Swinney Is Still at Clemson Because He Chose to 'Bloom' Where He Was Planted

Zach Lentz

Clemson — “Learn to bloom where you are planted”

Those are the words that Clemson coach Dabo Swinney tells every assistant coach that has ever worked for him the reason is simple, “The grass isn't always greener on the other side, and it still will need mowing.”

For Swinney, that message is not just one that he gives to his assistants — it is one that he has lived by since he began coaching in 1993 at the University of Alabama.

Following Swinney's graduation from the University of Alabama he joined the staff under then coach Gene Stallings as a graduate assistant, and in February of 1996 Swinney became a full-time assistant coach for Stallings.

Swinney stayed with the Crimson Tide until 2001 where he was a part of six teams with 10-plus wins, five top-five finishes, five top-10 finishes, one national championship, three SEC Championships, and five Western Division Championships as both a player and coach.

For Swinney, the lessons learned during that time have dramatically shaped the coach that he has become today.

“I started coaching in 1993, so I've been doing this a long time,” Swinney said. “You know, I didn't get into coaching to make money — I really didn't. I made a decision a long time ago. I knew I wasn't going to make a lot of money, but I was OK with that because I was doing what I loved to do and what I was passionate about.

“It's (money) never been my drive. I've just always tried to just be great at whatever I'm doing and have a great attitude wherever I a m and whatever circumstances are. As I always tell people, 'just bloom where you're planted' and that's just how I've always lived my life.

Swinney's journey to the Tigers, however, was not as straight forward as the path normally taken by many coaches. For Swinney, he had to learn to bloom where he was planted in a different profession for two years.

From April of 2001 until February of 2003 Swinney was a real estate salesmen his home state of Alabama after being let go from the Crimson Tide after the firing of then coach Mike Dubose.

It was during those two years away from football that molded Swinney into the coach that would eventually find himself on the other end of a phone call from then Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden.

“I'm very thankful,” Swinney said. “At the time I didn't like it that much, but I'm very thankful now that I had that opportunity, because it gave me a total different perspective and appreciation for the privilege that it is to coach. To be around young people every day.”

In 2003 Swinney would join the Tigers staff as wide receiver's coach for then coach Tommy Bowden — who had coached Swinney at Alabama in the late 1980s.

Swinney immediately made a mark on the Tigers program coaching his wide receiver position to a level of consistency that had previously not been seen at Clemson. Under Swinney's tutelage the wide receivers position placed first or second in ACC in catches in five of his six years as an assistant coach.

Swinney coached a First or Second Team All-ACC wideout in 12 of his 13 seasons at Clemson — an unprecedented feat at Clemson.

When Swinney accepted the interim head coaching position Oct. 13, 2008 Swinney could describe the day only as “bittersweet” In part, Swinney's feeling were due to the fact that he would be replacing Tommy Bowden — a man who had coached him at Alabama in 1989 and then hired him 14 years later after Swinney had been out of coaching for two years.

Since becoming the head coach on that faithful day in October, Swinney has taken Clemson to heights that had not been seen in Tiger Town.

In only 11 seasons at Clemson (10 full seasons), Dabo Swinney has carved his name into that foundation, elevating himself amid a pantheon of Clemson greats by becoming the first coach in program history to lead Clemson to multiple national championships. Swinney and Clemson’s 2018 season was one for which statistics and superlatives accumulated in historic fashion. The Tigers became the first major college football team in the modern era (and the first since the Penn Quakers in 1897) to finish a season with a 15-0 record.

The list of “firsts” was long and distinguished.

Clemson became the first ACC program to beat Florida State in four consecutive years, handing the Seminoles their worst home loss in school history. It became the first program to win four consecutive Atlantic Division titles. And with a 42-10 win against Pitt in the ACC Championship Game, the Tigers became the first program to win four consecutive ACC titles outright. Clemson’s 15 wins included a school-record 12 against teams who finished with winning records. Clemson won by an average margin of 31.1 points per game, the best in the nation and the second-largest in school history, trailing only a 35.3-point average margin in 1900. Among the seasons it passed was a 30.4-point average margin in 1901, a season in which Clemson won one of its five games by a score of 122-0. Clemson set school records in points (664) and total offense (7,718, also an ACC record). Conversely, the defense held opponents to 13.1 points per game, leading the country in scoring defense for the first time in school history.

All of the success that the Tigers have experienced may have not happened had Swinney not practiced what he preached about blooming where he was planted.

Three times. Three times Swinney had the opportunity to return to the University of Alabama as an assistant coach.

First, in 2003 then coach Mike Price offered Swinney a job coaching tight ends, however Price withdrew the offer three weeks later. Then in December of 2006 with West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez rumored to be the next coach of the Crimson Tide, Swinney was close to accepting a position on the staff. Rodriguez would eventually back out.

Swinney's final courtship back to his Alma mater came in 2007 when Nick Saban reached out to Swinney and offered him a position on the Crimson Tides staff. The offer came one month from National Signing Day leading Swinney to turn down the offer from Saban.

“Most people don't even know that when coach Saban arrived at Alabama he called and offered me a job, but the timing wasn't right,” Swinney said. “If I had been chasing the next job, or more money we would never have gotten where we are today...just bloom where you are planted.”

For Tiger fans there is no doubt that they are happy that Swinney not only comes up with clever sayings, slogans, and acronyms — he lives them out.

“It's been amazing how God has worked in our lives, and he's blessed us tremendously — always has,” Swinney said. “When we had little and when we have had a lot. We just try to stay true to who we are and enjoy all the journey that we've been on. But as I tell people all the time, 'the best is yet to come', and man, I'm just excited to be a part of it.”