When Dabo Swinney came to Clemson in 2003 as an assistant coach, he could not believe what he saw from a facilities standpoint.
“I’m like holy cow! We are 20 years behind from where I just came from,” Swinney recalled to Clemson fans at the Greenwood Clemson Club Prowl & Growl meeting this past Monday.
Swinney came from Alabama where he served as an assistant coach and former player for 13 years. So what did Swinney do? He did the only thing he could at the time. He rolled his sleeves up and went to work.
Despite some limitations, the Tigers were always competitive on the recruiting trail and on the football field. When the facilities started to improve in 2006 with the construction of the WestZone, Clemson started to land some big-name recruits, such as C.J. Spiller and DaQuan Bowers.
When Swinney became head coach he took over about the time the WestZone was completed and moved in during the spring of 2009. Clemson’s recruiting went up another notch as the Tigers’ inked topped named players like Tajh Boyd, Deandre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant, Tony Steward and Stephone Anthony.
In 2011, the Tigers won their first ACC Championship in 20 years and then things really took off from there. Despite building and opening the Poe Indoor Practice Facility in 2012, Clemson was still somewhat behind in facilities, but Swinney and the administration was still working hard to get better.
Swinney and his staff out worked everyone else on the recruiting trail as the Tigers brought in six straight top 10 recruiting classes which included players like Deshaun Watson, Wayne Gallman, Mike Williams, Artavis Scott, Deon Cain, Ray-Ray McCloud, Mackensie Alexander, Ben Boulware, Jayron Kearse, Shaq Lawson, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell. It is no coincidence Clemson started its streak of six straight 10-win seasons at the same time.
During this stretch the Tigers won 70 games, three ACC Championships, six bowl games and of course a national championship this past January, the program’s first since 1981. Despite being somewhat behind in the facilities arms race, Clemson still won a national championship.
“You have to compete,” Swinney said. “You can’t ever arrive if you’re going to be the best. If you’re going to be great, you have to always strive for what’s next. You have to always ask yourself, how do we get better?”
Clemson got better in February when it opened the $55 million Allen Reeves Football Complex. It is arguably the best football facility in the country, and by far gives the Tigers an edge it has not had on the recruiting trail.
However, Swinney was quick to remind Clemson fans that though the new complex will help in recruiting, it is not the only reason a recruit chooses to come to a program.
“We won the national championship without it. I want to make that clear,” he said. “But it to me signifies that we’re not satisfied.”
To Swinney winning a national championship without all the bells and whistles that it has now proved to him and everyone else that Clemson is good enough to win a national championship no matter what, as long as it stays hungry and continues to outwork other schools.
“This facility, to me, signifies that the best is yet to come, that we’re going to continue to compete at the highest level,” Swinney said.
And they are going to continue to work hard to be the best.