Dabo Swinney postgame press conference, Windows Media
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney did not have his usual teleconference with the Clemson media on Sunday afternoon, instead taking part of a larger conference call surrounding the ACC Championship Game in Tampa next Saturday.
Clemson will be the home team and will face off against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, for the second time this season, in a game that starts at 8 p.m. and will be televised nationally by ESPN, and Swinney said that the Tigers are excited about playing in a championship game.
“We are excited about representing the Atlantic division in the ACC title game,” Swinney said. “It'll be our first time participating in this game. We're excited about the opportunity to play for the outright title. This is postseason play and you get the opportunity to play in these games based on what you've earned throughout the season.
“I’m proud of our team for earning that. We did not play well yesterday in our season finale, so we've got a lot to get corrected and coached up so hopefully we can play better next week. It's a unique situation. It's the second time where I've been involved where you play the same team twice. Georgia Tech has had a great, great year. I've got a lot of respect for Coach [head coach Paul] Johnson and his staff. They’re coming off a tough loss as well. I know they'll be ready to bounce back as well. It should be a great game for our conference."
Swinney said that the only other time he has had to play a team twice in the same season happened in 1999, when he was still at Alabama, and they played Florida in the regular season, and then faced them again in the SEC Championship Game. He said beating a team twice in the same season is hard to do.
“We had to go to Florida and play them in The Swamp,” Swinney said. “We ended up having to play them again in the championship game. We beat them twice, but it's a hard thing to do. They'll be very familiar with us and the same on our part. Hopefully we can do a better job of taking care of the football."
The Tigers had a short week to prepare for Georgia Tech when they played them earlier in the season, and Swinney was asked if he would change the way the Tigers prepare for the Yellow Jackets this time around.
"I think it's an advantage for both teams in that you have seen each other,” he said. “You have a better feel for the personnel you're facing. This is a bit different for them and us. I don't think either team knew what it was getting into back in September. There are a lot of new people playing on both sides. Now you've got a whole year's worth of film. Now that you've got a lot of things to study from, from a scheme standpoint, that's a good advantage this time around."
Dabo was asked if the Tigers are a different team than they were in week two, and he said Clemson has matured since that early September date.
“We certainly have matured in a lot of areas,” he said. “We were just a group of guys trying to figure it out. We've developed into a close football team. That game was a big step in the right direction in that we learned a lot about ourselves in Atlanta that night. We have a QB who has proven himself now. That was just the second game of his career. We've also gotten much better up front on the offensive line, though we didn't play well yesterday. We've been solid on defense, though we didn't play well on defense yesterday."
One media member referenced the “Believe” sign that Swinney has been carrying around since the spring, and asked Swinney the purpose behind the sign.
"In order to be successful at anything, you have to believe in yourself. You have to believe in those you're working with. Every great team I've been on, they've always had a great attitude of belief and expectancy. They expected to win the game every time they stepped on the field. That's a mentality that I just didn't think we had in place. To me, when I had my first meeting with the media, I said my number one job as the head coach is to get people to believe again. I've got to get players to believe in something bigger than themselves, their team. I wanted them to believe that what we were doing would pay off for them.
"I'm thankful for these players because somewhere along the line they’ve bought in. When we were a 2-3 football team looking at a six game stretch, I'm thankful that they chose to keep believing and not listen to so many other things. Most people don't believe. Most people get excited to see you struggle and not have success. That's the world we live in. That's really sad that people have so much joy in those having failure. I've never been afraid to fail, because I believe in myself. If I have my eyes on the right things and believe in myself, I'll make it. I'll be successful. That's what I wanted to instill in these players.”
Clemson lost 34-17 to South Carolina on Saturday, and Georgia Tech dropped a 30-24 decision to Georgia Saturday night, and Swinney was asked if losing a rivalry game makes his job any more difficult this week.
"I'm worried more about the coaches than the players,” Swinney said. “When we get older, you're not as resilient as you used to be. You hate to lose. It makes you sick. But you have to keep things in perspective. It's always difficult to lose to a rival. I've been here seven years and I’ve lost to South Carolina twice. I won't let the bitterness of two losses outweigh the five wins.”
Swinney said the key will be forgetting the South Carolina game immediately and moving on to Georgia Tech.
"One thing for us, we have to turn the page quickly,” he said. “We're really preparing for a difficult offense, one that's so different than the one we just faced. We'll move on as quickly as we can. The season is over as far as the regular season. We've beaten Carolina around here many, many times. So we've done that. But we haven't won the title here in 18 years. We have an opportunity to do something here we haven't done in a long time. It’s something that I think our guys will be excited about. They know there are two teams out of 12 playing for a championship. We won't have a hard time getting them refocused. Same thing for Georgia Tech."
The message boards have been full of SEC vs. ACC comparisons, and Swinney was asked if that is something he worries about, and he said no.
"I don't worry about that at all. No. The SEC is a great conference, so is the ACC. I can assure you, if you line up to play an SEC or an ACC team, you better bring you're A-game, otherwise you'll get beat. I don’t worry about that at all."
In the Georgia Tech weight room following the loss to the Jackets earlier this season, Swinney turned a few heads when he said that Clemson might see Georgia Tech down the road, and he was asked on Sunday how getting the Tigers into a rematch was accomplished.
"We've had excellent leadership on this team, a group of guys who have chosen to come together to respond to whatever circumstance has come their way. That's why they are where they are. That was a very, very disappointing loss that night in Atlanta, but again I do think that's where our team came together. I'm proud of how they've handled the season. It hasn't been easy. We started the year with a freshman quarterback and some other play-makers who had to develop, a guy like Michael Palmer, for example. It's been a good season. We're a couple of games away from a great season, but we still have an opportunity to finish strong."