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Swinney Will Never Shy Away From Anyone

Swinney has seen it all and for him, the rise to glory is not because anything was given to the Tigers—in fact, they just went out and earned it.

Early in his head coaching tenure, Dabo Swinney laid out his belief to then-Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips that the Tigers needed to add tough non-conference challenges on top of their tests in ACC play to serve as a foundation for the program’s growth.

From the early 2000’s when the league was dominated by the Florida State Seminoles to the Tigers' climb to the top of the league beginning in 2015, Swinney has seen it all and for him, the rise to glory is not because of anything was given to the Tigers—in fact, they just went out and earned it.

“Just earned it on the field. Really that simple,” Swinney said. “I think we've got great coaches, great recruiting, great development of players. All you've got to do is look at the NFL Draft, and I think we're second maybe in draft picks over the last, I don't know, eight, nine years or whatever, and I don't think it's even close. Good recruiting, good development of players, and a lot of great coaching in this conference. But then stepping out and earning it on the field.

“You've got to go beat people, and I think that rhetoric has changed. When I got the job nine years ago, you're exactly right, that's where we were, and we earned that, too. We didn't beat anybody. And so I used to tell people all the time, I'd be like, guys, let's just shut up -- we've got to play people and you've got to beat people, then the story will change, and that's what's happened.”

Swinney never doubted that the Clemson Tigers could be one of the top programs year-in and year-out in the world of college football. 

However, when he took the job in 2009, there was an understanding that the Tigers were a long way away from achieving that goal.

"Yeah, I mean, to be honest with you, when I got the job in '09, I felt like at Clemson, we could build a program that could compete at the highest level. We were a long way away from that. That's for sure," Swinney said. "But I felt like we had a few pieces in place, and we just needed to build an infrastructure, we needed to modernize our program in every sense of the word, from staff to our recruiting to our facilities, the way the administration thought. You name it.

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"Because we were competitive, so I felt like at the very beginning that we could be a team."

But the infrastructure, facilities and administration were only part of the equation for Swinney, the other part being the Tigers' schedule.

Swinney felt like if the Tigers were going to work their way back into the national conversation of being one of the top programs, the Tigers needed to up their game--which is exactly what they did.

"I felt like we needed to play a tough schedule, and that was one of my first meetings with Terry Don Phillips was hey, we play a tough schedule in our league, but if we're going to build a great program, the only way I can prepare the team is -- and listen, you can't be afraid to fail, all right," Swinney said. "There's going to be some failure. But that's a part of your growth. That's a part of development. That's the only way that I'm going to be able to teach these guys what it takes."

But even with a commitment to strong scheduling, the Tigers have experienced more success than failure.

On a year-by-year basis, Clemson has finished the season atop the country in wins against Power Five opponents four times since the institution of the College Football Playoff in 2014, including four of the last seven years. That includes 13 wins against Power Five opponents in 2018, the first team ever to reach that figure.The Tigers also have the second-highest winning percentage (87.4) in that time frame. 

"So from day one, we've played Georgia, played Auburn four times," Swinney said. "We've played Texas A&M, Notre Dame, LSU, we've played a lot of people in and outside of our conference that allowed us to compete and developed the program to where we could match up and have the type of postseason success that we've had over the past five or six years."

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