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January 9, 2016
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I mean, the message there is just, you know, we may not be the favorite, but we don't see ourselves as an underdog. We think that we've got a great team and I think that our guys have done a great job of embracing every role that we've been put in for the last seven years to be honest with you. That's why we've been so consistent. The only other team that's had five 10-plus win seasons, we're playing them. Alabama. So there's been a lot of consistency between these two teams, and our guys have earned that. For whatever reason people are just noticing that this year. It's not about being the favorite and being the underdog, it's about how you play the game and our core values and the things that we believe in, the things that we think help us win are the same in this game as they are all these other games. So just really trying to get them really focused on what we've got to do to win and how we play, and that was really all it was, and not get distracted by all that other stuff.
DABO SWINNEY: Same thing. This is it. We have a mentality every week that it's the biggest game of the year. It always cracks me up, every week for us seems like this year it's been a trap game because of whoever we play in the next week. Then the next week, the next week is the trap game. That's why I'm so proud of our team, because they really have embraced the mentality of this is the biggest game of the year, and I always tell people, if you don't think it's big, then lose it and you'll find out how big it was. So every game is really a championship game, so you have to develop that mentality to be consistent and the only way that you have a chance to be a great program is to have longevity with that consistency, and that's why we are where we are. It's really no different here. I mean, other than this truly is the biggest game of the year because this is it. There is no other game next week unless I can talk these guys into a 16th game and a scrimmage or something like that. But we're excited about it, have great respect for Alabama. How can you not? They've been the standard in college football for a long time, so our guys are just focused on trying to get themselves ready to play because that's what it's going to take. None of the rest of the stuff matters. It's going to be protect our quarterback and blocking at the point of attack, can we tackle Henry, can we pressure their quarterback, can we cover. It's really the fundamentals of the game, and that's what we're focused on.
DABO SWINNEY: First of all, just fueling my belief in myself, going way back to when I was a player. Woody, if you know him, he's really not a man of many words, but he is so wise. When he first came to Alabama, spring of '90, he was not my favorite guy because I really worked hard and felt like I had kind of moved up the ladder a little bit and now all of a sudden a new coaching staff comes in in the spring of '90 and I'm kind of right back down at the bottom of the totem pole. I swore he didn't know my game. Never said anything to me that spring. What you don't know about Woody, what I didn't know about Woody McCorvey at the time, is he's always watching and always paying attention. He is one of the wisest men I've ever known, and going through the spring, going through the summer, we get into that season -- we started out 0-3 that season of my sophomore year. You Alabama folks remember that very well. And we had a couple receivers get hurt, and I think we had a couple of guys that were struggling a little bit, and Tuesday practice, and I swear, he hadn't said my name since he had been there, and I was over with Coach Oliver, just running the scout team, and he called me over to the offensive field, and literally out of the blue, just said, hey, I'm going to give you a shot today. If you do good, you're going to play this weekend, just like that.
So two things from that I always tell people, you never know who's watching and to just be great at whatever you're doing, and the second thing is to be prepared for the opportunity. Even if it never comes, better to be prepared anyway, and so -- so from that point on, he just instilled this belief in me. He went out on a limb for me as a player, and for the next three years it was just a great journey for me as a player and just being the best that I could be, and he always made me feel like that I was as good as David Palmer, even though for whatever reason, they always put David in when it was time to throw it.
But that was how he coached me, and that just fueled this -- I already believed in myself, but he fueled that for me, and then same thing as I got into coaching. He was instrumental in me becoming a GA, and then when Coach Stallings hired me full time. Woody was the offensive coordinator and Woody really wanted me to be his receivers and tight ends coach. So he was instrumental in that.
Of all the people he could have hired, I was 26 years old, but -- so he's just been an amazing mentor in my life for a long, long time, and when I got this job in '09, he was offensive coordinator at Mississippi State, and I called him, and he wasn't sure if he was wanting to transition out of coaching at the time, but he'd had two bouts with cancer, and I just felt like that in my mind, I felt like it was the right time.
But I needed him a lot more to help me build and run a program than I did him coaching a position. I wanted him to help me coach the program, if you will, and he's just been amazing. Great mentor, father figure in my life, and again, one of the wisest people I've ever known.
Q. Has your opinion of the Alabama offense changed?
DABO SWINNEY: No, no, they're very consistent in what they do. I think that Coker has played well all year. He's answered every challenge when people have done a good job of minimizing the run game a little bit. He's made some big-time plays, big-time throws. Then he's got physical skill outside. I mean, he's thrown a couple balls into double and triple coverage and their guys are making plays. So he's a very confident player in his guys that he has outside.
