CLEMSON — When people ask Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney how he has been able to keep his staff together—especially in a day and age where turnover within other programs happens at an astonishing rate—his answer is simple: It is all about family.
"We have a great environment to live in, a great environment to come and work in. We have great relationships," Swinney said. "Our staff is very close. We're very —you hear about Clemson family all the time, but it's a very real thing for us, and I think that—I mean, we have guys that have opportunities to leave every year, and we've had change,
"I mean, since I've been the head coach. I've had different coordinators and different position coaches, but when we've had change, we've been able to make good decisions on who gets the opportunity to come in and be a part of our program."
The decision about who to hire, however, does not start with finding the coach with the perfect résumé.
Instead, for Swinney, the hiring process begins with finding people that he believes fit the program from a personal standpoint.
"Got a bunch of great, committed people and go people, and I always say, I hire good people first, coaches second," Swinney said. "And again, we're just fortunate that we're at a place like Clemson where our families enjoy living. We have the opportunity to compete at the highest level, live in an incredible place, recruit at the highest level, and when this is your profession, that's pretty special."
Swinney, and the Tigers as a program, have not been immune to having staff turnover. When former offensive coordinator Chad Morris left to take a head coaching position, Marion Hobby moved on to the NFL, former defensive line coach Dan Brooks retired and, most recently, co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott left to become the head coach at USF, Swinney was left searching for adequate replacements.
However, he had a plan in place. It involved promoting from within and hiring people that fit the culture.
Swinney wasted little time enacting his plan of moving offensive analyst and former Clemson wide receiver Tyler Grisham into the role of wide receivers coach.
"Well, that's been our plan for a long time. We finally got a chance to execute the plan. It's never not been the plan," Swinney said. "Tyler has been in line for a receiver job for quite a while. He's had a couple opportunities to leave, but just stayed. He's done a great job."
Even though he has had a plan in place, losing a coach that has been with you since you were an interim 12 years ago still hurts.
"Jeff is a huge loss for us. Like I said, he's been with me for 12 years." Swinney said. "He was a GA for me. When I got the interim job, I brought him in there with me, kind of trained him up, if you will. He's just done an phenomenal job in everything that you ever asked him to do."
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Swinney understood the kind of man that Scott was well before he became a head coach and knew immediately that if he ever had the opportunity to become a head coach, Scott was the kind of man he wanted on his side.
"One of the main reasons I hired him is prior to becoming the head coach, Coach Bowden, I ran the camps, I ran the clinics, there were a lot of things I did for Coach Bowden," Swinney said. "When you're in charge of those things, you're always trying to get the GAs, student workers to help you out. Sometimes full-time coaches aren't quite as antsy to put the trash bags out where they need to be or whatever needs to be done."
"But Jeff Scott, whatever you asked him to do, he would so far exceed what your expectation was. I told him that. I told him, If I ever get a job, you're going to be the first guy I hire. He was always early, always late, no job was too small for him. I was always so impressed with him."
When Swinney became the head coach after a brutal loss to Wake Forest in 2008, he knew exactly who he wanted to move out of a GA role into a full-time, on-field coaching position—Jeff Scott.
"Literally the day I became an interim, I said, All right, here we go. I said, If I get the job, you got the job," Swinney said. "He loves to tell the story. He went home to night, telling his wife, he is so excited. Coach Swinney tells me if he gets the job, we got seven weeks to go, he's going to hire me.
"Then all of a sudden across the ESPN ticker, the last 30 years zero interim coaches at the midseason got the job, zero out of 29 or whatever it was. He loves to tell that. But he's awesome. He was a great ambassador, representative of our program, Clemson University. Unbelievable recruiter, too. Just did a great job, recruited a lot of great young men to Clemson."
While Swinney hates losing coaches, he also understand that the timing was right for Scott to make the move to Tampa, and it was also right to promote another up-and-coming coach to an on-field position.
"Again, he's well-prepared. This is the right time. I've literally known Tyler Grisham since the second grade. When I was the receiver coach at Alabama, he would come to camp every year. I'd coach him in camp. Fast track down the road, I'm the receiver coach at Clemson, here comes this 10th grader from Alabama, followed me up to Clemson to camp.
I've known him his whole life. He's always been an incredible competitor. He's going to bring a lot of great stuff to that room. He'll put his own personality into it. He'll be a special coach for us."
While Grisham does not have the on-field coaching experience that Scott had, he brings a unique set of experiences to the Tiger program.
"He brings great knowledge. He's 31, so he's got great experience, great youth, energy as well," Swinney said. "He was a great player himself. He just has a great understanding of the fundamentals and techniques.
"I coached him. So he knows me inside and out, knows exactly what the expectations are for that position, how we do things. He knows our offense inside-out. He brings continuity to go along with the knowledge. He's going to be a great recruiter for us. He's already been impactful in our program the last six years. This is just another role for him, just promoting him onto the field."
With the Tigers becoming a perennial power and a staple in the College Football Playoff, there is sure to come a day when they will again find themselves looking to replace an assistant coach that has an opportunity to advance in their profession.
But Swinney believes that the next great coach may be on his staff already.
"So we've had some change, but I've had a lot of continuity from our support staff and guys that I felt like had opportunities to move up," Swinney said.