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November 26, 2017

Dabo Swinney

Charlotte, North Carolina

DABO SWINNEY: First of all, I'd just like to congratulate Miami on an unbelievable year, just a phenomenal season, and Coach Richt has done an amazing job down there. No big shocker there. He's always done a great job. But got a lot of respect for Coach Richt and the job he does, and just incredible to watch what they've done this year. So we look forward to competing against them.

But man, I'm really proud of our team. We're a team that not many people picked to win the division, much less the league, and our guys have just gotten better as the year has gone on. We've really developed, I think, a good chemistry. We've had a lot of guys step up. I think we've developed some depth, and just really love how we finished. So a great season, 11-1, and we're really excited about representing the Atlantic, and it's going to be an awesome venue in Charlotte. It's good to be back in Charlotte. I know it's going to be a great environment to play the championship game, and again, we're just looking forward to competing against a great Miami team, and it comes down to four quarters, and it's an exciting time to have the opportunity to still play one more week.

Q. Just wanted to know how you are health-wise after last night. I believe J.D. Davis went out of the game at one point. How is he?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, we'll assess those guys further in the morning. Just kind of meeting -- they've been in treatment this afternoon, and we'll know a little bit more where we are as we go through the week, but I think everybody should be -- I don't see anybody not being able to play this week. The main guy is Tre Lamar, just kind of evaluating where he is.

Q. You talked about Kelly last night; obviously he's a South Carolina guy and been waiting to play in that game last night for two years, bided his time, and had to mean a lot to him, but he just showed as much poise as he always has in every other big stage. Did you say anything to him at any point about not pressing, or did you just know that he'd have that ability?
DABO SWINNEY: You know, I mean, I say a lot to him, I mean, all the time. We're always coaching and always trying to encourage and teach and prepare. But the biggest thing is just him just continuing to be who he is and execute the offense, just embrace the moment, know that you're prepared. But he did a great job for us. He's really been a good leader, and really proud of him. Nobody had more pressure on him than Kelly Bryant coming into the season, and he has led this team to 11-1 and a state championship, division championship, and hopefully an ACC Championship.

Q. So much was made going into the season about the pressure of replacing Deshaun and all of that. How did Kelly handle it initially, and did you see a sort of comfort level rising with him as the year went on?
DABO SWINNEY: Initially in the spring, you know, it was new to him because he had not been the guy. He really hadn't been in that -- and it's different when you're a backup. The light isn't quite as bright. But I think that for two years, the thing I love about Kelly is for two years, he had a front-row seat to Deshaun, and he really learned a lot and paid attention. He took ownership. He continued to prepare. But I think he had a great example in Deshaun.

But the other thing with Kelly is I think this spring, he just really realized that, listen, I just need to be the best version of Kelly Bryant, and don't worry about trying to replace Deshaun. We don't need you to replace Deshaun. We just need you to be the best you can be. That's why we recruited you.

And I just think that he's done a great job of working really, really hard to where he can play fast within our system, process things fast. He's put the work in from a studying standpoint, and then he's just developed so much as a quarterback and a passer. He's always been a guy that could beat you with his legs, but he's become much more of a complete player as the season has progressed and made some big, big plays in some big moments.

Q. What was the challenge or kind of the process for your coaching staff of adjusting the offense, finding what Kelly was best running, and how did that process go through the year?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I mean, I think every year your team, you have to -- as a coach, you evaluate where you are as a team. Sometimes you just have a lot of youth. Sometimes you've got a lot of experience back, and so you can maybe get to another level of your offense, kind of like -- it's kind of like math. Sometimes you're in algebra, sometimes you're in calculus. Just kind of depends on the experience factor. But we really haven't changed much of anything. We've been able to run the ball better this year, and I think that that's a credit to our offensive line. We had a very experienced offensive line coming back, and then Kelly is a dynamic runner, big, strong kid. But we still like to push the ball down the field and do all the same things we've always done, but we just get into the course of a game, and we feel like we have the ability to do what we need to do to win the game each and every week based on how defense plays us.