And then they're built to run the ball. That's what they do. Great up front, physical. They're really a complete offense in every sense of the word. So yeah, no, nothing changed. I've seen Alabama a lot, and everything I saw in that game just kind of confirmed what I already knew.
DABO SWINNEY: Probably Hunter Renfrow, although he's faster than I was. He definitely does not have better hands than I did, but he's faster. But probably Hunter just because he's a little undersized. He's probably about 175, and I was probably about 180 when I was playing. You know, he's tough as nails, maybe kind of surprises people a little bit from time to time. I wish I played in this offense.
I'd probably say Hunter. I think he's a guy, too, that takes pride in his relationships with everybody on the team, and that was something I always took pride in as a player. I loved my teammates, and I loved getting to know everybody, and really he's a guy that's very comfortable in who he is. He's probably the guy that I would say.
Q. How would you describe yourself as a player? What do you think got you noticed by Coach Bryant?
DABO SWINNEY: I wish I got noticed by Coach Bryant. Man, I ain't that old. Coach Bryant was -- unfortunately I didn't have a chance to play for Coach Bryant. I played for Coach Stallings.
Q. That's what I meant.
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, okay. I just wanted to make sure. I would have loved to have -- I wish he would have come to Pelham, Alabama, Coach Bryant, to recruit me, but that didn't happen.
Well, I think just probably persistence, perseverance, toughness, knowledge of the game. Those are things that -- I tell everybody, you've got to just be the best you can be with what you have. I mean, I wasn't going to outrun Kevin Lee. I wasn't going to run by Antonio Langham, but that didn't mean that I couldn't be the best version of Dabo, and maximize my strengths, improve my weaknesses. So I think just, again, toughness, work ethic, knowledge. Those are the things that probably got me noticed by Coach McCorvey and Coach Stallings and hopefully all my coaches.
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, I really don't ever say anything to that. I mean, and that's a nice compliment that somebody would look at you and say something like that, I guess. Those people really don't understand what I do. Those are fans. They really don't understand the job and the way it impacts your family and things like that. That's just not something I think about. I get the question, and especially in this situation, but I always tell people, never say never. But man, I love my job at Clemson, and what people don't understand is I've been at Clemson for 13 years. I was at Alabama for -- I've been at Clemson longer than I was at Alabama. I was at Alabama 13 seasons, and I just finished my 13th year. I didn't get a 14th season at Alabama. I'm hoping I get a 14th one at Clemson. But I've been here a long time, so I feel like that I've been just kind of intertwined in the DNA of Clemson, and it's amazing how many people have documented the ties of Clemson and Alabama. It's been a great fit for me, a great place to raise my children.
The only thing I think about every day is how I can make Clemson better. That's really it.
Q. You said you didn't get a 14th season at Alabama. (Inaudible.)
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, well, people have asked me that many times, too, and I've always said that that's the difference. At Alabama they expect you to win the National Championship every year, and at Clemson it's only every other year. I think both places are incredibly passionate. Alabama people would be blown away if they really knew the fabric of Clemson. And I have a lot of Alabama friends that have come to Clemson and they leave going, whoa, my goodness. It's a special place.
And the passion is so similar. That's why I think it was such a great fit for me coming from Alabama, the expectations that were kind of just engrained in me through 13 years of being in Tuscaloosa and that daily grind, that expectation, that hey, we win, and when you don't, nobody is happy. I was just used to that, and when I came to Clemson, I felt like that Clemson had the potential to be a great program again, but from a fan base standpoint, they've always thought they were a great program.
So it's fun to be able to live up to some of those expectations and be back in this situation and see our fan base having that type of pride once again. But both states, very similar. There's no pro sports; it's Clemson-South Carolina, it's Alabama-Auburn. They don't like each other. It's every day, 365. So a lot of similarities between the two fan bases and the type of pressure and expectations and all of that. But people say the word pressure. I just don't buy into that. It's a privilege and a lot of fun to be able to lead this program.
Q. Given your background, how gratifying would it be for you to get the win over Alabama?
DABO SWINNEY: How gratifying? Are you kidding me? I don't care who we're playing; it would be gratifying to beat anybody for the National Championship. That would be a dream come true. I mean, that's what we're working for. We're going to win a National Championship at Clemson. Hopefully it's Monday night. But if it's not, we're going to be right back here gathered up again somewhere. Maybe not here, we'll be somewhere, because we're not going away. We have a program that's built to stay right here in the hunt. I'm excited about that.
You know, to be able to be in my first National Championship and beat the University of Alabama, where I won a National Championship, would be pretty special.
