For the Clemson Tigers football program success starts at the top with the head coach Dabo Swinney.
Swinney has been the Clemson head coach for just eight years, but during that time he has cemented himself as one of the legends of the football program.
The last five years at Clemson have ranked among the best in the sport’s 150-year annals. Clemson’s 69 wins since 2015 are three more than any other team in the country and are the most in a five-year span in The Associated Press (AP) Poll era (since 1936).
In that span, Clemson became the second team ever to qualify for five straight College Football Playoffs, earning four national championship berths and two titles in that stretch. Clemson won at least 12 games in all five of those seasons, the longest active streak of 12-win seasons and one of only four such streaks in major college football history.
For a coach that has taken his team to the pinnacle of college football, it would be easy to change.
It would be easy for Swinney to become arrogant. It would be easy for him to become demanding, temperamental and detached. It would be easy if he wasn’t Dabo Swinney. It would be easy if he wasn’t at peace with who he is and what he is doing.
“Coach Swinney is the same person when we are winning as when we are losing,” Former Clemson co-offensive coordinator and current USF head coach Jeff Scott said about his former boss. “He is the same man on a Tuesday in the offseason as he is on a Saturday in season. He’s priorities are in line: faith, family, then football, and he’s not going to compromise on that.”
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Now entering his 13th season (and 12th full season) as Clemson’s head coach, Dabo Swinney has already 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.
Clemson enters the third decade of the 21st century after Swinney helped author one of the most prolific 10-year periods in the history of the sport. Clemson posted a 117-22 record under Swinney’s leadership in the 2010s, and the program’s 117 wins trailed only Penn (124 in the 1890s) and Alabama (124 in the 2010s) to tie for the third-most in a decade in major college football since 1890.
Even with all the accolades that have been heaped upon Swinney, including being the recipient of multiple coach of the year awards, Swinney has remained true to himself and that is what makes him special to those coaches who call him “boss.”
One might think that the success that Swinney has experienced that his laissez-faire form of coaching might become increasingly more hands on. Tightening the reins on his coaches to ensure that they don’t have a life outside of football and that his fingerprints are on every aspect of the football program, but he hasn’t.
If anything Swinney has become increasingly more hands-off allowing his assistant coaches the freedom to coach their positions.
“He’s not a micromanager,” quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter said. “He hired us to do our jobs. He hired me to be the quarterbacks coach and I’m going to do the best that I can for him. He allows us to do our job and that’s awesome because we are able to have that camaraderie as a staff … you don’t get that everywhere. There’s a lot of coaches that are micromanagers”
However, for Streeter that was not what drew him home to Clemson where he played quarterback from 1997-99. It was the fact that Swinney is a genuine person that sets an example that makes the other coaches not only want to be around him, but they want to be like him.
“Ever since I came on staff for Coach Swinney, you hear all of these things about that he’s a faith and family guy and he’s exactly what everybody says he is. He’s not a fake. He’s very genuine, very enthusiastic, very positive and that penetrates us (as a staff). That’s contagious. When we come into the office and he’s like that — the same guy every day — that encourages us to be like him. That’s No. 1 when you look at him as a person.”