In Monday night’s national championship victory over Alabama, Clemson accomplished its final goal of the season, the one Dabo Swinney added to the list of team goals after last year’s loss to Alabama in the title game — win the closer, which for the 2016 season meant winning the title game.
Eight years ago, when Swinney became head coach, he felt like there were lids on the program preventing it from reaching its full potential. When Clemson fought back from double-digit deficits on multiple occasions against Alabama and secured the program’s first national title since 1981, the last lid Swinney imagined came off.
“The biggest thing is this just was the only thing we hadn’t done,” Swinney said on Tuesday during his Champions News Conference at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. “It was the next step for us. When I got the job, there were like lids on the program — it was like OK, Clemson, you can only do this, but don’t go any higher than that. Like you can win nine, but let’s don’t win 10.
“We have just slowly knocked the lids off the program, and this was the last one.”
With all of the lids off, the potential for Clemson seems limitless. Despite the departure of Deshaun Watson, the Tigers will return a young and very talented core of players that will be supplemented by another elite recruiting class. Clemson, having risen to an elite level as a program and reached the pinnacle this season, doesn’t have to rebuild anymore — it can simply reload.
Clemson, established in prominence, is in position to continue competing with the nation’s best.
“The best is yet to come for us. This is not the end-all,” Swinney said of winning it all this season. “We’ll celebrate this weekend, this championship with our banquet and the parade and all that stuff, and then we’ll start over.”
As it builds for the future in recruiting, Swinney and Clemson’s coaching staff no longer have to sell a vision for the program. Now, they can just sell obvious results.
If recruits need further evidence of Clemson’s unprecedented success, they don’t have to look any farther than the school’s new $55 million football operations center that will be completed later this month.
“We’re selling results. Bottom line,” Swinney said. “We think that we have a great program to sell, and we’re very proud of that.”
Along with that, Swinney and his staff will keep doing what it has been — evaluate talent accurately, look for not only good players, but good people, and then help provide them with the tools they need to be as successful as possible.
“We’ve been recruiting at a high level. That’s not going to change, certainly,” Swinney said. “With this (championship), it just kind of solidifies how we’re doing. The biggest thing for us is that we continue to do a great job of evaluating, recruiting guys that fit our program, fit our culture, and then developing them. That’s the key for us.”
Clemson is soaking in the moment and will celebrate its accomplishment with a parade on Saturday morning. But Clemson is already starting to prepare for the future, too.
“It’s a great moment, and it’s something that we needed to get done,” Swinney said of the national title. “But Thursday I’m going to have a team meeting with the 2017 team, and there will be a new group of seniors sitting in the front row. New challenges, new journey, kind of lay out the vision a little bit for next year.”
Some might say that Clemson has arrived after winning its first national championship in 35 years, but Swinney doesn’t believe that. Instead, Swinney and the Tigers are still striving to get better and working toward a future that is as bright as ever.
“You never arrive. You’re always striving to get better,” Swinney said. “What’s next? And for us, like I said, it will be enjoying this moment, but getting excited about coming back and seeing if we can charge back up the mountain next year.”
“You think this is the best of Clemson, just wait,” Watson said after the game. “The next five years are going to be more exciting, more awesome.”