Q. I'm not sure how much of Miami you've had a chance to watch yet, but I was hoping for your thoughts and observations on how far this team has come since the last time you all played them.
DABO SWINNEY: That's night and day. The last time we played them, they had a lot of talent, but they just for whatever reason that day, it just was -- just everything kind of went our way. But they've never been lacking for talent. I just think that -- listen, give Mark a lot of credit. He's come in there and really pulled it all together and given them a clear identity. They're playing with great energy, great effort. They're just impressive. I've seen them a couple times on TV this year, and I've seen them in a couple of crossover tapes where I've been preparing for another team. Know a little bit about them. They look like Miami. When you think about Miami, there's a certain image that pops up in your head, and that's what they look like. They're running the ball well. They've got a quarterback that's played very well for them all year. They've hit some big plays at critical times. They've found ways to win games. And then defensively they've created a bunch of turnovers.

They've earned it. I mean, it's been a heck of a year for them, and we know it's going to be a big challenge for us. But that's the way it should be when you get in a championship game. Should be good-on-good, and that's what you've got.

Q. When Miami hired Mark, did you expect this kind of turnaround for the Miami program?
DABO SWINNEY: No question. Coach Richt is a great coach and has been forever. He's done an unbelievable job his entire career. I've always had a lot of respect for him and how he handles his business and the type of man he is. He's got a great family. He loves his players, and he's a great competitor. There's no question when he got this job -- he played there, you know he's going to have a good understanding of the culture there and so forth. It's been fun to watch him pull it together. I knew it wouldn't take him long.

Q. You said yesterday or last night after the game that we've asked you about the polls all year long, and they don't matter until now. Obviously the playoff poll matters most, but do you still take stock out of being named No. 1 today by the AP and the coaches' poll?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, to be quite honest with you, this is the first time I've heard that, so no. The one that matters is that CFP poll because that's the one that's going to determine your postseason. I mean, it's an honor, I guess. I literally -- it's the first I've heard that. But that's great. Again, the CFP poll is the one that really matters this time of year, and you know, it's great to have the respect of the AP and the coaches and so forth, but at the end of the day, it's the CFP poll that's going to, again, determine your opportunity postseason. Really all they can do is kind of react to what we do. We really determine it based on how we play at this point.

For us, we've just got to stay focused on what we can control and just try to play the best four quarters of the season, and if we can do that, then I think being the ACC champion and 12-1 would give us a seat at the table. It definitely is important to be in good position going into this last weekend.

Q. Is there anything kind of extra motivational or even teaching tool that you can use this week just using that, or because you're the defending national champions that's kind of all out the window and not something that really enters the mindset as you prepare for Miami?
DABO SWINNEY: Oh, no, we don't need any of that. They know. Like I said, it kind of speaks for itself. They know what's at stake, and so does Miami. It's the same opportunity on both sides, I think. I think the winner of this game is going to get a chance for sure to go to the playoff. That makes it fun and exciting, and you embrace that.

Q. I was going to ask you about do you feel like this ACC Championship game is more or less an automatic play-in to the four-team playoff, and it's not necessarily that, and should it be as far as conference champions go?
DABO SWINNEY: I mean, I think that every year depends on kind of what's going on. I mean, I think if we were both 8-4, then I wouldn't necessarily think that it's an automatic play-in. But I think where we are right now, the season we've had, the season Miami has had, I don't think there's any question that the winner of this league -- this is a very difficult league, a very difficult league. Just saw a thing today, where ACC is 13-3 versus the SEC in rivalry games over the last three years. That's what we play against week in and week out. There's a lot of teams going to be going to bowl games from this league once again, so I don't think there's any question with the year Miami has had and we've had, the winner of this league is definitely going to be in the playoff and deservedly so.

Q. The 58-0 game, and by the way, a lot of fans have been holding up "thank you, Dabo," signs, but what do you remember from that game, and do you think a loss like that can actually serve in any way as motivation for the current Miami team? Some of those guys played in it.
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I mean, I'm sure it can. Any time you have a bad outing, you want to do better the next time. But I mean, that game has nothing to do with this game. We're a different team. They're a different team. There might be a few players here or there that might have played in that game. But that was just a bad day for Miami. It was a day where everything kind of went right. There was some scuttlebutt at the beginning of the game from what I remember in pregame warmups, which was disappointing, but we played a great game. They didn't have a great game. But that was then. It has nothing to do with this game. I mean, it really doesn't. It's all about this team and their team and who can execute, do things you've got to do to win Saturday night.

