SAN JOSE, Calif. — Two years ago, Dabo Swinney led Clemson to its first national championship in football in 35 years.
It was one of the greatest seasons in Clemson football history, capped when Deshaun Watson found Hunter Renfrow for a 2-yard touchdown with one second to go to beat Alabama in the 2017 CFP National Championship Game in Tampa, Fla.
Now, two years later, Swinney once again has his team on the doorstep of another championship and once again his Tigers have to go through Alabama to win a second national championship in three years. Clemson plays ‘Bama Monday night at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
If Clemson (14-0) is to win a second national title under Swinney, he says the journey to this one has been a little more enjoyable than the 2016 run.
“You know, I think I’ve just probably enjoyed this maybe more than any other season, any other time,” he said during Media Day on Saturday at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. “I think in ’15, it was so new, and I was kind of as a coach learning a lot about it and just the planning and all the logistics involved and how I need to practice my team. The timing of it was different, too. The actual schedule and amount of prep time has changed.
“My first year we were also in school, and that was a weird dynamic for me. They were not in school, we were in school, and it was just a lot of different things that we were juggling. And it was kind of a blur, to be honest with you.”
Swinney felt like because of the success of the 2015 team, expectations were just so high that everyone just wanted to fast forward to the championship game and did not really enjoy the journey it takes to get there.
“The 2016 team, it was almost like that whole season everybody just wanted to hit fast forward, like okay, ‘can we just get there, we know where we’re going, can we just get there,’ and it doesn’t work that way,” Swinney said. “And I thought that team – that was a little more of a grind. But once we got there, they were ready, and we won the game. Whereas this year it’s almost like we’ve hit pause a lot, and like man, this is really cool. Let’s enjoy this journey, and I think that’s to me, personally, has been the biggest difference. I have just really enjoyed this team, the preparation, just the mundane, day-to-day stuff that comes with getting ready and just being around these guys.
“I mean, this is an incredible group of young people. I mean, I told them the other day, I can’t wait to see what these guys do – 20 years from now when I’m old and we can get together for one of these reunions or something, I can’t wait to see what they do in life. I mean, this is an amazing group of young people. They won the AFCA academic award, first time, and 66 guys make a 3.0 or better. Just the focus, the leadership, the commitment, and just their appreciation for the journey has really made it a joyful season for me.”