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January 7, 2017

Dabo Swinney

Grapevine, Texas

Q. Did you get the same rush when you walked out --
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, I don't even think I remember last year. Yeah, this is great. This is awesome. Did we have all this last year? I can't remember. We did? I don't remember it. But it was great to see a bunch of Tiger fans in the stands, and it's exciting.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: That couldn't be further from the truth. Everything you just said is not even close to reality. We've never had a goal of winning a National Championship on our board. Our goal is to win the opener. Our goal is to win the division, win the state championship, win the ACC and win the closer. That's our goals. If we can hit those, we've always said, if we hit all five, we've got a chance to win it all. Here we are. We're not driven by that. We're driven by being the very best we can be. To say that every team that's played is a failure that's not one of these two, that's so far from reality. There's a lot of teams that ended their season with a win that have built great momentum going into next year. There's a lot that goes into getting here. You've got to stay healthy. God, you could have had a big injury to a great player and now maybe you lose two or three games and you're not here, but maybe the guys played their hearts out. That doesn't mean they're failures. Success is about being the best and being the very best you can be. We knew we had a chance to be a good team, but we lost seven, eight guys to the NFL on defense, and we had a lot to replace. We had a lot of work to do.

But the guys were very driven toward that commitment of being the best that we could be, and I think they knew if we took care of business we'd have an opportunity, but you don't get here unless you have a great spring, have a great summer, do the right things, be committed, get off to a good start. You've got to win in September. You've got to win in October. You've got to win in November. It all builds to this point, and that's really been our focus, just a daily focus. Every week was the biggest game of the year, every week, and just approaching it that way, and it takes a buy-in from your team to achieve that, and then we were fortunate.

We stayed relatively healthy all year, and won some close games, and so you know, we're thankful to have the opportunity.

But if I wasn't sitting here right now, I would not feel like that our team was a bunch of failures.

Q. What makes Jonathan Allen so good?
DABO SWINNEY: What makes him so good? He's big, strong, fast, well-coached, got heavy hands. He's got violent hands, man. Those guys disrupt the ball as good as anybody we've played. He's just a very knowledgeable player. He's been there, and if you stay -- they've got great coaches. And then his drive is -- obviously the young man has put in a tremendous amount of work in preparing week in and week out, studying the opponent, studying the lineman that he's going to go against, and then I think they do a good job of moving him around. He doesn't just line up in one spot. He's a five technique, a nine technique, a three technique. He's all over the place, and does a great job everywhere.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I'm glad we're here because that's the only thing that we can control. We don't control the other side. But at the end of the day, to me this is the way it should be. We're playing -- they're the best, and I mean, there's just -- nobody can argue that. What they've done is unbelievable. I mean, just unbelievable, the run that they've had.

You know, this is an opportunity. I mean, you want to be the best, and we're getting a chance to play the best. We find a way to win this game, we'll be just that, because you knocked off the champ. That's just the way it is. They've got the swag, they've got the belt, and if we want that, we've got to beat them. Simple as that.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: His consistency. I mean, I know how hard it is, and just year in and year out, and obviously Alabama has an unbelievable foundation of tradition and championships and all that, and they've had the No. 1 recruiting class every year probably since it's been there, but you've still got to develop those guys. You've still got to coach them. You've still got to create a buy-in week in and week out. I spent 13 years there, so I understand the expectations there. I understand that when Alabama rolls out on the field, man, every week, they're going to get everybody's best, and that's kind of where we are as a program now, as well, as far as how people view us and the type of effort and preparation that we get from every opponent.

So to do it like he's done it year in and year out and to win the ultimate prize, I guess four times already, is just -- it's incredible. It's incredible.

Even the same thing, they lost a ton of guys last year, and here they are, got a freshman quarterback. It just doesn't seem to matter. They have a very good system in place that they believe in, and they recruit to that and develop their players to that.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: They're very different, very different people. I know them both, obviously, but very different guys. But I think probably the biggest parallel is what you said, just defense. I spent seven years with Coach Stallings, and we were efficient on offense. It was a different era, different time. If we threw it 10 times, we were celebrating on the sideline like holy cow, we're the air-raid now, throwing 10 passes. But they're built differently. He's doing it differently offensively now with their style of play. I think he's made some adjustments there to where we are in college football.

But at his core, it's still all about defense, and that's certainly where it was with Coach Stallings. To be honest with you, that's where it's always been with me. I'm a -- I've been an offensive guy by trade my whole life, and that's certainly where I spend the majority of my time, but I know, because that's what I cut my teeth on, you've got to -- I believe in having a very well-balanced team, and I think you win championships with team, not just defense.

But I know that if you're good up front, you're good in that front seven, you've got a chance to win each and every week, so that's kind of always been a philosophy of ours.

