Dabo Swinney is once again asking Clemson fans to keep things in perspective.
The Tigers’ veteran coach has found himself doing that a lot recently. Clemson just wrapped up its 12th straight season of at least 10 wins, won the ACC for the seventh time in eight years and played in another New Year’s Six bowl. Swinney had a message last month for fans who were disappointed in an Orange Bowl berth instead of a berth in the College Football Playoff.
Clemson hasn’t made the CFP since the 2020 season, but Swinney again propped up the consistent success his program has had relative to the rest of college football when asked during his National Signing Day press conference Wednesday if he felt like fans needed to be reminded of how far Clemson has come during his 15-year tenure.
“We’ve won three national championships in 127 years,” Swinney said. “The problem is we’ve won two in seven, so sometimes that can create a loss of perspective. And I think when you lose perspective, you lose your joy. And I think that’s what’s made Clemson unique and special is this place has always had a lot of fun.
“You guys that were around back in February of (2011) when we signed that class and we had that signing, if I would’ve said to all of y’all coming off of six wins right there, ‘Hey, here’s what’s fixing to happen in the next 12 years: I know we haven’t won 11 games in 31 years, but we’re going to go do it eight times in 11 years. I know we hadn’t won 10 games in 20 years, but we’re about to go do it 12 years in a row. I know we haven’t won a national championship since 1981, but we’re going to go to six final Fours (College football Playoffs), win two national championships and come within an onside kick of winning another one. And we’re going to win 12 straight postseason games 12 years in a row. Nobody’s ever done that in college football. Oh, and we’re going to graduate 98% of our guys and we’re going to have 13 top-15 recruiting classes in a row.’ Y’all would’ve all looked at me like I was crazy, and the Clemson fans would’ve said, ‘Hey, sign me up for that.’
“It’s not that we’ve been perfect every year. We’re never going to be perfect every year. But, man, we’ve had a lot of joy in the journey, and I think when you lose perspective of that and how hard it is. When we won the ACC championship in Charlotte in ‘11, there were 5,000 people in the West end zone. It was unbelievable. Couldn’t even get off the bus. Now there ain’t nobody there. Now it ain’t no big deal. And I think that’s sad. I get it. I spent 13 years at Alabama. I know, but I’ve always wanted to make sure that I kept the right perspective. That I stay focused on my purpose. That this stays a purpose-driven program. That we don’t lose focus on our why. That we don’t ever lose joy in our journey because that’s part of my responsibility as I lead a group of people – a lot of people – in these walls here. It’s been an incredible journey.”
That doesn’t mean Swinney is lowering expectations. Clemson has the second-most wins in the country over the last decade, and Swinney is being paid accordingly. Swinney’s salary will be $10.75 million this year, and that doesn’t include a $1 million retention bonus he’ll get if he’s still Clemson’s coach on March 1, according to his contract.
With 31 wins over the last three years, Swinney noted the Tigers are off to a better start this decade than the last one when they made five of their six CFP appearances. Clemson is trying to get back there, a chore that won’t be quite as daunting beginning in 2024 when the field expands to 12 teams.
“We’ve raised the bar here,” Swinney said. “We’ve changed the standard. We’ve changed the expectations, and I love that. But as we strive to meet and exceed those expectations every single year, we’ve got to keep the right perspective, and we’ve got to have joy in the journey. Things can happen. You can be a great team and maybe you don’t win the national championship. That doesn’t mean your team wasn’t committed. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a lot of character. People work their butts off around here, and we all want to win every single game. But there is no triumph without some great failure, challenge, setback or whatever along the way. It’s always a part of our journey, and it’s all good.
“You start over every year and you go to work, but what’s happened in this program the last 12 years, it’s historic. And it’s been done by a lot of people. All I’ve done is my part. That’s all I’ve done. But, man, these players and this staff and all these support staff that’s come through this program for years and what’s gone on here, I mean, 12 years of 10-plus wins? Alabama’s had 15, and the next-longest streak is two. And for us to act like we’re a bunch of failures around here because we only won 11 and won the league and lost to our rival in-state for the first time in a decade, I just think that’s a bad mentality.
“The final four, it’s hard to get there. We’ll forever be the only team to go to six Final Fours (College Football Playoffs) in a row. That ain’t ever going to happen again because it’s going to change next year. So it’s hard. It’s really hard to win. Everybody’s got good coaches, and everybody’s got good players. But the consistency we’ve been able to have on and off the field, it’s incredibly rare and incredibly unique. And we focus so much on what we don’t do instead of what we do do.”
Swinney said he’d like to see that change in the future.
“Hopefully moving forward we can have a reset and not have a bunch of miserable people out there if we don’t go 15-0,” he said. “Because it’s going to be a very miserable life if that’s what you’re waiting on every single year to determine your happiness. We’ve got a bunch of great people that work their tails off and are incredibly committed to excellence every single year. And somewhere along the way, maybe we’ll have that perfection, but it’s a daily deal that you have to stay committed to.”
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