Interview With: Dabo Swinney
Posted By:Brett Haynes Tags:
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Dabo Swinney is still learning things as Clemson's new Head Football Coach. He is still learning to let his secretary open his mail. He is still learning to delegate certain things to other people. He is still learning when to cut on and cut off his inner drive for this never ending job. And, after today, Coach Swinney has now learned that as the Tiger Head Coach, you will from time to time have interview requests that are, well, a bit different than usual.
This was Fans25.com's first big interview, there is no hiding that here. And now that it has come and gone, I have to say that I am very pleased with how it went. Was I nervous? You bet I was. But I was nervous in an exciting sort of way that I haven't felt in a long while. I mean, we were going into a man's office who was short on time, and we weren't exactly ESPN. But I felt that this was the sort of thing that I needed to start doing for Fans25.com, and I certainly couldn't have asked for a better person to sit down with first.
We needed to be prepared, and I think to a pretty good degree we were. My partner in this invasion was my long-time friend, college roommate, and Fans25.com regular contributor, Dana Mitchell. For those of you that know Dana, you know his passion for the Tigers, his knowledge of their history, and his willingness to ask Coach Swinney the toughest and most utterly important of questions, such as "which way will you go with the uniforms?" (we'll get to that in a minute). So it was good to have him along for the help and entertainment.
We arrived at the Clemson Football offices a few minutes early. While we waited for our turn with the coach, we had the chance to visit with Swinney's Administrative Assistant, Beth Douglas, who has been in the position for eight years. She was also the assistant to Coach Bowden, and probably knows the inside story of recent Clemson football better than anyone! The three of us were having a nice little conversation when we were surprised by a visit from speed-demon wide-reciever Jacoby Ford. Ford needed to see the coach for a minute, and was also there to score his daily pack of Sweet-Tarts. My nerves were quickly calmed when Dcomitch informed Ford that our friend had a cat named after him. The look on Ford's face was a priceless combination of humor and confusion. As he stared at us wondering if we were kidding, I assured Ford it was no big deal, because this friend also had another cat named after James Davis...
After a few short minutes, Swinney came out, and we went in. His office sits at the corner of the McFadden Building overlooking Doug Kingsmore Baseball Stadium. In May, the football coaches will be moving into the West Zone at Death Valley, but for now, they are here. His office is larger than I expected, and very comfortable. It is simple, with some nice pieces here and there, and large windows. We sat around a small table to the side of the office, next to the windows, and began by thanking Dabo for his time and telling him why we were there. He made us feel welcome from the start, and we shot the bull for five minutes or so. With his tight schedule, I knew not to take too much of his time, and soon asked him if we could go through a few questions so that I could write an article for the site when I got back home...The voice recorder went on, and I suggested Dcomitch get things going with the issue that is surely centered squarely on the minds of every Clemson fan from sea to shining sea: the Tiger uniform.
Now sure, I could have gotten the ball rolling with a different question, maybe one that was a little more "important", so to say. But know this: Fans25.com was partly founded on the very idea of this lead-off question about to be asked, and I was not going to let this opportunity slip away. Hours upon hours of my time over the last 12 years have revolved around discussing Tiger football, and at many times, the Tigers' threads, with my friend here. Dcomitch knows every stripe and lack there of on our unis since the mid 70's, and thanks to that, so did I. We talked so much football on the phone a few years back, that I decided to start a website. And now that I had Dcomitch and Coach Swinney sitting side by side, I was not going to miss this chance. It was now or never, and I chose now.
Dana Mitchell: "I know its not a big deal, but I'm curious. And I think its important, and I bet you do, too, in a way...you went to Alabama, and you appreciate the tradition of the school and all. I think there is something to the fact that their uniforms haven't been touched in 75 years. Are you curious about that at all? I miss the stripes on our pants, and I know it is an odd question to start this off with (all three laugh), but have you thought about putting stripes back on the pants and going to a more classical, traditional Clemson look?"
