There are days one never forgets. Their own birthday for starters, the day they got married, of course the spouse’s birthday and when their children were born.
Dabo Swinney has all of those dates down, but there is also one more day he will never forget. The day Terry Don Phillips hired him as Clemson’s interim head coach … October 13, 2008.
“That day is locked in my mind forever,” Swinney said. That is the first thing I saw when I looked at the schedule. ‘Son of a gun it’s October 13.’ I just hope it is a good Friday 13th. But I was like, ‘Wow! How about that?’”
Swinney says he always reflects back to that day, which was not an easy one. Earlier in the day, Phillips walked in to then head coach Tommy Bowden’s office and informed him he was not going to be retained at the end of the year. It was just the midway point of the season, but Bowden knew his opportunity to turn Clemson back into a national power was over so he wanted to give Swinney an opportunity.
Phillips felt the same way so they both agreed to let Swinney take over the program to prove to everyone what he could do, and the rest is history.
When the second-ranked Tigers (6-0, 4-0 ACC) visit Syracuse on Friday, it will mark nine years to the day since Swinney was hired as interim head coach. In those nine years, Clemson has won a national championship, played for another, won three ACC Championships, while playing for four.
In his nine years since taking over, Swinney turned the Clemson program from an inconsistent program into a national power.
“I love to kind of remember where we came from and keep my eyes on where we are and keep plowing ahead,” he said. “It will be a neat day, no matter what happens.”
In the days and hours leading up to his hire as the interim head coach, Swinney doesn’t remember too much. Clemson, who was a preseason top 10 team heading into 2008, was coming off a 12-7 loss at Wake Forest on Thursday night, slipping their record to 3-3 at the midway point of the season.
After being embarrassed by Alabama in the Chick-fil-A kickoff Classic in Atlanta to start the season, the Tigers also suffered a disappointing loss to Maryland the week before losing to Wake. Clemson fans were upset with Bowden and they wanted him out as head coach.
“I just remember it was probably like any other open Saturday, I was probably playing with my boys, watching college football,” Swinney said. “I have never really worried about stuff like that. We were disappointed that is where we were, but shoot, I was focused on just trying to win the next game.
“We had a lot of football left so let’s go win that game. Been there done that before. My focus was to get our guys better and win the next game.”
After the loss to Wake Forest, Swinney went on a recruiting trip the next day to watch a wide receiver in North Carolina. He got home later that night and then on Saturday he watched college football with his family. Swinney had no idea his life was about to take a drastic turn from what he had known the previous five and a half football seasons in Clemson.
“We never know, and I think God intended it to be just that way,” Swinney said proudly. “We don’t know what is down the road. We can prepare and try to put ourselves in the best possible position and have a vision for our future and have a path that you want.
“We don’t know. We don’t know when our time is going to be called and God is going to call us home or whatever. Again, I think that is why He designed the world that way on purpose so we would not be paralyzed by the fear of what is coming. Let’s live today and have a great day today and just take one moment at a time. That is what I try to do.”