CLEMSON— The Clemson Tigers have found themselves in the midst of the most significant era in football history under the leadership of head coach Dabo Swinney.
The 2021 Tigers faced a perfect storm of injuries, attrition, adversity and inexperience in key positions but battled to finish 10-3 in what Swinney called a victory for the team’s culture. Clemson continued its historic 10-win-season streak despite only four offensive or defensive players starting every game and despite the Tigers ending the season with an incredible 30 scholarship players unavailable.
But for all of the strife those injuries created in 2021, Clemson stands to benefit from them greatly in 2022. Clemson returns 54 lettermen among its 82 returning players that have appeared in at least one game at Clemson, and while Clemson returns 15 of its 22 primary offensive and defensive starters from 2021, a total of 37 different returning players have started at least one career game for the Tigers.
The reason for the Tigers unprecedented run of success under Swinney began 13 years ago with one word: Why.
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"You know, for me, it started in '09 our first year, and it's being really driven by the why of our program: Why I coach, why we do what we do, not just what we do, how we do it, but why,” Swinney said. "And really everybody believing in that part of it. Being culture-focused, being very intentional. For me, I recruit people first. I hire people first. There's no perfect people, but I think the good Lord has given me good instincts, and so we've had a certain way that we've gone about doing things.”
That way of doing things has led Swinney to reteach everyone the “why” every year—whether it is the coaching staff at their annual, pre-fall camp All-In meetings or to the entire team in their first meeting of the year every member of the Tigers will re-learn the lessons that Swinney has believed in since taking over midway through the 2008 season.
“We start over every year, reinstall the program, reinstall the core values, the philosophy that we believe in, the why, and I just don't vary from that,” Swinney said. “And then as we have been able to build that culture over the many years now, we just nurture it every year.”
For Swinney, what the Tigers have accomplished on the field is a result of being a great program and not a great team, and that one word—why—has driven the Tigers to achieve more than Swinney could have dreamed of.
“You know, the program is what I've always been focused on, not just having a good team,” Swinney said. “From day one, we've always been program-oriented, with the goal being developing a consistent winner, to one day be a team that year in and year out you just know you've got a chance. That's all you can ask for.”
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