Q. How good of a pro would Shaq Lawson be?
DABO SWINNEY: He would be as good as there is in the league. I think he's first-round talent, and he's going to be a great player. When people get a hold of Shaq and they get to know him, he's just such a low-maintenance guy. I mean, he loves to play, loves to practice. Just again, very coachable, loves to study the game. He's a very smart football player. He's got a really good future. I'm telling you, they're going to love him, because again, he's a -- people look at him as a superstar player, but he's as low-maintenance a guy as you'll ever coach.
Q. Is it good to have the decision out of his way and not having it hanging over his head?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, because y'all don't ask that question anymore, is this your last game, stuff like that. Yeah, he's been done with that for a long time and now he can go play.
Q. Who's got better dance moves, you or Nick Saban?
DABO SWINNEY: I don't know that we have enough video evidence to determine that. It's hard to say.
Q. What do you think?
DABO SWINNEY: I can't answer that. You've got to have a true evaluation. I'd have to be able to assess his talent, and I haven't been able to do that.
Q. How much have you molded yourself after the example he set?
DABO SWINNEY: A ton. I spent seven years with Coach Stallings and he was a great role model for me. I always tell people, I really didn't know what I learned from Coach Stallings until after he was gone, because that's really what I knew. In seven years and how he ran the program and managed the staff and practice schedules and just everything, relationships with people, his involvement in the community, the type of father he was, the type of husband, the balance that he created for us as a staff, the balance that he created for himself as a head coach, those were powerful things for me as a young man in this profession. A tremendous amount, there's no doubt.
Q. I also spoke to your former teammates, and they compared the '92 defense to Alabama's defense now. They say they'll still pick the '92 defense over Alabama's defense now. What would you say?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, absolutely. Do you expect them to say anything different? We all get better with time. There's no doubt about that. But my answer to that is I think time will tell. I think that you have more things to judge on with that defense. Obviously that defense led the nation in I think everything. Different time, different styles of play back then, so you know, it's hard to measure that. But I think one thing you can go back and you can look at is how many of those guys went on to the NFL, and I think eventually we'll know that with this Alabama defense. But they're a complete defense just like ours was. There's no question about that. I mean, they're deep up front, they're fast, athletic. They've got freaky linebackers, and they've got guys that can play man and cover. That's how we were built, and they're not much different.
Q. Everybody I spoke with feels very torn about this game because it's Alabama and it's you. What have they been expressing to you?
DABO SWINNEY: Oh, kind of the same thing. A lot of them are just saying, well, good luck to you, or they're saying, hey, I'm pulling for you. You're my brother, you're my relationship. But don't tell anybody. So I've had a little bit of everything, but it's fun. There will be a lot of people happy one way or another Monday night.
Q. Shaq is about 60 percent right now with his knee. Do you see him being able to play?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, I don't know what percent he is, but I think, again, I'm very optimistic he's going to be able to play just based on what I've seen in practice. We'll find out Monday night for sure.
DABO SWINNEY: Not really. I mean, again, I coach them hard but I love them hard. I'm not the only coach that yells at their players. This is a loud sport with a bunch of men, and sometimes it can be really intense. But I can assure you Coach Stallings yelled at me at couple times along the way.
DABO SWINNEY: Not really. I mean, it was just a play that -- I mean, he needed to throw the pass because that's what we called to execute. But you know, again, any of you can take any one moment and dramatize it. Bottom line is he did something that was totally inexcusable, and he got his butt chewed out. Move on. I mean, goodness gracious, I don't know why people make such a big deal out of that. He came back and played a great second half. That's really it.
Q. You've said to your team that a championship is a lifetime thing?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I think they've had plenty of time to kind of process that individually, each one of them, because I mean, again, when Clemson won their last championship they were 12-0, the one I was on we were 13-0. Now we're 14-0 and we're still not there yet. So it's just been a grind as far as -- they've known what's out there. They've had no room for error. I mean, you've got to win every game. Then you've got to go to the championship game. You've got to beat your rival. You've got to win your division.
They all understand that. But that's really not the focus. The focus is on just the same thing that we focus on getting ready for any other team this year, like what do they do and how do we stop it, how do we attack it, getting yourself physically and mentally ready to play that game and just focusing on that. One play at a time, one quarter at a time.
DABO SWINNEY: For the parents? For the bowl game? Oh, it's been great. I mean, I think it's been one of the best things that's ever happened, these guys being able to basically modernize the scholarship from the way it was when I was in school. It wasn't any different. There's been a lot of really positive changes. I think that's one. Being able to feed your players the way they need to be fed is a great change. Being able to feed your walk-ons is probably one of the best changes, so you don't feel like a criminal if a walk-on got a bagel. Those are great changes. And then for this particular playoff deal, I mean, all the parents got $2,500 for the Orange Bowl, and they got $2,500 for this game. Those are great, great common-sense changes that I think are relevant to 2015.
