Swinney says Tigers are prepared, can't believe how 2011 came together

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FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. – Clemson head coach Dabo SwinneyDabo Swinney
Head Coach
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walked through the doors of the media hotel early Tuesday morning and the first person he saw was former head coach Danny Ford, who is in town to be inducted into the Orange Bowl Hall of Fame.

For Swinney, that is just another reminder of how far his program has come as the team celebrates not only a BCS bowl berth, but also the 30th anniversary of the program’s greatest moment.

“Well, I think that it's just been incredible from that standpoint from our fans,” Swinney said. “Like I said, this is our greatest memory, if you will, as a program. So many people talk about it. 30 years, that's a long time. You've got kids that were here that are now grown ups, and you've got grown ups that are gray headed old men now, and they're writing you letters saying, hey, man, I'd like to get back there one more time.

“And it's actually very interesting because the first literally the first person I saw when I walked in the door this morning slouched over in a chair is Coach Ford sipping on some coffee, literally the first person I saw, and that's what he said. He said I told him they should have put him in the Hall of Fame at least ten years ago here; we might have made it earlier.

“But it's really neat just to see how it's all come together and for this to be the year that Coach Ford is also being inducted into Hall of Fame. That's the year after 30 years that Clemson makes it back to the Orange Bowl, wins the ACC for the first time in 20 years. It's special.

“You know, our players have taken a lot of pride in that because we accomplished some great goals this year. We didn't hit all of our goals, but we've accomplished some great goals, and it's just good progress with our program, obviously, because we did things this year that haven't been done in a long, long, long time, and hopefully we can build upon what we've done.”

The 14th-ranked Tigers (10-3) take on No. 23 West Virginia (9-3) in the Discover Orange Bowl Wednesday evening, and Swinney told the assembled media that his team has finished its preparations and he believes he is going to get a solid effort from his squad.

“Well, I think they're going to play great. I've never really felt like we were going to play bad,” he said. “You know, that's always a shocker to me when we don't play well because we practice hard and all those things. You know, we've had good preparation. It's obviously a lot to balance, and so you don't really ever know until they get out there. We've had weeks where we've had great, great practice, and you just feel like you're fixing to light the world on fire, and you go out there and you look like you haven't practiced all week.

“You never really, truly know. There's a lot to balance here. I think we've done as good a job as we possibly can. I think our players have done a tremendous job. We've had no curfew issues, we've had nobody missing anything, and we’ve had no drama. Nothing. You know, that's a real sign to me that they're focused. It's a sign to me that the leadership has done a great job. We've been down here for quite a while, and to have 100 something 18 to 22 year olds storm Miami all at one time for a little over a week, that's pretty impressive.”

The last time the Tigers played, however, was back on December 3rd in the ACC Championship Game, and Swinney said that he is concerned the long layoff might cause some problems. As a result, the Tigers had full tackling drills during their preparations.

“The biggest worry that I have is we haven't played for a month,” he said. “I mean, that's a long time to not really and we went full speed in Clemson as far as what we did. We went live tackling, scrimmaging, the whole deal, just trying to offset that. We've been full speed here, but we haven't been live, kind of like a typical game week. So you worry about that a little bit. That's probably the biggest thing. But as far as preparation and their focus, that's been good.”

Swinney said the Tigers are as healthy as can be expected heading into the game.

“Yeah, really the fact that Coach Ford was just asking me that when I came in here, we've only got one injured guy, and that's Tony StewardTony Steward
Fr. Linebacker
#7 6-1, 245
Hastings, FL

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, and he's been hurt obviously for a while now with a knee injury,” Swinney said. “But we're as healthy as we've been in quite a while, and that's really good.

“Nuk [Hopkins}, everybody has asked about Nuk, he's practiced the last three days or so, and he's good. Price is as healthy I wouldn't say he's still he's probably not 100 percent like he was when he started the season, but he's close to it. You know, David [Smith} and Mason {Cloy}, we've got a lot of guys that have been banged up and battling different things that I think are all ready to go one last time.”


Q. The other thing I wanted to ask you about, I mentioned this to Dana when he was here, the games that have been played so far, the BCS games, have been pretty offensive. There's been a lot of numbers thrown up, a lot of stats thrown up, and in the end it turned out to be a defensive play or kicking game play that decided the whole thing. There's a whole lot of points up there, and that's what people remember, but they forget that a ball in two inches from going out of bounds probably decided the Rose Bowl, a couple missed kicks decided the game last night, and that had nothing to do with the offense and nothing to do with the stats.