Q. Talk about Dan Brooks and what he's done and his background and reputation.
DABO SWINNEY: Well, Dan got the AFCA Coach of the Year this year, Assistant Coach of the Year. Brent Venables got the assistant Broyles Award, Assistant Coach of the Year, so I've got an unbelievable staff over there on defense led by Brent. Marion Hobby, who's a Birmingham boy, he's from Shades Valley. He's the defensive ends coach, and that's one of the reasons I have two D-line coaches, because I've always put such a great emphasis on that position. I think it's too much for one guy, the details, the techniques, the amount of information that you have to prepare for. It's not like everybody is running up and lining up in I-right and I-left anymore. There's so much teaching that has to go on at D-end and D-tackle, and Dan and Marion have just done an unbelievable job, and their track record speaks for itself.

Big V this year, Vic never played a snap of D-line ever until his junior year. He was a running back, and this kid just made first-team All Pro and led the led the NFL in sacks. And that's a credit to the development he got with Marion while he was at Clemson. He was the eighth pick in the draft. Kevin Dodd was a prep school guy that nobody recruited, was a second rounder last year, and then you look at -- we've got lots of guys like that, Shaq Lawson, Marion, and then you look at Dan Brooks and you've got guys like Grady Jarrett, who we beat Buffalo to recruit, who's starting and having a heck of a year for the Falcons, starting D-tackle, second-year player. You look all over the league and you look at the guys that have been produced. You look what he's done with Dexter Lawrence this year, true freshman, coaching those guys up.

They're just great people. We have a great chemistry with our defensive staff, but it all starts up front. There's no doubt about it. And the teaching, the attention to details, the toughness that we've developed at that position has given us a chance to be a winner.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: He's a lot better. He's bigger, stronger, smarter, more experienced, even better leader. He's a graduate, so he's better in a lot of those ways.

Q. How is this team better from last year?
DABO SWINNEY: I think we're better than we we're last year. We were a really good team. I don't think we finished well last year. We won, but we were a team on fumes I felt like toward the end of the season. We were finding ways to win, and there's a lot to be said for that, but we were a tired football team going into that ACC Championship Game, and defensively we were very top-heavy. Our first group was very, very good, but everybody behind him was freshmen, and so we just didn't have a lot of competitive depth, you know, which affects your practice, your meetings, everything. We've got more guys defensively that are functional, more guys that can go play, and it's been that way all year. We're a healthier team.

Last year Shaq Lawson didn't practice all week for this game, Mackensie didn't practice all week. They both tried to play, Mackensie didn't last very long. We're definitely healthier. We're deeper. We're more experienced, and then offensively we're better at running back. We're better at receiver.

Last year we had Ray-Ray was a freshman, Trevion Thompson was a freshman, Renfrow was a freshman, Deon Cain was a freshman, didn't get to play in this game, Mike Williams was sitting on the sideline, didn't get to play in this game. We're just better prepared, I think, to hopefully play our best four quarters Monday night.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: The best advice he gave me was what I learned in the seven years. I can't really say one thing. The best advice I got from him I got in seven years of working for him and playing for him and watching how he handled things. So how he managed the staff, how he managed the practice schedules, how he handled the team, you know, things like that. The way he would deliver some of his messages and things like that, those are things that I didn't even know. You don't know what you don't know until it's over and it's gone.

I always tell people, I learned a lot more from Coach Stallings after he was gone because I didn't know anything different. But you know, he's been to Clemson several times, and I think the biggest thing is just be who I am, just continue to believe the things that I believe in. You know, he's always said, hey, you need a great defense. He's always told me that. You're going to have to be good on defense; now you know that.

There's a lot of those moments.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: It would be kind of the cherry on top. I mean, we're going to let it all hang out Monday night, but if we don't come out on top, it won't be from an incredible effort and it won't be from lack of great preparation and want-to. Nothing will change their legacy with me, so I mean, these guys, what they -- they've won 48 games in four years. They've done everything multiple times. I mean, divisions, ACCs, big bowl win, they've done it all. This is the only thing they haven't done. It would just kind of probably take them into the legendary stratosphere, I guess, because sooner or later we're going to get it done, hopefully it's Monday night, and once you do it once, you can do it again, and that's kind of been the case with us for the last eight years.

We hadn't won a division ever. We got it done one time in '09. Now we've won it five times. We hadn't won the ACC in 20 years. We got it done in '11, now we've won it three times. We hadn't won 10 games since '91, now we've done it six times. So it just takes somebody to kind of take that step, and these guys have the heart and the guts to do it, but we've got to earn it and do it on the field against a team that's every bit as good and wants it as bad as you do.

It would be a great moment, a great phenomenal finish for them, and I'd love to see it. They deserve it.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: I addressed it with the team. It's not what we teach here. It was disappointing to hear his remarks, and we addressed it and we've moved on to Alabama.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: That's between me and the team. It's not what we do, it's not what we're about. He was trying to be funny, and his remarks were inappropriate.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: Ben is a bull in a China shop, and he answered it like a bull in a China shop. It's unacceptable, and he apologized to his teammates and to me. He knows who we are. That's not what we're about. We don't teach that kind of stuff. We play the game with great passion and will to win, but it was inappropriate. It's just not what we do.

