Dabo Swinney, Tony Bennett share special moment, coach to coach

uva clemsonPeople forget that Dabo Swinney was just the guy put in charge when Clemson fired its big-name football coach.

The wide receivers coach took over midseason in 2008 after Clemson fired Tommy Bowden following a middling 3-3 start.

He wasn’t exactly greeted by the fan base with open arms. The general consensus was: did we just hire a guy who has never been more than a position coach?

Yeah, that was what happened, when Swinney got the job full time at the end of the ’08 season.

And then: after a 9-5 finish in 2009, Clemson went 6-7 in 2010.

Two national titles in the past three years, and a 55-4 record in the past four, have whitewashed that history.

Swinney remembers, and he doesn’t seem to take it for granted, the success he’s been able to have after those early struggles.

Neat story this week involving Swinney, and how he reached out to UVA basketball coach Tony Bennett as the ‘Hoos were fighting their way through the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

Swinney texted Bennett, and a quote from the text resonated with Bennett, who shared the message from Swinney with his team.

The quote: Let the light that shines in you be brighter than the light that shines on you.

Bennett and Swinney shared a moment to talk about their communications on an interview on SiriusXM this week.

“Epic, so-called failure, according to the world, and all this stuff and the criticism,” Swinney said. “How he used that in that moment, that’s what great leaders do. And that lesson that came from that was way bigger than anything that will come from winning that championship game this year.”

Last year, for UVA basketball, refers, of course, to the first-round loss to UMBC, the first loss by a No. 1 seed to a No. 16 seed in NCAA Tournament history.

I’m thinking here of a bad Clemson loss that I’m sure Swinney would have loved to have been able to live down.

The 2011 Tigers, a year removed from that 6-7 finish, won the ACC Championship and earned an invite to the Orange Bowl, which didn’t turn out so well.

West Virginia manhandled Clemson in that one, 70-33, rekindling the critics at Clemson who still weren’t sure that Swinney was the solution long term.

Clemson football has lost 11 games since that one, over the course of the next seven seasons.

When others weren’t believing, Swinney was convincing his players and staff that they were on the right track.

This spring, he was convinced that Virginia was on its way to something special.

“I just said, ‘I know you’re gonna win it. I just know you are. So, I want to tell you, just enjoy the week. Enjoy the preparation. Enjoy the moment that you’re getting ready to prepare for because man, it’s your time and I’m just really excited about it. Thank God it worked out,” Swinney said in the SiriusXM interview.

Bennett credited Swinney with helping ground him through the experience of the NCAA Tournament run.

“His advice, he had been through it, it’s just the fact that he’d take that time. It quieted my spirit, too. It just made me feel at ease,” Bennett said. “I said, ‘Maybe he knows something that I’m unsure of. I’m hopeful.’ You know, you always feel like this might be a team of destiny, or there’s a bigger plan going on, and it did feel like that, the way we beat Purdue. And then he calls, and I had a few other of those things that just were aligned. This is not just coincidence.”

Story by Chris Graham

UVA Basketball Fans!

uva basketball team of destiny
Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25. The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe, and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018 through to the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.

Dick Vitale on Team of Destiny: “This is a hoops story you will LOVE! Jerry and Chris capture the sensational and dramatic championship journey by Tony Bennett and his tenacious Cavalier team. UVA was Awesome Baby and so is this book!”

Ralph Sampson on Team of Destiny: “Jerry and Chris have lived and seen it all, even before my time. I highly recommend this book to every basketball fan across the globe. This story translates to all who know defeat and how to overcome it!”

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