Seven of Swinney’s 10 assistant coaches have been at Clemson at least four seasons
When he first came to Clemson in the spring of 2003, Dabo Swinney was thrilled to be back in coaching. He had been out of the coaching ranks for two years after he was a part of a Mike DuBose staff that got fired at Alabama following the 2000 season.
Swinney had spent the previous two football seasons selling commercial real estate, and though successful, he felt incomplete. He wanted to get back into coaching and Tommy Bowden gave him that opportunity as his wide receivers coach at Clemson.
It was a big risk for Swinney because Bowden was on the “hot seat” at Clemson following back-to-back seven-win seasons. But Swinney, who had only coached at Alabama prior to coming to Clemson, needed the experience. He needed to prove to himself and others that he could still coach.
“When I came to Clemson in February of ’03, honestly, I’m like, ‘Well, I’ll probably be here a year, maybe two years and move on,” Swinney said at the IPTAY Prowl & Growl event in Charleston earlier this week.
Everyone knows what has happened since. Swinney is heading into his 16th football season at Clemson and his 10th as the head coach.
“For me, it’s unbelievable,” he said. “This is going to be my 16th season at Clemson. It will be my 10th year as the head coach. It’s hard to stay anywhere 16 years. It’s hard to stay married 16 years. And here I am starting my 16th year.”
Since he became head coach, Swinney has turned Clemson from what was once a stepping-stone job for aspiring coaches to a destination. Danny Pearman and Jeff Scott have been with Swinney all nine years he has been the head coach at Clemson. Tony Elliott is entering his eighth season with the Tigers, as is Robbie Caldwell.
Brent Venables is beginning his seventh season as defensive coordinator, while Mike Reed has started his sixth as the defensive backs coach. Brandon Streeter is now in his fourth season as the quarterbacks coach at Clemson.
Former assistant coaches Dan Brooks (eight years) and Marion Hobby (six years) also had long tenures on Swinney’s staff. Even Chad Morris, now the head coach at Arkansas, was on Swinney’s staff for four seasons.
“One of my main goals, because one of the things that I experienced being a part of Clemson — not as the head coach, as an assistant — was it seemed like Clemson was a stopping point. Clemson was a stepping stone,” Swinney said. “It wasn’t a destination job, and that was one of the things that I wanted to change.”
Swinney changed that by first doing what his predecessor started as he kept the family atmosphere feel that Bowden created. He also allows his coaches’ kids to come to practice and hang out. They continue family night every Wednesday and he gives his coaches Sunday mornings off during the season so they can go to church and spend quality time with their family.
Swinney also changed the salaries, at first preventing himself from a getting a raise so his coaches could get them. That allowed him to create more competitive salaries so his coaches would not want to leave Clemson for more money.
Of course by doing all of this, it allowed Clemson to build one of the strongest programs in college football through continuity in its coaching staff. Since 2011, the Tigers have produced an 82-15 record, second only to Alabama. They have won a national championship, played for another, gone to three straight College Football Playoffs, won four ACC Championships, including the last three, and has recorded seven straight 10-win seasons.
Clemson is no longer a stepping-stone job for coaches. It is a destination job.
“That’s exactly what it is. Clemson is not a stopping point. It is a destination job,” Swinney said. “People want to come to Clemson just to be a part of it. So, it’s been a lot of fun for me to experience that transformation over the past 15 years.”