Q. (No microphone.) How do you make that adjustment?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I mean, you study the opponent. Everybody is different. I mean, you go into a season, you have a library of who you are and what you do, what you can do, but it doesn't all apply week to week. You have to prepare for the opponent and who they are and what they do. Some things you are going to carry one week. Some things you've not the next week. It's all about your game planning versus the opponent, and then you get into the game, and sometimes they're going to have tweaks, so then it's about adjustments -- but there's a lot we can do, but it's about what you can practice, so we try to focus on that. There's a lot we can execute, but the main thing is let's make decisions on the things that are going to give us the best chance to be successful.

That's really our job is to -- the game is about the players. Us coaches get way too much credit. It's about the players. Our job is to put them in position to be successful and have a chance to win. That's what we work hard to do. I think that our guys, we've got a good plan, but as far as -- we're going to -- we are who we are. We're not going to -- I don't think we're going to shock anybody with what we do, and neither are they. We'll do what we do, they're going to do what they do, and who can do it better on Monday night?

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: Preparation throughout the week, confidence being built throughout the year, and how he's worked to get himself ready for those moments. I think that's the biggest thing is he's a fourth-year junior now that's just grown up and gotten more and more confident, and as he's gotten more opportunity, he's played well. Those are moments you dream about as a young player and being ready for it. I'm really proud of him. I think he's -- we're certainly not here without Marcus Edmond and the plays he made.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: I'm really happy for Mike. You know, I always tell people that God never says oops, and it was disappointing for him last year to have to sit and watch, but he's a better player right now, because he would have left last year. He would have been a first-rounder last year. But it wasn't God's timing for him. He had to sit and watch, and I think he's a lot better player than he would have been this time last year, number one, and he appreciates -- he has a deeper level of appreciation for his opportunity to play, for the privilege to play. He has an appreciation of being healthy. You know, oftentimes we take that for granted, the fact that we could all walk in here today. I've never seen a guy so happy to go and run and dive for a pass and roll on the ground and get into mat drills and things like that. So I just think he's been incredibly driven and focused and hungry all year long because it was tough for him to not play, but then to see the team have the type of year that we had and all the way to the National Championship and him not get a chance to play and be a part of it, that was tough, because you don't know if that opportunity will ever come back. So to have a chance to get back, I think that -- I'm very happy for him that he gets to play in this game and be a part of this moment, and hopefully the confetti will rain down on him when it's over.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: Well, it kind of felt like WWE walking in here. It was like Saturday Night Raw, right? Or is it Friday Night Raw? Which is it? It's kind of neat coming into this setting, and it is. These are two great -- these are the two best teams, and to be honest with you, I don't think there's another team out there that's capable of beating Alabama. I think we're probably the only team that has a chance.

You know, that's -- and we do, we've got a solid chance. But we've got to go toe to toe. Whoever is Ali, whoever is Frazier, it's two great guys battling it out. That's the way it is, and I love that. It's never been easy. My entire life, nothing has been easy, and this is the way it ought to be. If we're going to get it done, then we ought to have to play and beat a team like Alabama.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, I actually have a picture of it on my phone. We went to -- you know, he's not all soft and cuddly, as y'all know, and he was great after the game. He really was. He was really good, and then I actually saw him like a week or so later, and we were at an airport together. He was very gracious, very complimentary. He knew. I mean, it was a game that was -- could have gone either way on a few plays. But we were down here not too long -- when is St. Patrick's day, March 17th? So we have a mutual friend, the Wises, and they were going to have a little dinner cruise, and we happened to be down here for spring break at the same time, and so they invited us to come on a dinner cruise, and we both had on our nice green shirts.

I showed up, and right out of the gate when we got on the boat, he was there, and I said, all right, let's get the elephant out of the room right now because I don't like owing anybody. I got him a nice dinner certificate to the Temptations, which is our favorite restaurant at the place we vacation, but I did write on there, I wrote on there, "See you in Tampa next year."

It's crazy. Here we are, both back in the same spot, and again, incredible respect for what he's done. Obviously great respect for University of Alabama, and look forward to competing with him again, and hopefully I can come out on the other side this time.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: I just think you can expect two teams to battle it out. You know, we've got to find a way to not let them score anywhere but on offense. I think that's the biggest challenge going in is don't let them score on special teams and defense because that's been an incredible recipe for them this year.

But last year, I mean, we all thought it was going to be 6-3 going into the game. I have no idea. I just want to have one more point than they do when it's all said and done.

