Swinney reflects on Clemson rebuild, Mendenhall’s progress at UVA

dabo swinneyPeople assume now that Clemson Football has always been as dominant as it’s been the past few years, so it’s easy to forget what Dabo Swinney faced when he took things over back in 2008.

Swinney was an interim coach that the fan base thought of as a placeholder until the administration could find its big name.

That he was hired after that interim run wasn’t exactly a popular move, and as far into his tenure as Year 3, in 2010, when Clemson limped to a 6-7 finish, yeah, there were folks calling for his head, and other people’s heads.

Year 4, in 2011, saw Clemson go 10-4, and the rest is history. The Tigers have gone 109-14 over the past nine seasons, after Swinney’s first three teams were a combined 19-15.

Swinney, you could say, knows what it takes to build a program, so when he offers his thoughts on the job that Bronco Mendenhall is doing at Virginia, his words carry a little more weight.

“He has done an outstanding job,” Swinney said. “He did the same thing at BYU. He’s a really good coach. You can just tell that he believes in the fundamentals of the game, and not beating yourself. When you see a team that has those characteristics, that’s the sign of the type of coaching they have.”

Mendenhall’s first UVA team, back in 2016, finished 2-10, but in Year 2, in 2017, he had the ‘Hoos in a bowl, the program’s first in six years, on its way to a 6-7 finish.

The 2018 UVA team went 8-5 and recorded the program’s first bowl win since 2005.

And here in Year 4, Mendenhall has his team in the program’s first ACC Championship Game.

“Coaching matters. I say that all the time,” Swinney said. “Players play, but you got to be able to put it all together. I think they’ve just done an awesome job of that, giving their guys the opportunity to win week in and week out, then just to grow. They add some new pieces each year. Again, it’s been fun to watch that take place.

“Just really an incredible journey that they’ve been on since coach got there. I mean, it’s been fun to watch. You could see this coming as far as them building a championship program.”

Swinney took his 2009 team to the ACC Championship Game, losing 39-34 to then-#12 Georgia Tech.

His first ACC title came two years later, that Year 4 team in 2011, when his 21st-ranked Tigers shocked, and also dominated, then-#5 Virginia Tech, 38-10.

“We played for our first championship my very first (full) year in ’09, then we got beat. We got back two years later in ’11 and we won,” Swinney said. “Then we got our first bid to the Orange Bowl, gave up 70 points. Other people tried to let that overshadow what we had accomplished that year in winning 10 games, winning the ACC for the first time in 20 years. I refused to let that happen and so did our team. We came back in ’11 and beat LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

“It’s just all part of the journey,” Swinney said. “Regardless of who wins the game or what the score is or any of that stuff, this is a huge moment for both teams. You’re in a championship game. You’ve competed on the field for our division. It’s the culmination of an excellent conference season.

Story by Chris Graham

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