Swinney Would Have Been a Cheap Fire

Zach Lentz

CLEMSON—Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney knows the ins and outs of what it is like to be on a coaching staff that was let go because they were not performing. He also knows what it is like be the beneficiary of a coach losing his job.

But the one thing he is thankful for, is that he has not been fired as a head coach, even though he believes that had his first two years been in today's "what have you done for me lately" world, he may not be the Tigers' head coach.

"I'm just glad I didn't fired after 21 games when I was 13-8," Swinney said. "I would have been real cheap to fire too. I had no idea what was in my first contract and that's a true story. I didn't even read it, I just said where do I sign? I didn't have a buyout. I would have been real cheap to get rid of after 21 games.

"I'm just thankful to (former athletic director) Terry Don Phillips for believing in me."

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.

For Swinney, the success that he has experienced in the nine years since has paid off, as in 2019 his Tigers ran their winning streak to an impressive 29 games, won their fifth straight ACC Championship, earned their fifth straight playoff appearance and made their fourth national title appearance... 

"There's no magic wand, especially if you're going to do it right," Swinney said. "My philosophy early was not I'm not signing junior college players or taking transfers. We were going to create a culture and build our program. I knew what I wanted to do, and it's not easy. Those first two years, man, I was 13-8 as head coach. So sometimes you've just got to be patient.

"It's just kind of the world we live in as coaches. All coaches know that, you're only as good as the game you're coaching."