COACH SWINNEY: Well, I always tell our guys, when you're playing two pretty even teams are playing, it's five or six plays that really determine the outcome of the game. You know, you just don't know when those plays are coming. You have no idea. So we try to take the mentality of just play every play like it's a one play game. You know, win that play and then go to the next one. That's the mentality you really have to have, because, again, you just don't know when the play is coming.
So you can't relax, however many plays are in the game, 160, plus your special teams, you've got to play every play like it's the play that's going to determine the outcome of the game. That's the mentality you have to have, because when you look back, that's what you see. It's usually four, five, six plays that changed momentum, created opportunity and so forth.

Q. Just a little off topic, but everybody is chasing the SEC in terms of being able to win a National Championship. Just wondering if you're tired of hearing about how great the SEC is and what it's going to take to be able to knock off an SEC team from winning a title.

COACH SWINNEY: Well, I mean, it is what it is. They've done a tremendous job. I think that their conference has been dominant the last few years from a championship standpoint. I think that it's a top heavy conference. I think when you look at our conference, and the thing that we have not done is we have not produced a national champion. I think it's coming, I really do. I think it's coming in the near future.

We've made some great strides in a lot of areas, resources, facilities, coaches, all those things, our new TV contract. All those things have allowed us to close that gap a little bit from a competitive standpoint. But they're still out front right now because they've won however many National Championships now in a row. Somebody has got to knock them off. That's just the nature of competition.
That's our job to do that. It's other conferences' jobs to do that. If we're tired of hearing about it, let's do something about it. That's what we're trying to do. I don't really worry about them to be honest with you, I'm just focused on trying to take another step with Clemson. You know, if we hadn't lost a little focus, maybe played a little better in a couple games this year, who knows, maybe we would have had our opportunity. It wasn't meant to be, but that's certainly one of our goals at Clemson is to be back in the National Championship. We kind of got a taste of it this year, and I think we've got everything that you need at Clemson to compete in that arena.
But we're not quite there yet. But as a conference, I really think we're making great strides. It's very competitive. I mean, it doesn't matter who you play in this conference; every single week it's anybody's ballgame. And I think that makes our conference very fun to watch right now because it is unpredictable. But hopefully we'll produce that dominant champion here in the next couple years.

Q. I know in the middle of the season you had some of the guys up at the National Championship game come back and talk to some of the players. Have any of those guys been down here, and have they had a chance to talk to the players or the players have chance to hear from them on what their experience in Miami is like, kind of compared to what your guys have experienced this week?

COACH SWINNEY: Well, we were allowed to select an honorary captain for this game. That was an easy pick for us because our honorary captain is on my staff, and that is Jeff Davis. Jeff is in the Orange Bowl Hall of Fame. He was the defensive MVP of the National Championship game 30 years ago. He's certainly had his opportunity on many different occasions to have a platform with these players.
But I'm sure there's a lot of guys down here, in fact I know there are, a lot of guys coming in today, yesterday, but none of those guys have had opportunities. They haven't been around practice or anything. But I know they're all around, and they've sent messages and things like that. But that's about it.

Q. You were talking about your march trying to get to the National Championship. As you sit on the eve of the Orange Bowl, I'm just wondering if you could point back, reflect a couple of things that really propelled you to this point to where you got to the Orange Bowl.

COACH SWINNEY: Well, I think the number one thing has been just guys believing. I mean, making the choice, because it's a choice. Especially last year we didn't have a good year, and there was a lot of negativity. You know, it's just bad in every area. They have to hear bad, read bad, all this kind of stuff. You have to make a choice when you're a part of something as to what you're going to believe in. You know, our players have chosen to believe in the right things. They've chosen to believe in the vision of our program. They've embraced changes, and that's the number one thing, because without that, you've got no chance. That's why we've recruited well, because our players recruit well when young men come on our campus.
Believing I would say is number one. The other thing is obviously we've recruited some pretty good players, some guys that we can be the greatest coaches in America; you get guys like Sammy WatkinsSammy Watkins
Fr. Wide Receiver
#2 6-1, 200
Fort Myers, FL

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and those type of players, you're going to win or have a chance to win.
And then the other thing I would say is leadership and accountability. We have had tremendous leadership on this football team, and every team is different. Every team is different. I mean, we have had strong leadership from our we don't have a lot of seniors, but from the seniors that we've had, tremendous leadership since last January. A lot of accountability has developed on this team. I've got to give the players all the credit, but those are the things that have allowed us to have a chance to be here.
We've probably overachieved a little bit this year with a lot of changes and things like that. But the players set their sights on being here, and they got it done, and they deserve all the credit.