DABO SWINNEY: Oh, man, y'all got plenty of them to pull from. But yeah, they've been probably pretty good. A lot of Coach Stallings impersonations on our team. We're actually going to have a reunion in June, like June 17, 18, something like that. We're all going to Tuscaloosa, and we're going to have a nice reunion with Coach Stallings.
We did it about -- seemed like we did it about seven years ago. We all went out to Paris, Texas, to his ranch. That was one of the things we did, we did Coach Stallings impersonations with him in the room, which we had never done before, and then last year I won the Stallings Award, which was such a great honor, back in May, so I was able to share a few Coach Stallings stories in front of the crowd there.
But yeah, I look forward to doing that a little bit more this summer.
Q. Shaq Lawson just said that he believed some teams get caught up in the mystique of Alabama, and if a team is really good for that long, I suppose that can happen.
DABO SWINNEY: Oh, I think that's true. I think when I was at Alabama we probably beat a lot of teams that we weren't better than.
DABO SWINNEY: Because A-l-a, Alabama, across the chest. There's a lot that comes with that. They've earned that. They've earned that.
Q. How do you prevent it for your team?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, you train and you teach your team that it's not about the other team. It's not about who you play, it's about how you play. That's what we talk about all the time. We really don't spend a lot of time talking about the opponent unless we're having a game like this and you get a million media opportunities. But we just talk about how we have to play, focusing on the things that we have to do to prepare and get well, because how you play is a direct reflection of how you prepare physically, mentally, emotionally, everything, how you eat, how you sleep, the things that you let in between your ears. We just don't spend time talking about it, because I think when you do that, then you're up like this. That's how you go, okay, well, we're going to really practice hard this week because we're playing Florida State, and then this Tuesday, well, we're playing App State, so no, everything is the same. We prepare the same for every single opponent, and I think that creates the mentality that you have to have in your program.
Q. You kind of touched on it: This is not the same.
DABO SWINNEY: Well, it's the same for them, though. It's the College Football Playoff. It is what it is. We're here because it's mandatory that we've got to sit here for an hour. We're not here just hanging out. It was just on our itinerary, and we follow our itinerary. We've got a very structured formula in place how we get ready. This particular game we've got a couple other media -- it's not any different than last week, and last week we're staying on the beach. I mean, we're riding jet skis and playing beach volleyball and looking at bikinis all over the place. We were the only team to be on the beach, a week in Miami, and we played pretty good. We follow that -- okay, this is where we are right now, this is what we do. Let's go talk to the media, and then we're going to leave here and we're going to go to the stadium, and then we're going to have practice today, and when we go to work, we work. We clock in and we get our mind on our business. These guys want to play well. They take pride in their performance. You don't luck up and win 17 in a row.
So it's really not any different for us.
DABO SWINNEY: He's a grinder when it comes to preparing himself. He really is. He's a big-time grinder. He loves to study the tape, and he's relentless in that. There's a lot of nights that walking out at 9:00 or 10:00 at night and he's sitting in one of the coaches' offices by himself watching tape. He just loves to do that.
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I mean, again, I think at the end of the day, everybody just has to be who they are. I mean, to me it would be sad to come up here at a National Championship setting and be all stressed out. Stressed about what? I mean, I'm too blessed to be stressed. I mean, I really am. This is such a joy and a privilege. I mean, I'm coaching football at a place like Clemson. I've got a great group of young men. We're in Arizona playing for the national title. You know, I love what I do and always have. I don't try to hide that. I don't think you've got to come up here and act like you're miserable or something. I mean, that's just not who I am.
So I just try to be consistent with my team in whatever setting that I'm in. But I hope that they have some fun along the way, too, because they don't know what they don't know. Such a small moment in their life. I mean, we all know how short four or five years is in the span of your life, and they don't. But I do, and I want them to look back on their time at Clemson. They'll remember some wins and losses, but I really want them to have had a great experience and to have enjoyed the people they were around.
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I just think it just kind of helps us take another step up the mountain. I mean, it just kind of further solidifies who we are as a program. Again, we're not just a flash in the pan. I mean, we've been incredibly consistent. Nobody really pays any attention to that. But for whatever reason, it just further solidifies what we've been doing at Clemson for seven years in recruiting. You can come to Clemson and do anything. We've got like 38 guys in the NFL right now. We've had 120 seniors since I've been the head coach, 114 of them are graduates. We've been six out of seven years top 10 academically. We've had about every national award. We were a little short on the Heisman this year, but we've done it all. There's really nothing that you can't accomplish in our program. And we've beaten -- when I first got the job, well, you're Clemson, you play in the ACC, you don't beat anybody. Well, check our record versus the SEC. Check our record versus all the big games. We've been very consistent. We've built our program from the inside out, and it's slowly changed on the outside.