Coach Swinney: "You know, I've had a couple of people ask me that...At Alabama, it was a huge, huge, huge ordeal when they wanted to put a Nike swoosh on the jersey. I mean, it was like blasphemy. I mean people were so mad. When we would go to our bowl games, we would get a jersey with a bowl patch on it, and we would practice in those, and in the real bowl game we would wear our normal deal....My senior year at Alabama was the centennial season, my senior year, and we won the national championship, and we had a nice little patch, kind of like this here (points to the ACC patch on a Tiger uniform), it was very classy, very nicely done. A little patch "Century of Champions", and that was a big deal. And you know, other than that it really hasn't changed. The pants are the same, the helmet the same, you know the jersey the same...When I came here, I think it has pretty much been the same since I got here. Now a couple of people have asked me, was the paw bigger before? You know, or this or that. "
DCM: "Well when you look at the old videos, and I say old, which for Alabama old was video was in black-and-white, but old I mean that stretch through the 70's and 80's where the paw on the helmet was definitely bigger. And again, (laughing) this is not a major question, just had the opportunity to ask. When you got here in '03, we had the three stripes on the pants and the shadow number thing going, and I dont care about the jersey as much as the pants, but then in '05, The Texas A&M game, his first game (points to picture of James Davis), was the first game of this look."
The Top Fan: "Well how does it work? Does Nike just come around every now and again and ask if you're happy with what you have?"
CS: "Nike I think drives a lot of the style, and I think Terry Don (Phillips, AD) changed some things when he first came in. And, um, you know it's something we will discuss soon."
DCM: " And again, you know, they're fine, but..."
TTF: "We just don't want to be one of these schools with these big swooshes and things wrapping all around them every where and all this crazy stuff."
DCM: "And I'm sure Nike gives the same pitch to VT, Miami, Georgia, you know with the latest materials and styles etc and schools like VT and Miami have the wrap around bands and all and are more likely to experiment with new styles. But Georgia is Nike, too, and they have basically the same uniform we have with the three stripes on the pants and all, and they really haven't changed too much outside of materials."
CS: "And my question to you guys is 'is that what the tradition here is? The three stripes on the pants? I'm more of a traditional guy and all. I like the more traditional uniforms."
DCM: "And we knew that you would. I mean LSU, Penn State, all these schools, there uniforms haven't changed, and there is a reason for that."
This went on for a few more minutes, and I think we got the uniform question covered. The Coach realizes that Clemson people are mainly for keeping the uniform the same for the most part. With this issued laid to rest, it was time to move on.
TTF: "Now that you have settled into the job, what are some parts of it that have been a pleasant surprise? And what are a few things about it that have come along that you may not have realized that you had to do and that maybe you weren't really expecting?"
CS: "Well I never planned on being an interim head coach, so that was a whole learning process. I always planned to be a head coach, you put your staff together in January, recruit what you can, then spring ball, then summer skills and drills, then get cranked up. I never really envisioned to take a team over after six ball games. But here ya go. You know, dealing with the coaches, seniors, emotions, all this, and then, hey by the way, you got a game Saturday....But that was a unique thing, and if I had to do it again, I'd be better at it. It was a major change for me trying to tie it all together. the fans, the students, the players, all that."
TTF: "Do you think after five months, you've finally had a chance to take a deep breath and say to yourself 'Ok, I'm really getting things in order now how I want them.' ?"
CS: " Yeah, yeah. I have. You know, the best part about the job is that I am the boss. I get to set the climate everyday. I get to decide the weather. I've always coached my guys a certain way. I've always had a certain tempermant. The best part is that now I get to do what I do, but do it on a bigger scale than before. Not just 15 guys. Um, the worst part, too, is that I am the boss! I have to deal with some things that I never had to before."
TTF: "Like guys like us stopping by!"
