Press Conference: Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney

Clemson-Dabo-SwinneyQ. Dabo, you’ve put together one of the top recruiting classes in the country for next year. Talk about how your new contract and how the FFRF controversy have helped your recruiting the last few months.

DABO SWINNEY: Well, I think from a contract standpoint, that certainly has been a great benefit to us, just kind of shows the commitment and the security that’s there as these young people are making decisions. As far as all that other stuff, you know, I don’t know how that’s hurt us or helped us or whatever. If anything it maybe just brought a little bit of light to just maybe who I am as a person.

Q. I saw you and Coach Shafer talking earlier today and just was curious, had he apologized after what happened in last year’s game?

DABO SWINNEY: No, he was still MF’g me over there — no, it’s been a funny story. First of all, I didn’t have a clue. I’m hear at the ballgame and when the ballgame is over Tim Bourret is running over to me, we had a little problem during the game. I’m like, we just won the game, what’s the problem. He told me what happened, so I addressed the team and I go in our locker room and Coach Shafer is in the coaches’ locker room, just he and I in there and my son was in there, and he just — he was so remorseful and just apologized, and I said, what did you say, and he went right back through it verbatim. My son was over there going — but I was like, wow, you were really mad. But he just — he’s a passionate guy when you get to know him, and then we saw him at the ACC meetings and my wife and I, we were going for a walk, and we were coming out and here comes this car, and next thing you know the car stops and the window rolls down and it’s Ms. Shafer, and she’s like, we need to take a picture with y’all because their daughter was mad at him and wanted to prove that we really like each other, so we took a picture and had some fun. He told me something that was interesting, he said, you know, I spent 22 years in the press box. He said, in the press box I threw stuff, I took my shirt off, I did whatever I wanted to do and I never had to worry about it. Now I’m the head coach and I’m on the sideline and it’s been a long time. It was a very passionate moment, but we’ve actually had a lot of fun in discussing that, and I think he did a great job last year, and I think he’s going to continue to do a great job.

Q. On the offensive side of the ball you’ll have to utilize a lot of younger faces this year. How do you keep them in check between the hedges?

DABO SWINNEY: The younger players?

Q. Yes.

DABO SWINNEY: Well, I just think you rely on the leadership of your team. We’ve got 21 seniors which is the most I’ve ever had and 16 juniors to go with that, and those guys have all been in big games, in big environments, and they understand. Hopefully we don’t have too many young, young guys that are filling key roles for us right out of the gate because again, I think we’re a veteran team. But we’ll lean on that experience of those guys.

Q. In years past when you and I have talked about this, and I know it’s a game that’s later in the season, but the South Carolina game, you’ve sort of indicated that you prepare for each game the same and that there’s no real importance that goes into a specific game. Speaking to your players this year, it seems  like maybe that’s changed a little bit and there’s more emphasis on that game. Can you talk about if that’s true, because I’m not there and I don’t know anything about it, can you tell us a little bit about the countdown clock?

DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, we have a countdown clock for always the next opponent, and the coaches wanted to put one in for that particular game, and it’s really just based on the fact that when you walk in our team room every day and you look at our team goals, we’ve hit every team goal on there in the past five years with the exception of winning our state championship. So it’s obviously something we’ve got to — it’s a high priority. We want to get it done. But our philosophy is the same. Every week, whoever we’re playing, that’s the biggest opponent, and when the game is over, the season starts tomorrow, that’s what we always talk about. But that’s certainly something that has really been a painful part of our program for the last five years from an in-state standpoint but also nationally. We finished seventh in the nation this year and they finished fourth, so that game is very important from a state pride standpoint, just like it always has been, but it’s become very important for our bigger goals, as well, from a national standpoint. But really nothing more than that.

Q. With Cole we’ve seen him out there before, but this is a new role for him and this is his offense to run. Can you just talk about what you’re taking away from Cole and what you see in his vision moving forward now that Boyd’s chapter is over?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, I’m proud of Cole, first of all, and how he’s prepared every week for the past three years to be ready to be the starter. He’s never complained. He’s been very patient. And then he had to come out this spring and he had to win the job, and he won the job this spring.  I think we couldn’t have a guy more prepared to be the starter in his first game than Cole Stoudt, but just because he has excellent experience to draw upon, and when he’s played, he’s played very well, and because of that he has a confidence that most first-time starters may not have, and then the fact that he won the quarterback competition this spring, which was a tough competition. So I think he’s very confident. I think he’s got the respect of his teammates. He’s a good leader for us, and now he’s got to go perform as well as a starter just like he did as a backup.

Q. Louisville is the newcomer in the conference. What do you know about them and what can they expect when they come to Death Valley?

DABO SWINNEY: You know, I have great respect for their program. I think Charlie Strong did an excellent job there and Coach Petrino prior to that and now obviously Coach Petrino is back. They’ve been in two BCS bowls. They’ve won some huge games over the last many years. They’ve had some of the best players in college football that have rolled through there. So I think they’re a great addition, I really do. I think that from a conference standpoint, you want to have great teams, and the more great teams you have, the stronger your conference is going to be and the better opportunity you’ve got to have a seat at the big table when it’s all said and done, and I think Louisville brings great credibility and respect to the ACC.