Q. I think it's just your second time, Clemson's second time down here since '04 even though you and Miami are in the same league and obviously you recruit South Florida fairly well and you're on TV all the time, but when you're actually in town, can you expect a tangible boost in recruiting South Florida when kids down here actually get to see the product live and in living color?

COACH SWINNEY: Well, we were down here in '09, too, won in overtime, I think, both times. You know, yeah, it helps. Any time you can put your brand out there, and for us, to be able to it's different. This is a whole lot different than just coming in and getting out. To be able to set up camp for seven, nine days or whatever it's been and have that pall just cover the town and have the pall hanging over bridges and on buses and all thatkind of stuff as you move all the way through, it's really neat. And absolutely, that's a tremendous impact on recruiting, and guys have opportunities to come out and watch you practice and things like that. It certainly creates more awareness of your program.
Obviously we've had a lot of success recruiting the state of Florida. A lot of our players are from this state. And hopefully we'll be able to attract a few more guys from the South Florida area. I think that the last one we had out of this area, in fact his mom and dad came over and visited with me at the hotel last night, is Jacoby FordJacoby Ford
Wide Receiver
#6 5-9, 175
Royal Palm Beach, FL

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. He was pretty good. Hopefully we can get another couple of those type of guys.

Q. Can you talk about Andre BranchAndre Branch
RS Sr. Defensive End
#40 6-5, 260
Richmond, VA

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and the energy and enthusiasm he brings to that side of the ball and how much you'll miss that moving forward?

COACH SWINNEY: Yeah, Andre is one of those guys, kind of like Dwayne AllenDwayne Allen
RS Jr. Tight End
#83 6-3, 255
Fayetteville, NC

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over on the other side of the ball that has just grown and matured as a player but also as a person and has embraced being a leader. It's not something that he always embraced in the past, even though it comes natural to him. But he is, he's a high energy, physical, going to accept any challenge you give him kind of guy. He has, I think, been the guy on that side of the ball that's impacted all those other guys and has demanded a lot of accountability from all those other guys. He's had a great, great year, and we're certainly going to miss him not just as a player but because of the fire and intensity he brings to that side of the ball.

Q. Coming to the Orange Bowl, 30 years ago I guess you were a kid, but do you have any memory I know you've heard a lot about that game, but do you have any memories of that game? And when you took over for Tommy a couple years ago, what was your plan for how long it would take to get to a BCS game? Did you surpass that or is this right on target?

COACH SWINNEY: Well, I was 12 last time Clemson was here, and I do remember it because Danny Ford was the coach. If you were from Alabama, everybody in that state watched this game because it was Danny Ford. You know, we all loved Coach Ford when he was a player at Alabama, and he's one of Coach Bryant's guys, and that's just what you did. Wasn't many options back in those days, either. Laverne & Shirley or something on the other channel (laughter), Lawrence Welk or one of them, Hee Haw. You didn't have a lot of choices. Had three channels. So I promise you, I watched the game. I loved football.
And then the other neat thing about it for me is when I moved to Clemson, just worked out this way, I didn't know who Jeff Davis was, but we moved right in next door to Jeff Davis. I didn't really understand that he was like the Joe Namath of Clemson at the time. It's been neat raising our kids together.
But I quickly learned a lot about the history of Clemson and the tradition and obviously that ballgame. But Jeff had a huge impact on my sons, and I remember Will's our oldest, one of our first Christmases here, literally the only thing he asked for for Christmas was a DVD of the 1982 Orange Bowl. We've always driven a van, and we have a van with a little TV thing in there, so everywhere we'd go, that's all the boy wanted to watch.
Let me tell you: I can tell you everything you need to know about that ballgame because I've heard it over and over and over and over because we've worn that DVD out.
But as far as my vision for Clemson when I took over, I really thought we could have if we could just kind of take what we had and get everybody together, I really felt like we could have some success right out of the gate. It was going to take a lot to really set things up for long term success. I knew that was going to be a real process to go through. But I felt like we had enough to get it going right out of the gate.
We had a few things to overcome. We had a freshman quarterback and things like that. But we did. Two years ago we played in the championship game in our first season. So an 86 yard drive and a couple 4th down conversions away from being at the Orange Bowl. Not that I'm bitter about that; I'm going to counseling over that.
We had a good first year, but last year was obviously disappointing. We competed our tails off. I think we grew as much last year as we did the first year, I really do. I mean, I just it's not always fun when you're dealing with things that don't go your way, but I just saw a lot of program things that were taking root in the process that we went through last year. You know, some positive change came from last season.
I think our guys felt like we could get here, and I certainly thought that we could compete for the conference this year, and we were able to put it together. There are a lot of things that were going to have to come together, and we're fortunate that it did. But from a long term standpoint, I think that we're up and walking as a program, but there's bigger and better things for us. We've got to continue to recruit, we've got to continue to invest in our people and build this program to be a top ten program. That's my goal. That's what I want to be. I believe Clemson can be the program out there. A lot of people may look at you and say, that's crazy. Well, that's fine. A lot of people said we wouldn't be sitting here, either, and here we are. That's really all I'm focused on right now.

