When Brian Kelly looks at what Dabo Swinney has done at Clemson from afar, he can’t help but be amazed by it all.
Since 2011, when the Tigers won their first ACC Championship under Swinney, Clemson is 95-15 overall. Next to Alabama, it has been the most consistent program in the country.
The Tigers have recorded eight straight 10-win seasons. They have won at least 12 games in each of the last four years. They have won five ACC titles overall. They won one national championship, played for another and have made the College Football Playoff in each of the last four seasons.
Clemson (13-0) is ranked No. 2 in the CFP rankings this year and will play No. 3 Notre Dame in the 83rd Cotton Bowl Classic as part of the CFP semifinals at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
By the way, Clemson has won four straight ACC Championships as well.
“The consistency he’s shown has been amazing,” Kelly said about Swinney on Saturday as the Irish began their preparations for the Cotton Bowl. “The last four years of being in playoffs, winning the ACC – he’s built a really strong culture of success and winning.”
When asked why Swinney has been able to maintain Clemson’s success for such a long time, Kelly said there were two reasons.
“One, they’ve kept their players in the program. You don’t see a lot of guys leaving early,” he said.
This past year, Clemson had seniors Mitch Hyatt, Kendall Joseph, Hunter Renfrow, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant return for their senior seasons, as well redshirt junior Clelin Ferrell. The Tigers’ senior class is a big reason why the team is back in a familiar position again this year.
Clemson’s seniors are 53-4, tied with Alabama’s 2017 seniors as the all-time winningest class in the history of college football.
“They stay, so that environment and culture is one where guys don’t get up and leave early. They play in all their games, and that says a lot to what he’s built as the head coach, and those guys really enjoy being there.
“Having a Christian Wilkins, who has played as a freshman through his senior year, it says a lot as to why he’s been so successful.”
Another thing Kelly likes when admiring the program Swinney has built at Clemson … is the continuity he has with his staff. Since 2012, Swinney has had to replace just three coaches.
Chad Morris, Clemson’s former offensive coordinator, left in 2014 to become the head coach at SMU and is now the head coach at Arkansas, while defensive ends coach Marion Hobby left for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars after the Tigers won the national championship in 2016.
Former defensive line coach Dan Brooks, who had been with Swinney since the beginning at Clemson, retired from coaching after the 2016 National Championship season.
Though guys like defensive coordinator Brent Venables and co-offensive coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott have flirted with possible head coaching gigs the last two years, to this point they have stayed with Swinney at Clemson.
Scott has been with Swinney since the beginning when he was on Swinney’s interim staff and then retained after Swinney was hired permanently in 2008. Elliott came on board in 2011 as the running backs coach, while Venables came on in 2012 to be in charge of the defense and linebackers.
Scott, the wide receivers’ coach, and Elliott were promoted to co-offensive coordinators after Morris left following the 2014 regular season.
“They have great continuity with the defensive coordinator,” Kelly said. “To keep a defensive coordinator in place for that time, as you know, it’s not an easy thing to do. Their co-coordinators on offense have kept their system in place. Having that system to what they’ve done over the past five to six years and then they have invested into the program in their facilities. They’ve done a great job recruiting.”