We've just kind of been laying in the weeds for seven years just doing what we do. You know, that's why we're here. We're not here because of what happened this year. We're here because of what's happened for seven years and building the foundation of our program. But to be here, to win this game, it's just another -- it's the next step. That's really all it is. It's the only thing we haven't done. We've got a big challenge. You've got to slay a dragon Monday night. This is a lot easier said than done, and everybody knows that when you're going to try to beat Alabama.
But that's the way I would want it, and if it doesn't go our way, we're going to stay relevant. We're not going away. So I think that, again, it just kind of maybe takes people -- makes people on the outside take a little bit closer look to what we've done as a program and the consistency that we've had, because it's really been remarkable. Remarkable.
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I think that's just, again, a product of the past. You know, and maybe we kind of earned that. But people aren't doing their homework when you -- I mean, we played Ohio State and they were 24-1. Well, we beat them. We played LSU, had no chance to win. Well, we won. We beat Oklahoma two years in a row. We weren't supposed to win any of those games. We've beaten Auburn, we've beaten Georgia. That's kind of what you have to do. You have to be consistent. We hadn't won 10 games at Clemson since 1991, so that kind of got it going for us. The first two years we kind of laid the foundation, and then in '11 we won the league for the first time in 20 years, won 10 games, and that was a big deal. We weren't consistent down the stretch, but we took some steps as a program.
You know, since that time, we've been as consistent as any team in the world.
DABO SWINNEY: Well, again, that speaks to our conference. We've had two out of the last three National Championships we've had an ACC team here, and three years in a row we've had an ACC team in the hunt with Florida State being in the playoff last year, but Florida State is in our division, and if you don't go undefeated in our division, you probably aren't winning it. You've got to win your league to really have a chance. This has been a battle with us and Florida State. We've won the division four times, we've played for the championship three times. They've had the others since then over the last seven years. But they're a great program, and they've proven that. They've had a Heisman Trophy winner, they've won the National Championship. That's just the way it is.
But this year we were able to make a few plays that we hadn't made the last couple years.
Q. When you see Alabama's defensive line, do you sympathize with what teams had to face with you last year?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, I think, again, last year, that's what they remind me of, our last year's defense up front, because we were so deep, experienced and talented, and that's what Alabama is, and that's what -- we had six seniors in the D-line last year, so it's very similar in that regard because they can just roll guys -- I mean, like last year we took Vic Beasley out and we brought Shaq Lawson in. This year we take Shaq out and we bring Austin Bryant in, who's a great player, but he's a true freshman. So he has been getting experience and that's the difference. I think we're very talented, we just don't have quite the experience with our depth as we did last year, and Alabama does, and that's why they've been so dominant.
DABO SWINNEY: We're just going to do what we do.
Q. Are you enjoying the process of all of this?
DABO SWINNEY: Oh, I'm enjoying it. I'm excited to play the game. I'm enjoying Arizona, and I've only been out here one other time. It's a beautiful place. But I always enjoy all of it. I don't try to rush my life away. I try to enjoy each and every day that the good Lord gives me.
Q. The favorite part so far after getting here to Arizona?
DABO SWINNEY: Favorite part so far? Well, let's see. Favorite part so far. I don't know. We had a good time last night at the little welcome thing. Got to see some of my former players. That was a blast. But seeing the players, it looked like a Roman bath last night. I walk out by the pool and they're sitting in this big, ol' hot tub with those big columns and the steam is coming up. That's pretty neat, seeing those guys just kind of sitting around shooting the breeze, enjoying themselves.
DABO SWINNEY: Well, they're all fast. They've got great feet. We've got, I think, some good length in our secondary, good athleticism. They're very well-coached. I think Mike Reed does an unbelievable job in preparing those guys. More importantly, I was speaking to this yesterday, a lot of people don't take into account when you start evaluating teams, it's who we practice against every day. These guys have been covering great players for several years now on a daily basis. So when we get to the game, other teams have great players, too, but I think who we practice against and how we practice, how we prep our guys is what helps them to get better.
DABO SWINNEY: No, I don't ever -- I just don't think that way. My mind, I mean, I just -- I'm always dialed in on, okay, this is what we've got, let's go to work, let's make the best of it. That's why you recruit well. We've recruited well, and you saw that in our Orange Bowl game the other day. I mean, Austin Bryant, on the fourth-and-1 he made the hit. Austin Bryant, freshman, Kendall Joseph, freshman, Dorian O'Daniel, sophomore, and those were the three guys on maybe one of the top-three biggest plays in that game. I just don't worry about that. We beat LSU in '12 in the bowl game, and I left Martavis Bryant home. He's pretty good. And Sammy Watkins went out the second play of the game, and then we lost our starting tackle and we had to put a freshman out there to block all those manimals that they had there at LSU and we won the game. I just focus on what we need to do to win the game. I don't worry about all that stuff, woe is me and it is what it is. God never says oops, so that's just how I look at it.