CS: "Yeah! Well, you know (all laughing), like signing autographs and all that, I mean why do they want my autograph, you know? And I don't delegate well. I'm probably a secretary's dream. I take things to her and say "here ya go" and basically there isn't anything for her to do. When I first started the job I thought 'I dont need her opening my mail', you know, I can do that. But after about two weeks and the mail is stacked up this high, you know, you start learning things and understanding that I can't do it all. I mean, there is no way. I mean, I can do it all, but I can't do it all at one time. So you have to give people the authority with their responsiblity and you have to give them direction. I'm um, not obsessive, but I mean, when I get focused onto something, we'll go to 4 in the morning. It don't matter. We're gonna get it done. So this job never ends, and I have to learn how to cut it on and cut it off. From October 13th to February 4th it was a blur - I mean just a complete, 100 percent blur. Then we had the IPTAY national meetings that Thursday (the 5th), and then that Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday we took off. And then, finally, I said "sssschheewww!!, Thank goodness! That was the first time really that we slowed down for a couple of days."
DCM: "And congrats on that recruiting class that you just wrapped up, by the way."
CS: "And even on that, I mean, we've been wide open on that since December on the 2010 class and all. And we knew that it was gonna be a small class this year, so we finished up with what we had, and you know one or two could go either way. And we got mat-drills coming up and a big junior day this weekend and we're about to go out to Texas together as a staff, and yeah, a lot going on. Spring ball gets going here in two weeks."
DCM: " Ive always been fascinated with the management of the recruiting process. I mean, you were started on the guys for the 2010 class well before the 2009 class was wrapped up."
CS: "Ah yeah, its gotten crazy. When I first started recruiting, you didn't even think about a junior until after signing day. When sigining day was over, and everybody was the same, you turned the page, and you start, and as I would recruit, like in the spring, identifying rising seniors, I'd get a list, but I didn't think about those guys until after signing day. And then after signing day, you'd get back focused and say 'where am I gonna go?' ok, 'I need to go see this player or this player' and I know I'm going to my big state schools, and and all that, and really evaluate and make that big upcoming senior list really shrink down to the guys that could really play. And thats how recruiting worked. Where as now, when we go on the road in May, we aren't just evaluating upcoming seniors. We're looking at sophomores and juniors, as well. Because you know, it just never ends, you try to stay ahead. And thats cause of the information available, the internet. All that...It used to be that you could go recruit a guy, and hide him out, and nobody knew anything about him. Now, all these kids talk to each other. They know who's recruiting who, who's going where, its unbelievable. Its a whole 'nother world. I talked to Jeff Scott for an hour yesterday about where we're going recruiting-wise, what we need to do, some cutting edge things we need to apply."
DCM: "He really seems to be a fireball."
CS: "Oh yeah, he's great, he's great. He's perfect for it. And, ya know, that's what ya want. He's just what you're looking for. He's got no kids. And that's why Billy (Napier) was so great at it. Billy wasn't even married, you know, so, um...We've got a good system in place and Billy did a nice job getting us caught up with times,and Jeff's been around it his whole life and has done a great job just kind of organizing and I've created a support staff of sorts that will make us more efficient, get us ahead of the curve more, so that for example, when the coaches are back there meeting in the cave from seven to twelve every day, the machine keeps running, as opposed to you know...I've tried to make many things more efficient. The tapes not piling up, getting early offers out, things like that, so..."
DCM: " I have to be honest, from a fan's perspective, and I'm sure from anyone that knows anything about Clemson or sports in general would agree, there is that certain intangible that changed overnight, and I love Coach Bowden don't get me wrong, you know, met him at a gas station for two seconds, just knew where he was coming from, but there was something that changed with the program when you took over as head coach."