Q. What's it say about Alabama that they have a backup offensive coordinator like Steve Sarkisian?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, I don't have that (laughing). I've got -- I don't quite have those pedigrees on the sideline. We've got some good guys and hard workers, but I think they're very fortunate. It's great for them. I mean, they've got Locksley, they've got Napier. Napier is a great football coach. He's as good an offensive coach as they've probably got. They had Kiffin and Billy and Locksley and Sarkisian. I mean, they're incredibly well prepared every week. They do a great job of creating advantageous situations every single week. They take what they do, they apply it to the opponent, and they just create mismatches, they create edges, they do -- they're very, very smart, very well-coached.

I mean, it's a very seamless transition for them. I mean, it's not like they're going to run a different offense. You know, maybe he calls a couple more screens than the other guy would have called. I have no idea. But it's all going to be within what they've done for 14 games.

Q. Do you ever think about how far you've come? You said nothing has ever come easy?
DABO SWINNEY: What did I learn cleaning gutters? Man, I'm the best gutter cleaner out there. I started cleaning gutters when I was 14, me and Les Daniels, my buddy. We couldn't drive at the time so we'd carry a ladder and a blower and a rake, knock on people's doors, over -- all the big houses were in a place called River Chase and we'd just knock on people's doors and clean their gutters and got real good at it. I was still cleaning gutters. In fact, the week before I got -- a couple weeks before I got hired by Coach Stallings full-time, because we didn't get to go to a bowl in '95 so I was home all Christmas and I had just finished my MBA and I was cleaning gutters. It's just what I needed to do. It was a great way to go make some money. You know, it was good.

And then after all -- several years I didn't have to knock on many doors anymore because people just expected me to show up, and I did. And then eventually whoever I could get to go with me, I would go, and then eventually my older brother and I would do it together. It was a lot of -- it was good times, man, a lot of fun. I still, even now to this day, I ride around and look at people's gutters, man, I should go knock on their door and clean it up.

Q. (No microphone.).
DABO SWINNEY: You mentioned Ali-Frazier (Inaudible.)

DABO SWINNEY: I have no idea. We're just going to battle it out and see what happens. This is just Clemson-Alabama. We're Clemson.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: Well, we're 27-2 in the last 29 games, and they're 28-1. Why would I not be confident we can get it done? We've had incredible consistency, great preparation. I've got probably the biggest thing is the leadership on our team, the incredible commitment that I've seen day in and day out from our young people.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I think just the experience. I mean, they know they're good enough. I think they know that. They don't think that, they know that they're good enough. And I think that they understand how critical one play is. You know, unless you have some type of craziness, it's usually three or four plays in games like this. Every play is critical.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, there's a lot of irony. There's a lot of irony. It's crazy. You know, we were a huge underdog in that game, and Alabama hadn't won -- it seemed like -- it's been 35 years for us, and it seemed like that for Alabama people. It was '92, but they hadn't won one since '79, which was forever. It was the 100th year, it was the centennial season. We played in the first SEC Championship Game. Everybody is like, dang, Miami is just sitting back at the house, and we've got to go play Florida, and if we don't win, we're probably not in that game. So we had to win that game.

Even with that, we were just a heavy underdog. Some of you guys may remember, it was probably 12 points or more going into that game, but we had just a resolve. We had an incredible chemistry. We had great leadership on the team. We had a selflessness, and we just had this drive to get it done. We all knew -- I was a senior. We all knew that that moment right there would be something that would bond us forever, and that '92 team, again, just because -- it had been so long to get Alabama back on top, was pretty special to be a part of, and to do it against Miami in the Sugar Bowl who had beaten us a couple years earlier in the Sugar Bowl, Coach Curry's last year, was a great moment and we dominated the game. They had the Heisman. They had all the swag and all that stuff and we got it done, and so it was an awesome moment. It was great to see Coach Stallings have that moment, and we came close a couple more times. We were 12-1 in '94, and had a chance there. And that year, as well, lost by one point to the Gators in the SEC Championship.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, yeah. Last year I watched that No. 88 run up and down the field on us, and that was my number at Alabama, and then I come into this game with 88 wins. Maybe we can come out on the other side this year. Maybe the karma will be on our side.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah. I mean, it's been an awesome journey. I wouldn't change anything. I'm 47 now, and still feel like I'm 17, 27 sometimes. Sometimes I feel like I'm 67. It just depends on what's going on and what the day is. It's been a great journey. To grow up in Alabama, I lived there for 33 years. That's the only place I had ever lived. And to grow up and dreaming of going to Alabama and playing there, never really dreamed of coaching until I finished playing, and to then have an opportunity to coach there for eight years, and then to come to a place like Clemson where there's been incredible Alabama ties, from Frank Howard, Hootie Ingram, Charlie Pell, Danny Ford, Bill Oliver, I can go on and on and on. It's just crazy. It was a great fit for me. It was a great time for me. When we moved to Clemson, I was 33, had two little ones and one on the way and had never -- I mean, I might as well have been going to Michigan. I had no idea what to expect, and it's just been an incredible 14 years for me in raising my family and helping grow a program.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: We didn't cover him. We didn't cover him. We left him wide open twice, nobody around him, and then on the third big play he had, we didn't tackle him. We had him hemmed up in the backfield for a loss, don't make the tackle, and he's a great player. We've got to do a better job.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: Oh, man. There's a lot of decisions that are made. Obviously I'm incredibly involved offensively, always have been. But I try to help those guys on defense as much as I can from just managing the game, things that I see, you know, I'm very involved in the special teams. You know, it's just making the right decisions. I mean, the games are over. I always feel like I played because you literally play every snap, and just managing the players, the coaches, the encouragement, making the right adjustments, making the right suggestions, the critical decisions at critical times.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: You know, it's an emotional game. I mean, there's a lot of emotion, but I don't think you can get emotional. I think there's a difference. I think there's emotion, passion, all those things are part of it, but to me, this is more emotional to me. When we get on the sideline, that's just kind of -- that's just the norm. You know, I don't know how to explain that other than it's just you're so in the moment, you don't even really think about all the other stuff. You're just locked into the moment. I get more emotional watching a game than I do in the middle of our game.