Q. How important is keeping it light and having fun with your players?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I think this is a people business just about like every other business in the world is, and I think if you don't have good relationships, you're going to have a hard time being successful in whatever role that you have.
I think the relationships that I have with my players is the best part of this job. And I think coaches who don't focus on that are missing out. I mean, we have such an opportunity to impact these guys' lives. I just can speak to myself and how my coaches poured into me, disciplined me, encouraged loved me along the way. That is why this is the greatest job in America, in my opinion, because it's so gratifying to be able to see a young man transform. I mean, we all know, we know nothing at 18. We know maybe just a little bit more at 19. But to see a guy when he's 22, 23 years old or maybe when he's 30 because he didn't really quite figure it out, and all of a sudden he's 30 and he reaches out to you when he does get it, that's what this business is all about, and ultimately I know that the media and the world on the outside judges us from a scoreboard, but I really -- that's just not my driving force. My driving force in this business is to create and build great men, and to do that you have to have great relationships. And I take a lot of pride in that, and I always have.
Q. But you guys are having fun, right?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, is that against the rules? That question right there is what's wrong with society. I mean, it's like a big deal if somebody enjoys what they do. Like we're supposed to be miserable going through this. I don't understand that. That's a big deal. Sometimes you make a decision, and then you can't believe some of the comments and things because you did what's right. And I just can't believe that sometimes doing what's right is such a big deal. But that's where we are as a society right now.
I mean, there's no rule that says you can't have fun. I think that when you're passionate about what you do, that means you love it, and when you put your heart into something, you go above and beyond to be great at it. Maybe there's a lot of people out there doing things they're not passionate about or maybe their heart is not in it so they're not having fun, but that's not the case here.
Q. We visited your mom a couple days ago. She said when you were in second grade you used to sing a song called (Inaudible.)
DABO SWINNEY: It was possibility, something like that, or potentiality. I can't remember that song. I knew it at one time.
Q. Have you taken that with you in life?
DABO SWINNEY: Oh, yeah.
Q. Someone told me you buried a dead duck in your backyard.
DABO SWINNEY: That is true. Yes, we knew the people who lived in your house, they had a duck, and it died, so we buried it in your backyard. But no, I think that sometimes in life the greatest asset that you have is hope and potential. That's what I always tell people with my wife; she married me because of my potential. That's for sure. She was very patient, great perseverance, and she saw some potential in me.
Q. Nick Saban is pressured to win, but is the pressure in Tuscaloosa any different than it is other places?
DABO SWINNEY: No. People don't like to hear that because Alabama is the mecca. But I promise you, they don't like to lose in Clemson, South Carolina. They don't like to lose anywhere. They fire coaches now after one year, two years. Some of these places out there in la-la land. You've got to be kidding me. It's like, what? It just doesn't work that way. There's no smoke and mirrors. As Coach Saban talks about a process all the time, and he's right, there is a process that you have to go through and you have to instill to build a program. You know, some of these coaches out there, some of these places, they've got a job for one year or two years and they get fired or three years. It's crazy. But that comes with the territory. And you all know that when you get into this business. I don't think it's right, but that's just the way it is. It's a very judgmental business and a very judgmental society that we all live in, and it just comes with it.
But that's the way it is.
Q. How has Alabama's offense changed as the season has gone on?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I think -- the thing about Alabama, they do a lot of the same things we do. They're a tempo, no-huddle, but they have this brand that they still live behind, and they're doing a great job. They're spreading the ball out. They've got formations. They do some zone read. They run Coker. He's not the featured guy, but when they've needed him to be kind of an equalizer for them, he's been very effective with his feet and his arm.
I think they're a much more complete offense now than at least kind of what I've seen. I think that Coach Saban and those guys have done a great job in utilizing all the pieces that they have in place there.
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I just called him up and said, do you want to come to Clemson? It was that easy. He said, yeah, man. I go way back with Thad. He was a player. He was a little younger than me, but my first couple years as a GA -- back then you only had one GA. Now the GAs have GAs. They have their own staff. I tell these guys sometimes, like man, y'all have no clue. Back then you had one GA. I was the lucky guy. When I became a GA they just went to that where you could have one on offense and one on defense. So Thad had gotten hurt, had hurt his neck and couldn't play anymore, so he was like my student helper. I got the chance to spend a lot of time with Thad back in the day and he would help me out.
