Dabo Swinney dreamed big, but never about being a National Championship coach
|Thursday, April 29, 2021, 8:01 AM- -|
Dabo Swinney has always dreamed big, and as a young man growing up in Pelham, Alabama, he dreamed that he would one day be a starting shortstop for a Major League team, a starting point guard in the NBA, and the quarterback of an NFL team. Not once did he dream he would coach a team that would win a college football National Championship, but Swinney isn’t one to put limits on his dreams.
Now entering his 14th season (and 13th full season) as Clemson’s head coach, Dabo Swinney has already carved his name into the Clemson record books by becoming the first coach in program history to lead Clemson to multiple national championships.
Swinney’s most recent squad accomplished its “double-double mission” in 2020, going 10-2 in a condensed season to give Clemson 10 consecutive 10-win seasons. Clemson became only the third program in FBS history to accomplish the feat and became the first school to win 10 games in 10 straight seasons as a member of the ACC, as only the final nine of Florida State’s record 14-straight 10-win seasons came during the Seminoles’ tenure in the ACC.
Swinney led Clemson to its sixth consecutive outright conference title with a 34-10 win against Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game. The conference title helped Clemson secure its record-tying sixth College Football Playoff berth, becoming the first program ever to reach the postseason tournament in six consecutive seasons. Clemson is 6-4 all-time in College Football Playoff games, the second-most wins of any program and twice the number of the third-place program (three, Ohio State).
At 140-33, Swinney (.809) enters the 2020 season as the winningest active coach by percentage in the FBS among coaches with at least five seasons of head coaching experience. With the addition of the 2020 ACC Championship, all 12 of Swinney’s recruiting classes have won at least one ACC title in their careers, and every recruiting class since 2012 has earned at least one College Football Playoff berth.
Even the biggest dreamers get caught off guard.
“I never dreamed that I would be the coach of a National Championship team, but I dreamed I would be a player on a National Championship team,” Swinney said recently. “I dreamed that I would play in NBA or NFL or the MLB. I was a shortstop and a point guard and a receiver, a little bit of quarterback. But God put a dream in me early that I believed in. I didn't really know what the path was going to be, but Christ, He found me and I met Him at 16 and have gone on. The dreams that I had aren't even close to what God has had in store for me. And I think, we limit ourselves sometimes by how we think. I always tell people, I heard somebody say one time, ‘God's got a thousand gallons of water to give us and we walk around with a one gallon bucket.’ That's how I see my life unfolding.”
Making the decision to attend Alabama was a turning point in Swinney’s life.
“I never, ever, ever thought about coaching in my entire life. All I wanted to do was play. I played three sports, I never stopped. Went from one sport to the next, the next I was always on the team. I was always competing, always preparing,” Swinney said. “That's all I wanted to do. I actually had opportunities in all three sports at smaller schools, but I had a dream. For whatever reason, God had put that in my heart at a young age. You grow up in Alabama, when you leave the hospital, you either have to be Alabama or Auburn. It's like stamped on your birth certificate. Otherwise they don't let you leave. That's a true story.
“Just so happened that my dad was an Alabama guy and they instilled that in me early. And man did God have a plan. I mean, it was incredible as I look about how it's all unfolded. I wanted to go to Alabama and no one in my family had a college degree. I didn't know, there was no roadmap. I wanted to go to a major university and I wanted to be a doctor. A couple of my coaches were mad at me because I had no money. Here's what happened, because the counselor at the school came to me and she told me how I could go. Because that's all I wanted to do.
“And she said, ‘Well, you can get a full Pell Grant.’ I didn't know what a Pell Grant was. She goes, ‘There's this thing called a Pell Grant and there's student loans.’ And I'm like, ‘Really?’ and I said, ‘Well, then I'm going to Alabama.’ I was an honor society student, I was a good student. I went to Alabama and I always say, you've heard of the term walk-on, I was a crawl on. I was a notch below the walk-on and they didn't really invite me to come.”
NOTE: This is the first in a series of articles looking at Swinney’s rise from a walk-on to a championship coach.