Now the ACC's longest-tenured coach, Swinney reminisces about his starstruck start

Now the ACC's longest-tenured coach, Swinney reminisces about his starstruck start

Football

Now the ACC's longest-tenured coach, Swinney reminisces about his starstruck start

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The beginning of preseason camp at Clemson also started the clock on Dabo Swinney’s 14th full season as the Tigers’ head coach.

It makes him the longest-tenured coach in the ACC, a designation that became official after last season when Duke parted ways with David Cutcliffe. Dave Doeren, who’s entering his 10th season at North Carolina State, is easily Swinney’s closest competition as no one else has reached double digits yet at their current programs.

“That just shows you you better save your money if you get a coaching job,” Swinney quipped. “It’s a very volatile business.”

If you count the seven games Swinney spent as the interim coach in 2008 following Tommy Bowden’s midseason firing, he’s actually going on season No. 15 as the Tigers’ coach. But that’s not where Swinney’s mind initially goes when he thinks about the start of his longevity in the conference.

That would be May of 2009 when he attended his first ACC spring coaches meetings. The room looked much different than it does now when the group annually convenes that time of year. It included veterans likes Cutcliffe Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen, N.C. State’s Tom O’Brien, Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer, Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson and late legend Bobby Bowden, whose 377 wins at Florida State rank in the top-5 all-time among college football coaches.

At the time, Swinney was a 39-year-old newbie.

“It’s Tom O’Brien. It’s (Ralph) Friedgen. A bunch of crusty dudes that I didn’t know, and I’m scared to death of these guys,” Swinney said. “(With) Friedgen, (it’s like), ‘I’m sitting over here.’ He just had that persona. Tom O’Brien, I thought he was like a drill sergeant. I’m like, ‘All right, I’m not sitting by him.’ Bobby Bowden had the USA Today asleep over in the corner. I’m not sitting by Bobby Bowden. Paul Johnson, he just beat me as an interim. I’m not sitting by Paul. David Cutcliffe I knew, and I really liked David. He was kind of the new guy, too. Me and him coming (into the ACC at the same time). I’d known him for a long time. But Frank Beamer, just the nicest guy in the world. And I loved (former Wake Forest coach) Jim Grobe. Those guys were great.”

It was in that moment that Swinney’s new reality sank in. That and a funny memory.

“I remember just walking in that room and going, ‘OK, this is happening. I’m in here,’” Swinney recalled. “And literally, Coach Bowden, he just slept. Every now and then, he’d wake up and he’d be like , ‘Yep, you boys might want to do that. Y’all are going to be around here longer than me, but y’all might want to vote on that.’ And then he’d go back (to sleep). I think he had been in one of those meetings or two.”

Swinney has built Clemson into one of college football’s elite programs during his time at the helm. The Tigers have won seven ACC championships and two national titles, making them one of just two FBS programs (Alabama) to win multiple national championships since his first full season on the job. Clemson is going for its 12th consecutive 10-win season this fall.

“I guess whoever took the over on me won,” he said, referring to those who questioned his hire 13 years ago. “There’s a lot of people that lost on the under. That’s for sure.”

The ACC has a handful of coaches who are less than five years into their tenures, including a few first-time head coaches in Duke’s Mike Elko, Virginia Tech’s Brent Pry and Virginia’s Tony Elliott, Swinney’s former offensive coordinator. Since the roles are reversed, Swinney said he’s made a point to welcome them with open arms.

“I go out of my way, or I try to, to welcome all of those guys because I know what it’s like to walk in that room in that setting with your peers like that,” Swinney said.

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