We’ve all seen it.
After Clemson wins a big ballgame, head coach Dabo Swinney is in the middle of the field talking to an ESPN reporter and he is fired up. Swinney’s postgame statements and celebrations have become iconic in college football the last six years.
From his fiery postgame statements following Clemson’s victory over Auburn in 2011 to his B.Y.O.G. moment following a big win over Notre Dame in 2015, Swinney has delivered them time and time again like it was his first one.
In most cases, during those moments, if you were paying attention, there is a stoic man who generally stands behind Swinney. He appears to be a bodyguard of some sort. And yes, he does serve as a bodyguard, sort of.
The man is actually Clemson’s Director of Football Security/Community Liaison. And if you think that man resembles Dabo Swinney, well, that’s because he does. That man is Dabo’s older brother Tracy, who started working for Dabo five years ago after he retired as a police officer in Alabama.
Tracy spent 30 years in law enforcement and was a Sargent when he retired in May of 2012. He was a SWAT officer for 10 years and then was promoted into investigations. He later was in charge of the hostage negotiations unit and stayed involved and was in charge of patrol until he retired.
These days, Tracy is in charge of Dabo, and it is not as easy as it sounds.
“The hardest thing to do is being able to keep up with him. That is hard to do,” Tracy said. “You know when he comes out on game day, he is totally focused and all he has on his mind is the game. Then I have to grab him. And if you see me I always have to grab his arm and say ‘Dab over here!’ Because he is going another way and he doesn’t know he is supposed to be doing something over there. He is just focused on the game.”
While Dabo is focused on leading the Tigers to another win, Tracy is focused on his brother’s safety and the safety of the team.
The older Swinney has a wide range of responsibilities from making sure his brother is safe before, during and after games, to making sure high-profile players like Deshaun Watson have security detail, as well as going over the police routes and hotel security before the team arrives on road trips. If Clemson is going somewhere, like its trip to the White House last week, Tracy Swinney is right in the middle of it all.
“When we travel, Mike Dooley and myself, we leave on Thursdays,” Tracy said. “We are kind of like the advance team. We go to wherever we are going. We get the hotels ready. Go to the buses, check all of those out and make sure the route is right. Then we have a meeting with the hotel staff and then I meet with all the law enforcement … troopers, city police, whoever is working that jurisdiction.”
Tracy also handles all the VIP coaches that come into town, like Gene Stallings and Mack Brown.
“I’m surprised a lot of the other colleges have not gone to that, maybe hire a retired police officer and have them as a liaison,” Tracy said.
Tracy still pinches himself when he thinks about the job he has with his brother. Before Dabo hired him to be Clemson’s Director of Football Security, Tracy was heading over to NASCAR to work internal security.
He had already been to Daytona and Charlotte and spoke with all the big wigs in NASCAR. When Dabo came home to Alabama following the Tigers’ first ACC Championship under Swinney in 2011, Tracy told him all about his new opportunity once he retired from law enforcement.
That’s when Dabo suggested, “Before you do that, let’s talk about the possibility of you coming to work for me.”
“This is kind of a unique position. My brother and what I used to do. It was just a perfect fit,” Tracy said. “With NASCAR, that is a lot of traveling, tons of traveling. That would have been a whole other world. This was a blessing. This was something God did for us.
“It was the best thing ever. I did not even think twice about it. I said, ‘I am in.’”
Tracy — who spent his entire life and raised a family in Alabama — retired in May of 2012, sold his house a week later, bought a house in Clemson and in June was working for his brother.
“There is nothing better than family,” Tracy said. “He looked at me and said, ‘This thing is growing and getting bigger and I need you.’ After he said that, heck, I’m jumping in. I did not think twice about it.”
Like his brother, Tracy Swinney fit right in at Clemson. He said he and his wife, Tammy, have made lifelong friends since moving here five years ago.
“What is fun is my wife, Tammy and I, we both came in here with our feet running and met all of these new friends,” he said. “The people are wonderful. We have great friends back home, but here, they are great people, too. We have some really close friends that we met up here.
“This is home for us.”
Though working for his brother has been great for Tracy, it also has been a wonderful experience for his wife. For one, she isn’t as worried for his safety as she was when he was a police officer.
“She was thrilled,” Tracy said. “Now, she was very proud, and I was proud, of the career I had, but there were lots of dangers that come with it and now it is much worse being a police officer. I still have friends involved in it back home and I worry about them.
“So she was very relieved. We both thought this was such a blessing to come up here. Move to an area like this where you are surrounded by mountains, lakes and great people.”
Though it is not like hostage negotiations or investigating a murder or something of that nature, being in charge of protecting one of the most popular head coaches in college football can have its challenges, too. Like prior to the Russell Athletic Bowl in 2014, when a fan ran at Dabo professing her love for him before nearly blindsiding him, or following the Notre Dame win in 2015 when half the stadium was on Frank Howard Field and Swinney could barely move as he tried to make his way to the locker room under the WestZone.
“The fans mean well,” Tracy said. “They just want to be close to him, but you never know. Someone needs to be there just in case. It is a little scary out there. That is why I have five troopers on the sideline. I got myself and two others that actually go out there with him as soon as the game is over. We surround him and we do a triangle figure.
“We just try to work our way out of there. He loves to stop and talk and he tries to talk to everybody and sign autographs. That is just the way he is. There is a lot of pushing and shoving. You have to be careful because there are a lot of small kids out there, too. So we are careful about that and we are careful about trying to get Dabo through.”
Now you know. The next time you are watching a Clemson football game and you see Dabo Swinney talking to the sideline reporter, that guy behind him, who has the serious look on his face, that is Dabo’s big brother, and like all big brothers, he is making sure his little brother is taken care of.