up, he talks to me as uncle to nephew,” Jack said. “He gives me a long lecture, and it’s the exact same lecture you’ll get at a team meeting. It really is. He doesn’t look at anyone as like a player, or a nephew. It’s almost as if he looks at everyone as a son.”
When Jack looks at his uncle, he sees him just as he did when he was 5. The Swinney family would take summer visits to Panama City Beach where he and Dabo would drive go-karts together.
Then there’s Will, who instantly thinks of his father dancing back home.
“His dab is like, he’s not very smooth with it,” Will said. “I’m not the best dancer either, but I think I’m better than him for sure. My brothers are good. They always try to teach him in the house, and he practices it, but it never works out.”
That doesn’t stop Dabo from dabbing after every Clemson victory. Note that he’s won 101 games in his 10 seasons leading the Tigers.
Dabo is clearly a good coach – Clemson is about to play Alabama for a spot in the national title game – but there’s more to it.
“He was a great dad, he’s been a great dad, and he is a great dad,” Will said. “I think he’s helped me turn out pretty good.”
Will is in his freshman year at Clemson. Jack, as a redshirt senior, is about to wrap up his collegiate career. This was the one season they got to play together.
And there’s a good chance that opportunity may have never happened if Dabo’s kids didn’t speak up all those years ago.
“That was a life-changing moment for me. It really was,” Dabo said. “So through these boys’ mouths and experiences they had had, they started telling me, ‘Dad, we love you being a coach.’”