2008 Tigers Paved the Way for the 2019 Tigers

Zach Lentz

CLEMSON— It was 2008 and the Clemson Tigers entered the final contest of the season, the annual showdown with instate rival South Carolina, with a 6-5 record under interim coach Dabo Swinney.

According to Swinney it was that game, a 34-14 victory, which would give, then athletic director, Terry Don Phillips the idea to remove the “interim” label from Swinney making him the Tigers head coach.

“I don’t think there’s any question about it (that the game was the deciding factor,” Swinney said. “I remember it was kind of a cold, kind of cloudy, seemed later than it was, type of game, and I just remember the spirit of our team and how hard they played—their will to win.”

While the victory made the decision for Phillips a, somewhat, easy one—Swinney understood heading into the game that his future was in doubt.

“It was no question (for me), if we don’t win that game, I’m probably not the coach here. I mean, maybe,” Swinney said. “I mean, Terry Don Phillips has some guts, but I don’t know if he had that kind of guts.”

Since that faithful game nearly 11 years ago, Swinney has built the Clemson Tigers into a football powerhouse.

Looking back on that final game, Swinney can see the building blocks that were laid on the foundation that is now the No. 3 ranked team in the country seeking a fifth straight ACC Championships and fifth straight trip to the College Football Playoff.

“We finished 4-2 those last six regular season games, and that was certainly the game that got us over the hump and it got us bowl eligible,” Swinney said. “We weren’t going to a bowl, so it gave us an opportunity, and it was huge for me—getting the job—because it gave us a bowl season to prep and get some things in place for spring practice and give some of those young kids an opportunity to continue to kind of sew some seeds and develop our culture a little bit.”

It was that group seniors that included names like Chris Clemons, James Davis, Cullen Harper, Aaron Kelly and current Tiger assistant Tyler Grisham, which laid the foundation for what the 2019 team has been able to accomplish.

And it is to those seniors that Swinney is eternally grateful.

“It was unbelievable,” Swinney continued. “I am very thankful for that group of seniors because those guys really bought into how they wanted to finish. That’s what we control. It’s always what’s next. The best is yet to come. Those guys did an unbelievable job and played their hearts out.”

It is because of the foundation laid on dreary day, late November 2008 that the 2019 Clemson seniors have an opportunity to leave Clemson as the winningest group in the history of the school.

So maybe when the Tigers head coach says things like what a “special week” this is, and how much he enjoys rivalry week, those on the outside looking in will have a great appreciation, as Swinney does, for what this game really means.

““There is the season, and then we have South Carolina. It kind of stands alone,” Swinney said. “This is a fun week. It is awesome to be a part of rivalry games.”