But he didn't know anything about what I wanted him to do. He knew enough to be dangerous. He was kind of like a bull in a China shop. But I knew the personality that he had and the attributes that he had, and I felt like he would be a great guy -- and so I just told him to come in here. I said, I can't pay you what you're making, but if you give me a year or so, I'll get you back where you are. He was looking forward to having an opportunity to be a little bit more involved in football, and so I said, just kind of pay attention for a year and you're going to learn our culture and kind of figure out who we are and how we do things, and then you'll be ready to kind of go. He's done a phenomenal job, he really has, in instilling his personality in our recruiting department.
DABO SWINNEY: Well, that's another part of Thad is his background in construction. He was very instrumental in all the capital projects that took place at Alabama, and not just athletic but the university. Tons of stuff. So he's got a lot of -- and then he had a company. He was in the private sector for a couple years in Birmingham. Yeah, he thinks that way. He can look at a space -- the way we have our space now, our recruiting department and those things, that's been there, and he can kind of look at it and say, oh, this needs to be here. He's gifted like that, and yeah, he really helped us take what we have and improve it.
But now we've got a new facility under construction, and he's kind of leading the charge on that as far as my kind of hands-on guy, nuts and bolts, and it's awesome for me because he understands all that language with the architects and the engineers, and they don't pull anything over his head. He's a bull in a China shop in that whole process and is doing a good job.
DABO SWINNEY: Well, just put No. 91 in there, and hopefully he'll play well. We're not going to cry about it. We're going to play the game. So we'll put 91 in there, and if Shaq can go, which I feel pretty good that he will, but if he's not -- we're not going to just play him to play him. He's got to perform and if he can't play to the level we need him to, put the next guy in there. That's the way it is.
Q. Where is Shaq right now with two days to go until the game?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, he's really improved each and every day. He looked good yesterday in Clemson, and he's gotten stronger and better. Again, I'm very optimistic that he'll be able to play, and hopefully he'll be able to perform like we need him to.
Q. What are some similarities of this team to the '92 team?
DABO SWINNEY: I think they have the same hunger. You've got to remember, in '92 we hadn't won a National Championship in Alabama since the '70s. That's like wandering in the dessert for 40 years. That's a long time in Alabama. That team had a hunger, and that team had a chemistry and a brotherhood that was special. We had great leadership on that team. We had a belief that we were just going to find a way to win. We weren't always pretty, but we just had a belief that somebody was going to make a play and we were going to find a way to win. This team has those same qualities.
DABO SWINNEY: Oh, this just felt more like a game. We had a couple extra days of prep time, which has been nice, but we had the bowl experience at the Orange Bowl. This is a championship focus and a championship experience. It's a very tight itinerary as far as curfews and being at the hotel. We don't have a lot of downtime. Again, we got here last night. Today is a Thursday type of a day for us from a prep standpoint. Got a couple of things mixed in we wouldn't normally have, but we're not in school, so we're not balancing that. We're doing this, we'll go to the stadium and then we're going to go have our Thursday practice. And then tomorrow, will be a very -- what we call Focus Friday.
So it's really been kind of business as usual. It feels like a game as opposed to a bowl.
DABO SWINNEY: Well, that's not difficult. It's different. It's very different because usually it's always over and you take a few days off and you get ready to go to the coaches' convention and hit the road recruiting again. That's kind of been our life for a long time. So different in that team traveled back on Friday, so Friday and Saturday everybody had a chance to kind of recharge and then we cranked it back up Sunday. It's kind of like playing a Thursday night game and now you've got to come back in and start over for the next opponent. So that's kind of how it's been in that regard. That's how we've treated it anyway.
DABO SWINNEY: Just growing up, getting committed, really getting serious about practicing and preparing the way you have to do to be a great player. That's really it. Just maturity more than anything. He's always had the tools, he just made up his mind that he's going to go do it.
Q. Does it bother you that you were able to sort of avoid (inaudible)?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, first of all, my oldest brother hasn't had any struggles. That really frustrates me when people lump my older brother in there. In fact, this is how careless the media is. They had my oldest brother's picture for my middle brother, and that's a shame. Such bad -- I don't know what you call it, journalism or reporting. It's just a joke.
But it's a decision. I mean, it's no different than -- it's what I tell my players all the time. Sometimes they'll come in my office, my dad this, my mom this, and they use those things as excuses to fail, reasons for their bad behavior, and I don't buy that. Those are reasons to not do that. Those are reasons to get more study hall in. Those are reasons to graduate, because you're trying to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem, to change it.
So it's just a difference in how you think. It's just really that simple. Choices. Life is about decisions and choices.
DABO SWINNEY: He's really tough. I mean, I don't know -- what's he been through? He got yelled at? I mean, golly.