Q. What makes Dwayne Allen so effective in your offense, and did you take anything from West Virginia's performance against Syracuse and the way their tight end was able to be effective going into this game?

COACH SWINNEY: Well, Dwayne is 6'4", about 255. He runs like a wide out. He blocks like a tackle and has really improved in other parts of his game as far as running with the ball after the catch, his flexibility, and he's got great ball skills, and he's got a high football IQ. So you put those things together, you're going to get a very, very good football player. He's tough and aggressive, likes to play. The moment is never too big for him. And he practices hard, studies and prepares.
You put all that with just the physical gifts he's got. He's a great player. It's hard for people to match up with a guy like that. I mean, what do you do? Do you play nickel the whole game? Match up a little guy on him? Put a linebacker on him? He's just a tough guy for defensive people to deal with, and you'd better know where he is. But in order to make him effective, you need other people.
You can take one guy away, and we dealt with that a little bit last year with Dwayne. We kind of ran him into the ground. We didn't have when we lost Ellington, we just really didn't have some other elements that we have now, whereas now we've got a lot of people who can make plays.
As far as West Virginia, they spread the ball around, and that's kind of their deal. If you look at their statistics, you've got second and third team guys with all kind of touches and plays. So it's very hard to just zero in on one guy. They've got two guys over 1,000 yards. Their tight end has made a ton of plays for them; not just the Syracuse game, he's made a lot of plays all year long. They've got four, five or six guys that can really hurt you, and that's what makes them effective.

Q. Going back a couple questions ago, what kind of significance does making the BCS have on you trying to move the program forward, and what would a win tomorrow night do for the program's profile moving forward?

COACH SWINNEY: Well, just kind of gives you relevance as a program, just kind of solidifies that, hey, you're doing the right things. You're recruiting the right kind of guys, you've got the right you don't just luck up and get to a BCS Bowl. I mean, there's a lot of things that have to go it's hard to win a game. That's what a lot of people don't realize. It is really difficult to win a football game. It's months and months of preparation, and a lot of things coming together. But to win your conference, to win ten is tremendous.
So doing something that hasn't been done in 30 years, winning the conference for the first time in 20 years, winning all of our home games for the first time in 21 years, those are things that you can point to from a program standpoint and say, listen, we've got tangible you're not just talking about it, you're not just hoping for it. You've got some tangible proof that your labor is paying off, and it just, I think, puts energy in your players, kind of puts some wind in their sails as you go into the off season.
You know, it's one thing, when you're dealing with a bunch of guys who have never done it, have never been there, I mean, they want to go there, but they've never done it, that's a whole different intangible as opposed to when you look at a whole group who's been there, a whole group who's had a taste of being a champion, a taste of being at a BCS Bowl.
You know, that's priceless because it affects your spring, it affects your training, it affects your mentality, affects your recruiting, everything, and you want to do it again. I promise you. These old boys are going to want to be back here now. They're going to like it. So from a coaching standpoint to have something where you can get on the same page with them because you've all done it together and been there and experienced it.

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