Q. I just wanted to know what are your thoughts about facing Syracuse this upcoming season?

DABO SWINNEY: I think they’re going to be a very improved team. I thought they came on last year and had some huge wins, went on to a bowl game. They were one of the 11 teams in our league with a winning record in Coach Shafer’s first year, and I definitely think that they will be a tough out.

Q. As your new players on offense kind of get acclimated and get into a comfort level, you obviously need something you can rely on. How good do you think the Clemson defense is going to be, and do you think you need to rely on that maybe in a couple of early games?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, you know, we definitely have got to grow a few guys up early and find some answers offensively in a couple spots and see how those guys perform, and hopefully our defense will allow us to not have to be quite as perfect on offense, maybe take a little pressure off those guys. That would be great. But from a defensive standpoint, I think that from year to year, the strengths of your team change because maturity changes at different positions, and there’s no doubt that the majority of our veteran leadership is on the defensive side, in particular up front in the trenches. That’s where it’ll start for us, and hopefully, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings at all to be known as a great, great defense and the best defense in all the land. That would be just fine with me. We can win 10-7, and I’d be just fine with that. But I still think when it’s all said and done, we’ll be one of the better offenses out there. We’ve got good personnel, and I think it’s going to come together just fine.

Q. So many have been asked this week about playing against Vic Beasley. What can you say about your team playing with him when everybody has talked about how difficult it is to go up against him? What can you say about being on that side?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, I just think he’s a great player that came back. He chose to come back, you know, and he’s not coming back to just kind of go through the motions. I mean, he’s coming back to be a great player, so he’s highly motivated. He wants to be a top-15 pick, and he was probably a second round pick last year, so he’s come back to really improve his stock and to improve his game, so he has a lot to prove. He wants to be a more complete player. He’s got great people around him, so it’s not like he’s got to be Superman or anything like that. You just want to see him bring it every single week, and hopefully he can stay healthy, and if he does, I think that the mission that he’s on, I think he’s going to be a force to deal with. The combination that he has of speed and length and strength is unique at his position.

Q. The way your team played in the orange bowl last year, if there was a college playoff last year, would your team have won the National Championship?

DABO SWINNEY: I don’t know. I mean, we can talk about that all day long. If that would have been the case, I certainly think we could play with anybody. I said that last year. I felt like we were one of the teams going into the season last year, and I feel the same — I think there’s 10, 12, 14 teams a year that really have a shot. I felt like we were one of those teams last year. I mean, we finished seventh so it’s not like we did bad, and we lost to 4 and we lost to 1. So we certainly were capable of playing anybody at any time and winning. Ohio State was 24-1 when they came into our game and was a quarter away of playing for the National Championship, so I don’t think there’s any doubt that we were capable of competing for it. We just didn’t win the key games when we needed to to warrant the opportunity like Florida State did and like Auburn did.

Q. With the addition of Louisville to the Atlantic Division, how do you think the division ranks with the top divisions in the country?

DABO SWINNEY: Pretty strong. Like you said, you’ve got the national champion, the orange bowl champion, and what BCS bowl was Louisville in? Which one? Anybody know? Russell Athletic Bowl. The year before they won the Sugar Bowl, and I think they beat Florida, so they’ve been a very consistent program. I think it’s as tough a division as there is out there, three teams that have been nationally in the mix the last few years.

Q. Last year your fan base was so rabid to host Georgia in the opener, I mean, the whole summer everybody was geeked for it. Now you have to go down to their place. Just the dynamic of not having the lift that you had from your fans and getting it done in a tough SEC venue.

DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, it’s why they call it home-field advantage, for a reason. You’ve got to — if you’re going to be the champion, though, you’ve got to win in those environments. Everybody has to go on the road and has to find a way to win. We’ve won in some big road games. Our guys have good experience with that, and we’ve had some tough losses, and sometimes that factor can be the difference. So the key is to try to get them out of the game and not let them really get in the game from a crowd standpoint. Easier said than done, but what you hope is that you can get it to the fourth quarter and have a chance to win it, and that veteran leadership and experience that you’ve got will kind of pull you through.

Q. Someone told me earlier today that you had mentioned you had a relative or something that taught at the University of Louisville at one time or something?

DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, 35 years, my wife and I have been together a long, long time, kids, through high school and college, and her uncle was a geography professor at Louisville for 35 years, and they lived over in Shelbyville, and my father-in-law got his Ph.D. from Kentucky, so I kind of grew up in her family with the Kentucky, Louisville thing.

Q. We call those mixed marriages.

DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, mixed marriage, so I ironically have kept up with both of those schools for a long time, just simply because of the family connections that I’ve had up there.

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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, and how coach Tony Bennett and his team used that loss as the source of strength, through to the ACC regular-season championship, the run to the Final Four, and the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.
 
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