WATCH: Dabo Swinney's full comments from ACC Kickoff with transcript


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Dabo Swinney Photo
Position: Head Coach

Q. Coach, is he always this shy?

Dabo Swinney: So you can imagine the battles that we've had on our practice field. So frenemies, right? They're frenemies for the next few weeks, and then come September they'll be back on the same team again. These two right here are two great competitors, great human beings, and both going to graduate in December, and just represent our program in every area with excellence. And that's what it's all about. That's what you want.

Everybody says, oh, well, these guys are back, these guys are back. Yeah, it's great. I kid with Mitch because everybody puts -- it's all about the D-line, all the D-line is back. I'm like, well, Mitch, didn't you come back, Renfrow came back and Falcinelli came back and nobody put them on the magazine. We've had a little fun with that. Kind of comes from being an O-line, I guess. But these guys have made each other better for the past three years, and it's been a joy to watch them.

But the great thing about them coming back, yes, it means we have great players, but more importantly, that's who's mentoring your young players. That's the leadership that's in your locker room. That's the guys that are running the skills and drills. That's the guys that are in the locker room setting the standard for really talented young people. It's a blessing to have them back, but hopefully y'all have enjoyed spending a little bit of time with them and seeing a little bit more than just what type of good football players they are.

Q. The board of trustees approved Brett Venables' contract extension this morning. Why do you think it was important to get that done and kind of take care of him in that way?

DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, that's really kind of been done a long time ago as far as from my perspective, but there's a process, a formal process that you've got to go through before you can really kind of stamp something, throw it in the filing cabinet. So I'm happy that we were able to go ahead and get that kind of finalized, but really happy for Brent and his family. He has just done a phenomenal job. I think he's the best at what he does. He's so passionate about his job. He's passionate about the players he coaches, and he's passionate about Clemson. We have a tremendous relationship, and excited about his son Jake coming on board. Jake is going to be a great player, Mike-backer for us. But again, just gives him the longevity and a little bit more security. Really wasn't -- the salary didn't change a whole lot, but it just kind of gave him some long-term kind of supplemental income down the road, and more time, term, and in the coaching business, time is very, very valuable. He's earned his status per the market, and just really happy for him.

Q. There seem to be a few elite teams that have a legitimate chance to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff each year. Clemson has become one of those teams. What are the factors required to take a team from being good to being elite?

DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, that's a deep question and something I actually just talked about with my staff yesterday. You know, for me, it started in '09 our first year, and it's being really driven by the why of our program: Why I coach, why we do what we do, not just what we do, how we do it, but why. And really everybody believing in that part of it. Being culture focused, being very intentional. For me, I recruit people first. I hire people first. There's no perfect people, but I think the good Lord has given me good instincts, and so we've had a certain way that we've gone about doing things.

We start over every year, reinstall the program, reinstall the core values, the philosophy that we believe in, the why, and I just don't vary from that.

And then as we have been able to build that culture over the many years now, we just nurture it every year. You develop young people. You develop leadership. We've had 196 seniors, 192 graduates. I think we've had 13 or 14 juniors leave early. Three of them are already back. Two of them have got their degree. Da'Quan Bowers is coming back this fall to finish up and work with us. It's just culture driven. That's the short answer I can give you.

You know, the program is what I've always been focused on, not just having a good team. From day one, we've always been program oriented, with the goal being developing a consistent winner, to one day be a team that year in and year out you just know you've got a chance. That's all you can ask for.

Q. I was going to ask you about Tanner Muse missed spring practice with a knee injury. How is he doing, and Justin Foster is a guy that didn't play much as a freshman but I'm sure you have an expanded role for him this year?

DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, well, Tanner is doing great. He had a little minor injury. We held him out of the spring game, but he's doing well. He had a good summer, got great experience last year, which I think will be very valuable for him going into this season, and a very committed player. And then Justin Foster is one of those guys that really not many people know about other than maybe people that followed the recruiting scene or people from his local area. But boy, is he really developed, and Cle hit on that.

He was a linebacker, so he transitioned, ended up playing some as a true freshman last year, but he made huge strides this spring, and I expect that to continue into fall camp. But a great young man, great family, and has really developed physically, and now has the mindset and enough knowledge to go with it within our scheme to I think be a productive player.

Q. Just if you could elaborate on your schedule this year, the ACC Atlantic and what you see from the guys coming behind you in the league?

DABO SWINNEY: I mean, it's a challenge every year. You're talking about a league that's had 21 bowl teams in the past two seasons, so very deep. We had 10 bowl teams last year, 11 the year before. I think that's a record of any conference, so that tells you the depth of our league, first of all. It's incredibly competitive. You'd better show up and get better. You'd better show up and be ready, but particularly in our division. Man, Coach Clawson up at Wake Forest, the job he's done; Steve at BC, man, I think they're going to be a really good team. Dave Doeren has done a phenomenal job up at NC State. That's a few play game every single year. Obviously with Florida State, with Willie coming in there, I think he's a great fit for Florida State, and he's a winner. He's won everywhere he's been. No real reason to think that he's not going to get them going. This is a job where he's got really all the resources to be successful, and I don't have any doubt he will. They've always got players, always got talent. So very, very difficult.