I'm just grinding every play, every single play I'm grinding to find a way to get it done.

Q. (Inaudible.) What do you remember about that game?
DABO SWINNEY: I remember eight drops, big ones, wide-open ones, and I remember turnovers. We started catching it, and we started doing a better job taking care of it, but we played hard, and I remember they were a hard-nosed team with a good quarterback and got an NFL running back and a good team. Went on to have a really good season. But I was very disappointed with how we threw and caught the ball that day. It was really bad. We had never had eight drops in a game. We had four in the Auburn game, so we had 12 drops in two games, and four touchdowns. We had three touchdown drops in Auburn and we dropped another touchdown against Troy, so we were in a little bit of a funk there those first two games throwing and catching.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: We've played really hard all year. The guys have been incredibly committed all year. Nothing has changed really from that all year long. We went through a little spell there where we were getting some crazy turnovers, and the close games that we had, we had a lot of turnovers, and we made five against Louisville. Five. And they had a hundred -- the Heisman had 103 snaps, and we had 60, and we still won the game -- with five turnovers. That's not a good formula. And then we had four against NC State, three trips inside the five, we get no points. Next thing you know you're fighting for your life, and it wasn't a lack of focus, a lack of effort. Guys were playing their tails off. We just had some crazy plays happen and some tough breaks. You know, we had to grind to find a way to win those games, but the games that we've really dominated, we've won the turnover margin.

Just like last week, we won the turnover margin, we won the big-play margin, and when we've done that, we've been at our best. When we've lost the margin, and we did that several times this year, we put ourselves in harm's way. So that's been the key stat for us all year long. First part of the year it was drops. Middle part we had an enormous amount of turnovers, I mean, an enormous amount of fumbles and just crazy stuff. Punt returns for a touchdown and we throw the ball down on the six-inch line, just stupid stuff. And then we had some highly competitive plays that guys got the ball out like the big hit on Wayne Gallman. I mean, Wayne Gallman is giving everything he got, and it was a big hit in the red zone and he fumbles the ball. Mike Williams, reaching for an extra yard inside the 5-yard line, the ball comes out, hits him, stays in bounds, the guy runs 60 yards. Just some crazy stuff.

But we just kind of grew through that, cleaned it up a little bit and got the results we needed to get.

Q. Deshaun gets a lot of attention (Inaudible.) When you hear that, what does that indicate to you?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, I think he kind of took offense to that in saying, oh, well, he's more of a runner. Deshaun Watson is as complete a quarterback as I've ever been around and probably ever will be, and probably ever that's going to play at the next level. This kid is a brilliant quarterback, brilliant. I mean, he is unbelievable. Football IQ, his preparation, the way he goes to work every day, his skill set. He can make any throw and every throw. What makes him so special other than his poise and his skill set is he can beat you from the pocket. He's done it many times. And when he scrambles, he can beat you with his legs by running for first downs, but he can beat you with his legs because he can extend plays and then make the throws.

So he's just a very complete player, and I think he answered the question with -- I don't know how it was asked, but probably set him off a little bit, and he answered it probably the way he should have.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: Well, it's just a lack of people doing their due diligence, really. I mean, it's just people that say things that don't really understand what they're talking about.

Q. Yesterday you mentioned there was 28 (inaudible)?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, first and foremost, we can't let them score on defense or special teams. If they do that, you're probably getting beat. I've never seen anything like it. They've got 15 -- they've created a word, they've done it so much. Knots. 15 of them. A knot was what I thought you had in your shoe. I mean, they've brought a whole new thing, and they've taken great pride in that. First of all, you can't let them score on defense or special teams. You've got to try to play a clean game, and then you've got to win that turnover margin. If you do turn it over, hopefully it points the other way, but you've got to win that margin, and you've got to make those critical plays when they present themselves because they don't make many mistakes. Rarely. Even last year, it's not like we had guys running wide open. We had some guys make some very competitive plays, and our guys competed their tails off. They're going to do the same thing. But we had some critical mistakes that had nothing to do with Alabama. We got the lead in the fourth quarter and first down on the plus 40 going in, we really had great momentum and we fumbled the exchange. Stuff like that.