Q. On national TV.
DABO SWINNEY: So what? Give me a break. There's a lot of players that get yelled at on national TV. Does Belichick ever yell at anybody? Does Coach Saban ever yell at anybody? People dramatize that. Y'all don't know anything I said to him. Just because I'm speaking loud. It's not like I'm talking about his mom or anything like that. It's a joke. He got yelled at; so what? Give me a break. He hasn't been through anything. He's been to Miami Beach. He's been in school at Clemson, he's traveled to Arizona. He's in a nice hotel. Life is good.
I mean, but he's a tough kid, to answer your question. He's a tough kid in that -- he was a great lacrosse player, and I think there's a lot of toughness that comes with that sport. But he's not tough because he got yelled at by his coach.
DABO SWINNEY: I never lost faith in him. I never lost faith in him. I yelled at him because he did something stupid and jeopardized our entire team. He made a mistake, he got yelled at, and we just moved on. It's just really that simple. Unbelievable.
Q. Talk about Wayne's progression.
DABO SWINNEY: Wayne's progression? He took the next step. I think he's really become a much more mature and complete running back, 1,400-plus yards, broke the single-season record at Clemson, and he was a guy that played in the Wing-T for Mickey Conn. I was messing with Mickey, he should have put him back there. But he always played like this, and he played a lot of linebacker mostly. So it took him a little while to kind of learn how to play and understand his tracks and division from playing behind the offensive line.
Man, he's just paid the price from a developmental standpoint in the weight room, how he takes care of his body, his knowledge of the game. So he really took the next step. He finished really strong last year, but he became a much more complete player. He made some plays in the passing game. His protections, very few mental errors. He's really grown up, and really just now kind of coming into his own. I think he's got a chance to be even more special next year.
DABO SWINNEY: I just called Gus to kind of get his take on him. It was a pretty simple conversation. He knew him more than I -- I didn't know Chad, and obviously he kind of gave me some confirmation. I talked to several people, and he gave me good confirmation on who he was as a person. I was more interested in that. I'm always -- I think you hire good people first. There's a lot of good coaches out there. I always tell people, good coaches are a dime a dozen. Good coaches that are good people, good husbands, good fathers, that love their players and are passionate about doing things in a way that I believe is important, that pool gets real small.
Because I didn't know him, I really needed to make sure that he was who I thought he was as a man, and the football part, that was pretty easy to see.
Q. Question on the Heisman --
DABO SWINNEY: It's really not that big a deal to me to be honest with you, but probably should wait until the last games are played. That's probably the better way to do it. But that's the way it is.
Q. What makes Nick Saban stand apart, to have a team on top as long as he has in Alabama?
DABO SWINNEY: That's the easiest question I've had all day. Recruiting. You've got to have great players and you've got to have great coaches. Nick Saban can't do it by himself, Dabo Swinney can't do it by himself. He's a lot better coach with Derrick Henry than without him, and it's the same thing for me. I'm a lot better coach with Deshaun Watson than without him. I think you have to have great talent. There's a lot of great coaches out there that -- great coaches, but they're at places where maybe they can't acquire the type of talent that you can at a place like Alabama.
And it's not that anybody can just go to Alabama and be successful. That's not the case, either. But he's great at recruiting, and he's great at putting a staff together. He hires great coaches. He's got great coordinators, he's got great assistant coaches, great support staff. He understands the importance of that, having that type of infrastructure. So do I. But there's no big secret why they've been so successful. You just check their recruiting. They recruit great talent, and it's the same thing with us. The reason we've taken off as a program is we recruit very well. People always talk about what's leaving. They don't ever focus on what we have. It's like last year, we lost 10 guys to the NFL off our D-line, the No. 1 defense in the country. Well, now we're top 10 still in defense, because again, people talk about what's gone, but the key to being successful as far as maintaining consistency in your program is your evaluation in the recruiting process and then your development of those guys. And especially developing those guys maybe when they're not the starter. I think that's critical, and I think Coach Saban obviously does a phenomenal job of that.
Q. Deshaun Watson's background, his family, a guy who's been through a lot health-wise, how do you think that's formed who he is off the field?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I think we're all molded by our experiences in life, and some people have more challenging experiences at an early time than others, but we're all going to have really challenging times in our life. It's just a matter of when. It's just so happened that as a young person he had to deal with a lot of things.
And I think more than anything, I think it gave him a very unique perspective on life and this game than maybe some young people would have at that particular stage. And then just his background, playing for Coach Miller at Gainesville High there, being the starter from the ninth grade on and the expectations that he had in that program and the performance. He took Blake Sims' place who obviously went on to Alabama. But I just think all of that prepared him. He just was so used to being a great player and all that comes with that, regardless of -- it's a big stage even when you're in high school. Everything is relevant to where you are at that time. But certainly his background and watching his mom and how she handled herself and fought through her situation simply has molded him.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports