It was about this time five years ago when Dabo Swinney walked up the tower that stands in the middle of the Clemson practice fields and joined longtime friend and colleague Hugh Yaughn.
Yaughn, a long-time former high school football coach who now serves as an equipment manager on Clemson’s football team, runs the time of each period during individual workouts for Swinney’s youth and high school football camps. From time to time, Swinney makes his way up the tour to speak with Yaughn and to get a different perspective on how camp is going.
On this particular day, Swinney told Yaughn about his vision to one day bring the entire Clemson football program together in one central area. At the time there was no indoor practice facility. There were just the two grass fields and a turf field beside the Jervey Athletic Center.
“I remember him telling me as he pointed to the turf field. He said, ‘Coach, that’s going to be our indoor practice facility right there,’” Yaughn recalled. “Then he pointed to the soccer fields and the space between us and the indoor track facility and said, ‘I see that as a football complex where we will have everything we need and we will not have to ever go across a street or through a parking lot again to get to practice.’
“Then he said, ‘We have to win first.’”
Later that fall, Clemson won its first Atlantic Coast Conference Championship in 20 years and thus began Swinney’s vision of what some outsiders are calling, “Dabo’s World.”
By the end of the 2012 football season, Clemson moved into its 80,000-square foot, $10 million Indoor Football facility just ahead of its victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The first peace of Swinney’s vision was in place, now the Clemson football program had to earn the rest.
Since the Indoor Practice Facility was built, Swinney has taken the Clemson program to the next level. The Tigers, who are currently housed in the WestZone of Memorial Stadium, have gone 35-6 the last three seasons, which includes another ACC Championship, wins over Ohio State and Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, a berth in the College Football Playoff and a spot in the College Football Playoff Championship Game.
In early April of 2013, Swinney journeyed to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to give his respects after the passing of former Alabama athletic director Mal Moore. It was during that visit when he got his longtime friend and former Alabama teammate, Thad Turnipseed, to give him a tour of the new football operations center he helped build for Nick Saban and the Alabama football program.
“When he came down for the funeral, I took him through everything I built at Alabama. I could tell he had a lot of this already in his mind,” Turnipseed recalled.
Swinney did. In fact, Swinney had already spoken with Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich about his plan and what he ultimately wanted to do.
“When Dan started we had some meetings about what we felt needed to be done to make us a championship program. I applaud Dan for being so willing to listen to what I felt about the subject,” Swinney said. “We went back and forth with an exchange of ideas. Finally I drew a diagram on a piece of paper where the new building was connected to the new indoor facility.
“He said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
But to do it, Swinney needed someone who could take his vision and make it come alive. Turnipseed was that guy.
Soon after Moore’s funeral Swinney persuaded Turnipseed to come to Clemson for a visit. It did not take the Clemson head coach long to convince his old friend to come on board.
“It felt good and it felt real here,” Turnipseed said.
Swinney knew what he wanted Turnipseed to do, but the concept of building a football operations center was still an idea so he needed to find him a job to do in the meantime.
“I said to him, ‘What do you want me to do?’ Dabo said, ‘Thad, I really don’t care if you do something for a year.’ He had been telling me things all day, but in the end he said, ‘I just want you to find something and make us better,’” Turnipseed said. “The first day he hired me, I was director of high school relations. By day three I became the director of recruiting. On day ten I became the director of recruiting and external affairs.”
At Alabama, Turnipseed spent 11 years where he started as the director of capital projects, designing and overseeing over $200 million in athletic projects. Some of those projects included two end zone expansions and a $40 million improvement to the football operations center.
Prior to coming to Alabama, Turnipseed owned his own construction company for six years and was a project manager at another one for two years prior to that.
“Alabama hired me to build all of their facilities. That was my first seven years at Alabama. I was building facilities,” Turnipseed said. “Then during those seven years, I was hired as the director of capital projects. I became the director of management and then event management. I was touching a lot of those departments within those seven years, and then Nick Saban came.
“Within three weeks, Nick Saban started calling me his director of football external affairs and that’s what brought me more into the football world. I had a wide view of how the athletic department works.”
And that’s why Swinney wanted him. He knew Turnipseed had the knowledge to turn his vision into a reality.
“Thad has been invaluable in the process because he went through this with so many facilities at Alabama. He knows all the details that must be addressed,” Swinney said.
