By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
When Dabo Swinney came to Clemson as the wide receivers coach in 2003, he was just a 33-year old position coach who knew little about Clemson and had little to go on.
At the time, the Tigers were in a decade long stretch in which they had done very little on the national scene. Besides the 2000 season in which it produced a nine-win season, the football program had done very little since the end of its nearly two decade dominance of the ACC in 1993.
Swinney, always known as a masterful recruiter, jumped into his job though and learned all he could about Clemson’s historical past in football, while trying to find any angle he could take when he went to a recruit’s high school or his home.
“It’s credibility. That’s the bottom line,” Swinney said. “Talk is one thing but when you have done some things, it helps – there’s no doubt.”
In 2003, when Swinney went into a young man’s home, he sold Clemson’s past, its traditions, its great academic standards and where the program was going in the future. He had to tell a player they could be the difference makers and they could be the ones responsible for bringing the program back to where it once was.
Now fast forward 11 years later to 2014. Swinney is no longer selling Clemson on its past and on its potential. Instead, he is selling Clemson as a winner and as program that can now go into any home around the country and compete to sign the best players.
That’s why Clemson has signed a top 15 class four straight years, one of only seven programs around the country that can stake that claim.
“Our brand is totally different than it was five years ago,” Swinney said. “They are either talking good or talking bad about Clemson, but they are talking about Clemson.”
They are talking about Clemson because the Tigers have won 32 games in the last three seasons which includes an ACC Championship, two BCS Bowl games and a victory over Ohio State in this past year’s Orange Bowl.
Clemson has also knocked off SEC powers Auburn, LSU and Georgia during that same stretch.
“Our brand is really, really powerful right now and that is the result of a lot of success,” Swinney said. “LSU has beaten a lot of teams and we can go and beat them. Ohio State was 24-1 coming into our game. We found a way to win those games on those types of stages – it helps you.
“Again, it’s not just those games, but it is all the games. Eleven wins in back-to-back years, that is huge for us – it’s the consistency. And with the consistency we have had on the field and off the field, it has allowed us to have the consistency in the recruiting world. I think they all go hand-in-hand.”
Last year was a banner year for the ACC. Florida State won the conference’s first national championship in football since the Seminoles’ 1999 championship season. Clemson joined FSU inside the Associated Press’ top 10 – a first for the league in 15 years, while the Tigers win over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl marked the first time ever the league had two schools win BCS games in the same year.
The conference also swept every major individual award that was handed out after the regular season was complete.
And though Swinney is proud of what the ACC has accomplished as a whole, and he is glad Clemson did its part in helping with that, he says it’s not about the ACC when he comes into a young man’s house and talks to him and his parents.
“We do what we do. We don’t get caught up in that stuff,” the Clemson head coach said. “We just sell Clemson. As I say all the time, it’s not about a conference, it’s about a program. It’s about what a young person’s opportunity is within your program and the people in your program.
“Some people want to sell a league because that is the best thing they have to sell. If that is the best thing they have to sell then that is what they have to do. We have all kinds of things to sell here. This is an elite program. This is a top 10 program that is winning as consistently as any program in the country on and off the field. We don’t take a back seat to anybody when it comes to recruiting.”
Since signing one of the top running backs in the country to come to Clemson eight years ago, the Tigers have continued to bring in five- and four-star athletes on a regular basis. After C.J. Spiller wrapped up his great career in 2009, Clemson has brought in five-star caliber players like Tajh Boyd, DeAndre Hopkins, Dwayne Allen, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant, Vic Beasley, Stephone Anthony and the list goes on and on.
In the 2014 class, which the Tigers wrapped up last week, Clemson brought in five-star quarterback prospect Deshaun Watson, while signing 12 four-star recruits, including defensive end Richard Yeargin on National Signing Day.
The 2015 class is already off to a great start. The Tigers already have six verbal commitments, which includes the nation’s top offensive tackle and No. 4 overall player Mitch Hyatt (6-5, 275) from Suwanee, Ga. Of the six commits, four are considered four-star players or higher.
“The thing about Clemson that really makes it neat is that it really attracts a certain kind of guy,” Swinney said “I think we have a very unique situation here. If you are passionate about it and you know this place and you stay committed, we can recruit the best of the best every single year – no question.”
And the proof is in the pudding.