Eric Mac Lain gets asked this question all the time. What is Dabo Swinney really like in person?
“The answer is he is the exact same,” the former Clemson offensive lineman said Friday night as an analyst on the ACCN’s The Huddle. “There has been a method to what he has done, and you see where it has gotten him with two national championships in the past three years.”
Mac Lain says Swinney built the Clemson program through recruiting, hard work and education. He says those in the program have learned from their failures every bit as much as they have through their success.
“Really just looking at how this happened and how this dynasty started. Number one, hiring Dabo Swinney,” Mac Lain said. “Back in 2008, he was not a coordinator. He was not some big-time OC that everyone was wanting. He was just a little ole wide receivers’ coach. For him to be promoted to the job was just a cool thing.
“The you look at the signing of C.J. Spiller. He is one of the first, if not the first, five-star at Clemson. He made it a cool thing to come to Clemson. It was okay. This guy was getting recruited by Florida State, by Miami, by Florida, and he said, ‘Naha, I am going to go to this little school in South Carolina’ and that kind of opened the flood gates.”
And it did. Soon guys like Nuk Hopkins, Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Stephone Anthony, Mackensie Alexander, Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence signed with the Tigers.
In 2011, Boyd, Hopkins and Watkins led Clemson to its first ACC Championship under Swinney. However, the program was still in its early stages and the Tigers were just learning how to handle success. A lesson they learned all to well in the 2012 Orange Bowl.
West Virginia beat Clemson by 37 points, 70-33. The 70 points are still most points allowed by any team in a bowl game and the most points allowed by any Clemson team in its history.
“This one hurts. It hurts to see it. The 2012 Orange Bowl. We just absolutely got our tails whipped,” Mac Lain said. “I talked to a bunch of fans and they said that is the only game they actually left, but it taught us how to play football. It taught us how to prepare for big games. This is a BCS Bowl game in the Orange Bowl, which at the time Clemson was just not ready.”
But the Tigers were ready the next time they got their chance. The very next year, they rallied from 11 points down in the fourth quarter to beat LSU, 25-24, with a field goal as time expired in the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl. Then a year later in the 2014 Orange Bowl, they rallied again, this time knocking off Ohio State, 40-35.
Clemson has posted a 97-15 record since the start of the 2011 season, while winning 5 ACC Championships and two national championships. The program has posted at least 10 wins every year since, including a perfect 15-0 season last year.
“Then you see us going back to the Orange Bowl in 2014 and Clemson winning the first and only BCS Bowl game for the state of South Carolina… It was kind of that moment where Clemson can do this. Clemson has the ability,” Mac Lain said.
That ushered in the Watson era and all of a sudden Clemson was not only taking on college football’s biggest giant, Alabama, and giving it a game, but they beaten the Crimson Tide twice, including last year’s 44-16 win in the national championship game.
“Then a little guy probably watched that (Orange Bowl), Deshaun Watson, and we all know how good he is and the capabilities that he had. Again, going from C.J. Spiller to another top prospect in the country and now you look at Clemson’s recruiting, they got the No. 1 class in the country and five stars everywhere you look. Eventually it led to (the 2018) national championship and where we are today, which kind of epitomizes it.
“That is kind of the base. Who knows where this thing is going to end up? We are already two national championships in, but what they have been able to do with the Tajh Boyds, the Grady Jarretts, the Stephone Anthonys, the Ben Boulwares, just all of these guys coming together to be the foundation for this team. As a former player it is really cool to watch.”
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