Those are things that Alabama will expose you and exploit you because they don't make a lot of mistakes. They're always where they're supposed to be. They're sound in all three phases. So you've got to match that and you've got to make those critical plays. We've got to find a way to get a couple of them knots. That's what we've got to do.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: Movie sequel? Rocky? Does it get any better than Rocky? I'm from the '70s and '80s, man.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: Did Rocky always win or did he lose one? He won the second one? There you go. Perfect.

Q. How hard was it for you to (inaudible)?
DABO SWINNEY: You know, I had some challenges growing up, but I had a great family. My dad was a great man, loved my dad. But he had some demons that he fought, and it was tough to have to see some of those things as a kid. But those are all things that -- I just believe that God doesn't save you from things, he saves you through them. I think that everything that I dealt with, especially once I became a coach, I kind of had great clarity on what the purpose of my life was. I am very thankful for my upbringing, my family, my dad, miss my dad. Wish he was here. He would just have a ball with this, man. This would just be -- I know he's watching down just going, man, look at this. You know, you couldn't have a bigger Alabama fan than my dad, so this is special.

And my mom, for her to be here, to experience this, having her three years at college with me was tough times but some of the best days of my life. It's great to see my family where we are right now. We still have, like any family, some challenges within our family because we're human beings, but you do the best you can, and very blessed to have the wife that I have, that I met in the first grade. She's been with me forever, and to have the three boys that I have, one of them is going to come play for us next year. It's been a blessing.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah. It's like I'm around KT every day. It's like I'm back in 1988 and '89 because that's what -- he's the spitting image of KT. Unbelievable. He just carries himself the same way. I'm so proud of Nolan. Nolan had an excellent semester academically. He's had a really good fall. We redshirted him. We put him in the weight room. He's put on some great mass and good strength. Really, really proud of him. Going to be a really good player, and it's pretty cool for him to be here and to experience this moment, as well.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: Our TTB is special because my first year coaching was '09, and the ACC Championship Game was going to be in Tampa that year, and the ACC had a slogan, RTTB, that was the kind of the Road to Tampa Bay, all year long. That was their deal. I've always been a dreamer, always. I think it's important to dream big and to believe. When I got the job, we hadn't won the ACC in 20 years. We hadn't won 10 games in 20 years. We had never won a division. So I'm like, hey, let's go compete for this division.

We worked really hard, and we ended up winning the division, and so it was unbelievable in our first year to have a chance to bring Clemson to the ACC Championship Game.

Obviously our intent was to win it, and it was an unbelievable game with Georgia Tech. Neither team punted. Neither team punted. It was like 39-34. I've never been a part -- we'd get the lead, they've got to go 86 yards to beat us, and they converted like three or four fourth downs on that drive, just painful, and they win the game. I remember walking off the field because we were going to the Orange Bowl. Clemson hadn't been to the Orange Bowl in 30 years, we're going to the Orange Bowl, we're going to win the ACC. It was just meant to be. And we're walking off the field, and the oranges were being thrown at us for the wrong reasons. Next thing I know, we're in the Music City Bowl. No offense to the Music City Bowl but it was 20 degrees, and I'm thinking I'm going to be on South Beach. But our guys won that bowl game, and it was a special moment, and I was disappointed when they moved the game from Tampa to Charlotte because I wanted to have a chance to get back and kind of rectify that.

And so we ended up a couple years later back in it. We've won three titles now, and it's been in Charlotte up until this year, but it's been a neat thing. But for me, I kept a lot of that RTTB stuff, and when we started this year, and they said that the National Championship was going to be in Tampa Bay, I kind of used that all year long, Road to Tampa Bay. We've been on the Road to Tampa Bay. I've used that with our team all year long, kind of had this little bus thing, and we thought we were going to Charlotte, we went to Orlando. We thought we were going to Atlanta, we went to Arizona. But we never got off the Road to Tampa Bay. We had a flat tire along the way and a couple detours, but we've been on the Road to Tampa Bay all year with everything we've done, and now here we are. It's just awesome to have another opportunity to go and try to win a championship on this field.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, there is. I went to -- I always try to give these guys kind of something to hang their hats on that's relevant to where we are with that team and that season and so forth and last May, I went to Chicago for the draft and I took my coaches with me, and we got there a day early and just so happened the Cubs were playing the Brewers, I believe. And so got a couple of connections and hooked up, and next thing we're getting to go to the Cubs game, and I've got a buddy there now named VJ, and VJ hooked us up, so he meets us, and he takes us out on the field and everything. Turns out there's a rain delay, so he takes us into the locker room, and they had just moved into their new locker room. They had only been in it 10 days or so, and I walk in there, and they've got a drum set, they've got a disco ball hanging -- I'm like, what the heck is this, and they're like, this is the celebration room. Joe likes to celebrate. And I'm like, I like this guy.

