First Impressions: Swinney promised he wasn't a quitter after 2010 UNC loss


by - Senior Writer -
Swinney on the sidelines at UNC in 2010.
Swinney on the sidelines at UNC in 2010.

On more than one occasion, I have asked Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney about his maturity as a coach and the lessons he’s learned along the way. His answers are usually insightful, but it’s easier for us who have followed his career to see the growing and learning process from a different point of view.

The game at UNC in 2010 is a perfect example.

Back in March, I wanted to start this series as we took a look at the Swinney era from my front row vantage point. In the first story back in March, I took a look at the Boston College game in 2007.

There were plenty of games in between, including the heartbreaking loss at Auburn in 2010, but the 21-16 loss at UNC stands out to me for more than one reason.

Let’s set the stage – the Tigers started the season 2-0 with wins over North Texas and Presbyterian. Then came the loss at Auburn and a loss in the heat against Miami in Death Valley two weeks later. The Tigers traveled to Chapel Hill 0-1 in the ACC and 2-2 overall and needed a win in the worst way.

(Just a note – it was also the first road game for Nikki Hood [then Steele] as she tried to figure out whether she wanted to do this for a living or not).

Clemson trailed 14-3 at the half and the offense couldn’t find any rhythm. Quarterback Kyle Parker had taken a shot to the ribs and back at Auburn a few weeks before, and in my eyes was still hurting from the cheap shot he took from Nick Fairley.

Jamie Harper pulled the Tigers to 14-10 with a 10-yard touchdown run with 5 1/2 minutes left in the third. Clemson drove into North Carolina territory on its next possession, but the drive stalled at the 24 and Chandler Catanzaro's 42-yard field goal was wide right.

Parker’s 74-yard TD pass to Jaron Brown with 5:31 left pulled the Tigers to within five, but they couldn't convert the two-point attempt and didn't get the ball back until only 13 seconds remained. Parker then threw three deep passes, all incompletions. He finished 21-for-38 for 214 yards for the Tigers, who were held to a season-low 305 total yards.

The numbers were ugly – both teams had just 16 first downs. Clemson ran the ball 27 times for just 91 yards, and in a scene that would play out over the season we saw Jamie Harper get a lot of carries despite the success of Andre Ellington.

The Tigers also had nine penalties for 81 yards, and some of the penalties came at critical times. Marcus Gilchrist intercepted a pass but was called for interference on a pass that was ten yards from the receiver. Byron Maxwell was called for a flag on a UNC scoring drive. The Tigers appeared to stop UNC on fourth down late, but Da’Quan Bowers was called for an offsides penalty.

Kenan Stadium was underdoing renovation at the time, and the postgame interviews were held in a tent near the endzone. We sat and waited on Swinney for several minutes, and when he came out, you could tell the losses were starting to wear on him. He sat and looked at the stat sheets for a moment before starting to talk, but then called the loss embarrassing.

“First off, I’m extremely embarrassed,” Swinney said. “This team deserves better, Clemson deserves better and the fans deserve better. This is just not a very well-coached football team right now and it’s my fault. I’m extremely disappointed in what I saw today. I saw a team that wasn’t very smart, I saw a team that wasn’t very disciplined. I saw a team get a lot of critical penalties, right from the beginning of the game on the first play.

“I’m embarrassed. I’m extremely disappointed in myself. I’m better than this. I know I’m better than this, and it’s my job to get it fixed. It’s nobody anybody else’s job. This football team didn’t quit, and the football team tried as hard as they could. It’s obvious they’re just not very well-coached.”

Swinney handled the postgame questions – and there were questions aplenty – and then promised his staff would get back to work.

Swinney walks off the field after the loss to UNC.

“The only thing I know is that I’m not a quitter,” he said. “I’ve never been a quitter. I’ll show up tomorrow. I’ll come back to work and I’ll do a better job. And I know the team will show up Monday because we don’t have any quitters on this team. But I have to help them. I’ve got to help them stop giving up big plays. I’ve got to help them be smarter when it’s third-and-nine. I’ve got to help them stop giving up pass interference calls.

“I’ve got to help them be smarter. But one thing I’ve learned all my life is that if you keep getting up, sooner or later you’re going to bust through. That’s what we have to do, we have to keep getting up off the mat. The team will come in and we’ve got to go back to work on Monday, and we’ve got to find a way to win a football game. That’s the only objective.”

If you go back and read our game story, you can read the comments at the bottom of the page. The comments were not kind and many people wanted Swinney gone before Sunday was over. Another website and some character named DrB was giving people the emails of the Board of Trustees.

As we drove home that night, Nikki and I had four hours to talk. Like many people, we wondered if Swinney would survive the season. But I told her that there was just something in Swinney’s demeanor that made me think he would get it done. I think all of us realized there would need to be staff changes after the season – the offense was a mess, the running backs were setting their own rotation, and the defense was doing good things but also making mistakes at inopportune times.

Changes were coming. We knew that. We could feel it. But Dabo Swinney wasn’t one of those changes, and he was learning as he went.

More to come from the 2010 season…..

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