Ground broke in November on the new football complex that is expected to open on January 26, 2017 with a ribbon cutting scheduled on National Signing Day. The new 140,000 square foot, $55 million project will house the entire football team, its coaches and the football support staff.
“This was Dabo’s vision from day one. I had no idea I would be building a football building this quick when I got here, but this is my wheelhouse,” Turnipseed said.
Swinney’s goal for the facility is to provide members of the football program and visitors with a unique Clemson experience. In addition to an indoor replica of the Hill and Howard’s Rock, the facility will include a career development and leadership center, a players’ lounge, locker rooms, training/rehab facility, weight room, a nutrition center and dining facility, meeting rooms, coaches’ offices and a first-of-its-kind recruiting war room.
“This project will be a huge step forward not only for our football program, but for each of our sports,” Director of Athletics Dan Radakovich said to Clemson World.com. “We’ve begun studies on how best to utilize the WestZone to most effectively impact each of our student-athletes, and we sincerely appreciate the support of IPTAY and all of our donors who will make this new complex a reality.”
Yes, there will be other amenities too in the new football complex, such as a bowling alley, a movie theatre, a nap room, a nine-hole putt-putt course and an outdoor seating and grilling area. But those are just amenities. They’re not what the structure is about.
“I have always preferred the situation where you walked from the meeting room to the practice field,” Swinney said. “I just think it is a better situation for the coaches and the players to be in the same facility. It was in the planning stage for two years and now it is becoming a reality.
“This will allow us to have a football operations center where it all happens … the practice, the indoor facility, the weight room, everything. You name it. It’s total operations, right there, so you’re with them and interacting with them all the time.”
Turnipseed has been the bridge between the gaps between Swinney and the athletic department.
“This past year I have made sure this building is seventy percent functionality wise what we need,” he said. “I have been working with Joe Simon, who is the athletic department’s capital projects guy, Graham (Neff) and Dan. They have given us a lot of leeway in giving us exactly what we want.
“Dabo and Woody McCorvey sign off on all the different concepts as they have evolved.”
What it will become
When Dabo Swinney envisioned the new football complex, it wasn’t just a vision to give Clemson an edge over its competitors or a recruiting advantage. His goal is to have a facility that will bring his entire team together.
“This building is to serve the heart and not the talent,” Turnipseed said. “If you serve the heart and not the talent and you love, serve and care for one another … that’s the whole theme of this.”
Turnipseed says what will make the new football complex so special is that so many people have invested a lot of time and resources into building it.
“We had a lot of thoughts from a lot of people, starting with Dabo, on getting this on what it became,” he said. “We have the land here. We were fortunate enough to have the soccer fields and we were fortunate enough to have a president and a board of trustees that understood the vision and the importance of what we are doing.
“We had to build the soccer fields that we are just finishing up. That allowed us to have this space. Very few people, and I don’t know of anybody, who has the land opportunity to do what we have been able to do and how it allows us to tie this all together.”
Swinney has said the new football complex will be the football program’s home for generations to come. Turnipseed says it will also be the standard in College Football as well.
“The nap room, the bowling alley, the theater, the outdoor seating area, a lot of people don’t do the dinning hall. Most people do the dinning with the general student body on campus,” he said. “Dabo has been strong about creating a culture. The more time we eat together and spend time together, the closer we are going to be.
“(The president, the board of trustees and the athletic director) they could have all said they weren’t going to do that. The one reason we are successful here is because Dabo respects the chain of command. He is an ultimate team player. Some coaches have an ego. I think, when a college football program gets in trouble is when you have a coach who does not respect the chain of command or becomes bigger than the president or bigger than the athletic director. Everybody bought into this thing.
“This building here is the standard for College Football for many years to come. Most people, no matter what they try to do, they can’t come close to it because they don’t have the land. It will be economically impossible unless they have some billion dollar T. Boone Pickens to come in and take out half a billion dollars’ worth of facilities, which likely is not going to happen. This is the foundation for Clemson football for generations. This is a difference maker.”
It’s a vision Dabo Swinney started years ago before he even won his first ACC Championship. He wanted to bring Clemson together. He wanted to make it a family once again. And he has.
“Some people might be able to build a building that is close to it, but until they get a Dabo Swinney that believes in that philosophy, their building will never function the way we function here,” Turnipseed said.
–Photos courtesy of Clemson Athletic Communications
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