Syracuse beat us last year. They've got a quarterback coming back that is -- he has got moxie and toughness and just -- the kid is a player. He is a very good player. I was hoping he might leave early. But heck, he's back. I don't know if I missed anybody.

But our division is tough. It's going to be a battle to the end.

I forgot Louisville. Pretty tough. We've played them four years in a row, and three of those years were the last play of the game. It's a tough division.

Q. This is your 11th year, and what I've been watching is exactly what you described the Atlantic Division, but when you first came into the league, the ACC's bowl performance was pretty lackluster, and coincidentally perhaps, but once the new CFP system was announced, the league took off. I asked the commissioner does the CFP ratings system look at the ACC more favorably. Anyway, your thoughts, is this just a coincidence or how has the ACC grown so much in the last few years?

DABO SWINNEY: Just earned it on the field. Really that simple. I think we've got great coaches, great recruiting, great development of players. All you've got to do is look at the NFL Draft, and I think we're second maybe in draft picks over the last, I don't know, eight, nine years or whatever, and I don't think it's even close. Good recruiting, good development of players, and a lot of great coaching in this conference. But then stepping out and earning it on the field. You've got to go beat people, and I think that rhetoric has changed. When I got the job nine years ago, you're exactly right, that's where we were, and we earned that, too. We didn't beat anybody. And so I used to tell people all the time, I'd be like, guys, let's just shut up -- we've got to play people and you've got to beat people, then the story will change, and that's what's happened.

We've done very, very well out of conference. Our head-to-head rivalry games within this conference over the last three, four, five years speaks for itself. And then again, just the competitiveness of the league, and then what we've done in bowl games, et cetera. I think we're -- we're 5-1 in our last six bowl games, and we've played good people.

So I think it just takes time, and we've been -- it takes time and it takes consistency for people to kind of change the narrative a little bit, and that's what's happened. We've been very consistent, and we've done it over a good amount of time.

Q. A few years ago you added a successful coach in Kyle Richardson. How has his addition further enhanced a strong coaching staff?

DABO SWINNEY: Kyle has been a great addition. He's a player development analyst coach for us, and brought in a great amount of experience. Grew up in Clemson, actually, so he's kind of from the area. So he's been an excellent addition. Really proud to have him on our staff. He does an awesome job in helping run the offense when the coaches are gone and helps support our coaches in a tremendous way in game plan development.

Q. You talk about the bigger picture. When you hoist a trophy, you spend time talking about God and faith and what's above everything else, not just football. Can you speak about that a little bit more because it's impressive that that's where you go when you get asked a question right after hoisting a trophy, so just what you can say to that?

DABO SWINNEY: About my faith? Man, that's the easiest question I've had all day. Well, I mean, to me, that's just the priorities of my life. That's just my -- I think that I made a decision when I was 16 -- I grew up in a family that I was taught there was a God and all that, but I didn't really have a relationship with Christ until I was 16. And that was a game changer for me. That's really become the foundation of my life.

And me personally, I don't really -- it's hard to survive and thrive in this world if you don't have a spiritual foundation and have something that you can -- that will give you peace, because life is hard, and we're all going to experience death and failure and setbacks and disappointments and cancer and -- it's just a really difficult world.

For me, God is always -- and my relationship with Christ, he's given me hope and peace, and I love Jeremiah 29:11, for I know the plans I have for you. That's kind of been a life verse for me. It says to give you hope in the future. There are plans for good, not disaster. And so I've always taken that, and I've kind of applied that to my life along my journey. Everybody sees me now and I'm the head coach at Clemson and this and that, but my life hasn't always been this way. I've always used that as -- to me, if there's really hope in the future, then there's power in the present to deal with whatever mess you're dealing with in your life, to step through, to hang in there, to persevere, to continue to believe in something, and that's what my relationship with Christ did for me. It gave me a hope and a belief -- the ability to have a hope and a belief beyond my circumstances.

It's probably the greatest accomplishment that I have had to this point is to see my three sons come to know Christ and to know him as their Lord and savior. But those are personal decisions that people have to make, but it's just how I choose to live my life. Trust me, people that know me know I ain't perfect, but I do try to live my life in a way that hopefully can be pleasing to my maker because I know I'm going to meet him one day, and he's not going to pat me on the back and talk about how many wins I had or how many Coach of the Year trophies we got or how much money I made. I really think he's going to hold me accountable to how I took advantage of the opportunity and the blessings that he gave me, the impact that I had on young people, the type of men that we develop through a game.

Appreciate you asking that question. We can pass the bucket if y'all want and keep going. Didn't expect that one. (Laughter.)

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