This is a true story. Joe Maddon would kill me for saying this because we've kind of become buddies and we text a little bit.

But I called my agent and I said, hey, man, we're going up to the draft, and I said, would you happen to know anybody that could maybe get me and Venables and Hobby some tickets to the Cubs game? He goes, well, I know Joe Maddon, and I go, who's Joe Maddon? He went, he's the manager. I go, that's a pretty good guy to know. So Joe Maddon hooked us up with VJ and so we ended up going in. So there was this rain delay. Next thing I know, VJ gave us a tour, and then he takes us into the locker room, and I really didn't know many of these guys, but as it turns out, man, these guys are huge football fans, and Jon Lester comes right up to me, and they're all like, hey coach, how you are you doing? And Jon Lester's wife is a Clemson grad, and he's from Georgia. Just kind of sat around and talked to all those guys. It was really neat to meet him. That shortstop, he looked like my son. He was like this young kid, and watching those guys get ready for the game. What's the pitcher's name? Arrieta? Arrieta was on the mound but he was off doing Zen somewhere getting ready.

So there's this rain delay, not sure if they're going to play, so I'm walking around, I've got a chance to kind of see the culture there, and I was like, man, this is really cool. These guys are loose, they know they've got a good team, and so I ended up going around, and so they take me to meet Joe. So I go meet Joe and I walk in his office and he's got his baseball pants on and he's got this shirt on that says try not to suck, and I'm like -- he's big. I'm like, this is Joe Maddon. So we talked for a minute, and he's like, hey man, I watched your team and watched you guys last year and we kind of have an instant connection. It was really neat. I told him, you need to know this, because I had met his players and been around, you guys have a great culture. I'm telling you, you've got a winning culture here. You've got a good -- just feel in this building. You can smell it.

They knew they had the best team, and I think they embraced that. They embraced that. Don't run from that. It kind of resonated with me, and when I came back and I kind of got off this summer and had a little time, that was one of the things I came back and I told the guys day one, listen, everybody has been telling us we're this target, well, we are the target, but let's embrace that, but for us at Clemson, best is the standard. So if Clemson is the target, best is the standard.

So let's focus on being the best we can be. Let's be committed to that and let's embrace that. Let's run right to it.

Our guys bought into that, and then I've always told the guys, my message has always been, hey, don't lose to Clemson. If we don't lose to Clemson, we've got a chance here.

You know, Joe Maddon says, hey, if we just don't suck, we've got a chance to win. So that kind of resonated with our guys, and pretty cool experience to see those Cubs win. My father-in-law is a huge Cubs fan, and to see them do something that hasn't been done in, whatever, 100 years or whatever, was pretty amazing. Pretty amazing.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I mean, my philosophy is our job is to serve their hearts, not their talent. That's how we built our program. You can't serve somebody's heart if you don't know them, if you don't care about them, and that's just -- that's in everything that we do. We try to really do what's best for these guys, hold them accountable. Sometimes when you're serving their heart, it's discipline that they don't like, but that's just how we do it.

Everything is inside out for us. Our focus is inside, inside the walls. It's our staff, it's the secretary, it's the people who clean the building. That's my focus. It's our players. And holding them accountable, and equipping them with the tools that they need to be successful, a high level of discipline, and not ever putting winning in front of doing what's right, ever. That's how we've built our culture at Clemson, and it is very family oriented. You can't fabricate family. That's got to be genuine.

I think that we're very blessed to have the people that we have in place, and that's the people that I hire, it's the people that I allow to be around our team, and how we coach them every single day, how we talk to them, because our actions speak a lot louder than our words.

Q. What would it mean for you guys to break through and show that somebody other than Alabama and Florida State can win the National Championship?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I hope that it would give a lot of people some hope out there, that, hey, National Championships aren't just for Alabamas and the Michigans and the Notre Dames and the Ohio States. Greatness is for all of us. It really is. I love that. The theme this year is chasing greatness, and greatness is for everyone, everybody. You don't have to have some great pedigree or DNA or you don't have to be a certain color. Greatness is for everyone. You've just got to be willing to work for it, man. You've got to have a belief, and you've got to be committed to doing the little things. Everybody wants to be great. Not everybody is willing to do what it takes. I always tell them, it's the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. So it would be -- I think it would hopefully inspire a lot of other programs. Certainly eight years ago, I don't think anybody saw us as a National Championship contender. I mean, we were a solid program. Coach Bowden never lost. We were a solid program, but we weren't a National Championship contender.

And to see what we've been able to do the last eight seasons has been special. It's just been one day at a time. That's what we always say, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time, one bite at a time. You can't get it done in a day. I think it would inspire a lot of other teams out there.