CS: "Well the biggest thing is, and it's one of those things you learn as you go through your life, in sports or life in general. We learned a lot about ourselves. You are faced with adversity, and it doesn't matter what I do, um,and I've been around these kinds of expectations before, and nobody wants to win more than I do. But it's like this, a third of the people are gonna love what I do, a third of the people are gonna hate what I do, and a third of the people aint gonna care! So, that's the way it will always be....And here's the thing. First of all, Tommy will be the first to tell you 'man, I just need to win a few more games' ya know, if he wins five more games, he is still the coach here. Tommy Bowden gave all he had to this program, and it was in a mess when he got here. Do you know how many programs now have had nine straight winning seasons? Just 13 out of 119. And Tommy did that here. So, that is not an easy thing to do or else more people would have done it. And Tommy knows just how close he was to winning several titles here, but it just didn't happen, you know a player doesn't make a play here or a kick doesn't go through there, and he knows the program was in shambles and he was close several times to winning more, and he is comfortable with that. Clemson is about winning, but not only that but about wininng championships, and Tommy will be the first to tell you that, and it is that part that got Tommy. But he is a great man, and he brought this program back up and he is comfortable with that....He built a solid foundation. We have great players, we have great facilties, so hopefully I can take it and to that next level to where maybe we can win that championship and maybe shake things up a bit in how we practice and um, cause you know, I gotta be me, I gotta do it how I know and if I'm not successful here it won't be because I didnt do it my way...Sometimes Clemson people can be there own worst enemy. You know, they are great people, but they eat their own, they can rip each other apart. But you let somebody else talk about them, they'll fight you. And you know families, and we got good people here, and when we were faced with adversity, we find out we got good people here, good character, to bounce back, win four out of five, go to Boston College, go to FSU, go to Virginia, two weeks to get ready for you, beat South Carolina, they had two weeks to get ready for you. You know, and find a way to win four out of five almost five out of six, that GT game, just a play or two away...."
DCM: "And you didnt really have a full deck."
CS: "Ah yeah, we had nine lineman that, and five of them were freshman, and once Barry was gone it was eight. But you had five, Antoine McClain, Mason Cloy, Landon Walker, David Smith, Wilson Norris, who all played way more than they should have played as freshman, McClain was in high school...Let's just say that you recruited a CJ Spiller right now. Who is he gonna come in and beat out? CJ Spiller? You know? And (Andre) Ellington I think is a great, great, great back. He isn't that far off from this ole' boy right here (points to CJ Spiller photo), and he couldn't get on the field this year. But that's the way you want it. Thats when you know you are making a turn as a program. When a guy of that caliber can come in here and he has a hard time getting on the field.....When I first got here we were recruiting what we could get."
TTF: "What was it? Was it the facilites? I mean, these players show up and they want to see what they will be living in and practicing in for the next four years."
CS: "Yeah, we got 'out-wowed', the facilities were lacking, metal lockers and all and there was a lot of negativity after the Texas Tech loss and quite honestly I was dissapointed. I mean I'd put a players name up on the board and I'd here 'man, we cant get this guy, we should spend on time on ones we can get', and I was shocked and dissapointed. But Terry Don did a lot of things to help real quick. We cleaned up McFadden, we cleaned up Jervey, we put a crane over by the stadium and moved a little dirt around, gave ourselves a chance...Now, we don't get 'out-wowed' anymore, our facilities are as good as anybody's, you know, our campus sells itself, and you can't be satisfied, you have to keep going. When you think you know it all, you better retire. It's all about recruiting, period.....The best testimonial we have is when two guys like James Davis and CJ Spiller return for their senior year. CJ isn't finished yet. He is a young man who wants to graduate, he wants to finish what he came here to do. He is a different young man."
And with that, we decided to consider our time up. We had had the opportunity to pick the captain's brain for nearly an hour, and thought it best that he now tended to matters of greater importance, such as lunch.
Coach Swinney showed a lot about himself by making time for us today. He didn't have to accept our request for the interview. He had three full days to come up with a reason why he had other things to do, and very easily could have "been too busy" for us. But not only did he meet with us, but he acted genuinely interested in our conversation, as well. He and I are both relatively new at what we are doing, but we are both passionate about our respective careers. As I shook Dabo's hand and thanked him, I told him I hoped we are able to have a similar conversation, here in Clemson, many years from now.
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