I think that, again, a lot of these teams that have these rich and great traditions of championships, they're not going away, but there's no reason why we can't be great at Clemson, as well.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: No, I think it's great. I mean, I think any time you have a program that can be incredibly consistent, I think it's a standard for all to study and to learn from. I don't think you can just -- I couldn't do it Coach Saban's way. I couldn't be successful. He is who he is, and he has to run his program the way he sees it. I am who I am. I think at the end of the day, you've got to be who you are.

But I think when you see dominant programs, dominant teams, okay, well, it's great to learn from them. Maybe it's dominant businesses, because obviously there's been some good decisions along the way in how they hire people, philosophies in place, culture is in place. Some places have more to work with than others. That's always going to be the case. You know, Nike, they're not really worried about that really great successful mom-and-pop business that's kicking everybody's butt in Florida, all right, but Nike can still learn from them, and those people can learn from Nike, and you find the things that work for you and apply it to what you do.

At the end of the day, it should all be about getting better. That's what the best of the best do. They're always striving to get better. I don't think you ever arrive. I think when you arrive, you get passed up, complacency, and that's why I have such great respect for Alabama. I mean, they're never satisfied. They just keep chasing greatness, and that's a great quality to have.

Q. What do you think it means for families to be able to watch the guys play?
DABO SWINNEY: It's special. We've recruited a lot of guys from this area, Ron, Sammy Watkins from this area, as well. It's really neat for them to have a chance to come back home, and this is a state that is critical to us. You look at C.J. Spiller, Brian Dawkins, all the way back. The state of Florida has been a huge, huge priority for Clemson for a long time, and so to be able to play on this stage in the state of Florida and for a lot of these guys to have an opportunity to come back home and play I think is pretty special.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, he's at a funeral this morning. His granddad passed away and he's actually a pall bearer in the funeral, so he'll hopefully be back for the team picture this afternoon. He's great. Artavis is over from the Tarpon Springs area and just really has been an unbelievable player for us. Everybody talks about Deshaun but Artavis graduated in three years, too, and in three years he's the leading receiver in the history of Clemson. We all know there's been some great ones come through, but this young man is an incredibly underrated football player that has grown as a man and has a bright future.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: We bring them all. We've got 59 kids, aged zero to 18 on our staff, so we've got a fertile bunch at Clemson. We bring them all everywhere we go. We bring them. We load them up, we go. They're all with us. A lot of our kids, we have a certain age, are on the sidelines with us, and I think that's awesome because I think it allows our players to see us as husbands, as fathers, and it also reminds us when we're coaching those guys that, hey, our kids are watching. So we're always mindful of the example that we set for our own kids.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: He's like a father. He's a mentor, been a great role model and a leader for me. He instilled a lot of great qualities and toughness and work ethic. I remember in 1990 when I kind of broke through and actually kind of became a first-team guy for a little while, mostly second team, and I thought I was going to get my scholarship right then, and he told me I hadn't earned it. He just instilled a work ethic in me and a toughness, he and Woody McCorvey, two of the most influential men I've ever had in my life.

Q. How often do you find yourself doing things or saying things that remind you of Bill Belichick?
DABO SWINNEY: All the time, about every day. Usually when I talk to my team, and I'll say, hey, my coach used to say, and I'll drop one out for them. But we actually had a reunion with Coach Stallings back in May, and you know, his grandson plays for me, which is pretty special to have him here, too. But we had a great reunion in Tuscaloosa back in May. And to get a chance to spend that couple days with Coach Stallings, I guess he's 82 now, 81, 82, it was really awesome to get all those guys back together and tell some of the stories. It was like 20 years never went by.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: He's just been awesome. You know, Mackey finalist again this year. I thought he was the best tight end in the country, and he's done the things that he needed to do to help us have a great season, get back here, but also prepare himself to go be a great pro, which he's going to be.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: No, no, what happened is they lost my one hat. Somehow, I don't know what happened. Abe didn't have my hat, and the new one that they had, I didn't like it. And so he gave me the Block C one, and I said, this one fits good. We've been on a little streak, so I just kept wearing it, C for championship. That's what we're chasing.

Q. (No microphone.)
DABO SWINNEY: Past May, and let me tell you, it was like 43 degrees in May in Chicago. Unbelievable. But they won the game.

Q. (No microphone.).
DABO SWINNEY: I saw Coach Stallings dance one time. We were getting ready to play LSU, and it was a tight game, we're all locked in, and this was back in the day. This was 1992, '91, '92, '93, but it was a tense moment, and I think Coach Stallings could kind of sense it, and all of a sudden he kind of looked at everybody, and he was always buttoned up in a tie, and I just kind of went -- like raise the roof. Somebody had taught him that. I don't know where he learned that. And the guys just fell out. But what Coach Stallings taught me was to have fun winning. The fun was in the winning. We always celebrated winning. It didn't matter how we won. He taught me that. I don't care if you win 3-2 or 65-64. Hey, man, the fun is in the winning. He taught that to me early on, and he's right. And the fun is in the winning, but it's also important how you win. And we focus a lot on that.

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