Q. Is Travis Etienne nursing an injury from yesterday?
DABO SWINNEY: He was a little banged up but I don't think anything too serious.

Q. I know it's still a week out, but what do you think about the status of Lamar and Smith?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, Chad Smith was back yesterday in last night's game. He was dressed and ready to play, so he's back. Lamar, still not sure on him. It's early in the week; it'll be a day-to-day thing.

Q. You talked a little bit last night, and obviously we're all focused on this game Saturday night being the entrance to the playoff almost, but you've had your guys thinking about every week as a play-in game, I think since Syracuse it seems like because I've heard them reference it when talking to them and things like that. Is it easy to get them thinking about the every game matters week-to-week-to-week so early in the season?
DABO SWINNEY: Is it easy? No. I mean, you're dealing with a bunch of young people, but that's just what we work hard to do. You know, it's the messaging in our program. It's developing the leadership and guys taking ownership of who we are and the way we do things and the type of mindset that you have to have week in and week out, and it's kind of the culture of our program. But it's definitely not easy.

Q. You mentioned at the top looking forward to getting back to Charlotte. Just wondering if you could speak a little bit to the difference in venues. Obviously last year you were in Orlando, the lowest attended game in the history of the championship, and this year you're coming into a sellout, just what you're expecting playing in Bank of America Stadium again.
DABO SWINNEY: It's good to be back in Charlotte. Listen, the Orlando folks were amazing and gracious hosts, and it was a great experience for us last year, and obviously in a kind of pull-it-together-quick situation, it was great, and we really enjoyed it. But it's good to be back in Charlotte. It really is. It's a great venue, and it's going to be an awesome crowd, GameDay and all that stuff, and it's an excellent location for everyone. Should be fun. We're glad that it's back there.

Q. A couple quick questions for you. Just wondering if you or Dan have heard anything from the South Carolina administration regarding the bottle-throwing incidents from the game last night.
DABO SWINNEY: Not that I know of.

Q. Secondly, report today, CBSSports.com reporting that Arkansas people are interested in Brent for their head coaching job out there. Moving forward right now with the job situations cropping up and his name possibly popping up with that and others, how will you handle that with him, and what leeway would he have to evaluate and maybe interview for some jobs?
DABO SWINNEY: We are 100 percent focused on Miami. I don't know anything about that, and I never get too worried or focused on any of that stuff. There's a million rumors and whatever. Our focus and Brent's focus is on -- I promise you, is on getting ready for Miami. But I've always had a policy if guys have opportunities somewhere down the road that they think is good for them, then that's great. But nobody is sitting around worrying about any of that stuff. Everybody is focused on trying to beat Miami this week, and that's it.

Q. Obviously with Miami, everybody kind of focuses on the defense and with the turnover chain and everything else. I'm curious what you've seen on film about the offense and with Malik Rosier at quarterback?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, like I said earlier, I've seen them a couple times. Haven't really gotten deep into who they are and philosophy and all that. That'll come later tonight and tomorrow. But I've been impressed with them. First of all, they're running the ball very well. That No. 24 -- I know they had one back get hurt, but that No. 24 is a heck of a back. I think he's 24. And the quarterback has played very well. He's come up big for them time and time again. They've had some huge plays at critical times. Tight end is a very good player. So I mean, and then they do an excellent job of how they manage their scheme and putting those guys in position to be successful. They've got an outstanding little slot receiver, the Berrios kid, you notice him a lot. He's a great return guy, too. So they're dynamic, man. They've got great skill just like you'd think Miami would have, and then defensively they're playing outstanding. So it's been a good combination for them throughout the year.

Q. I'm wondering how much it helps when you've had a lot of experience playing in these games.
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I think it helps when you have a bunch of -- I mean, we have a lot of experience as a program, but we're a very young team. We only have six scholarship seniors on our roster. We've got a pretty good junior class, but we're mostly freshmen and sophomores. We're still a young team, but I do think that, again, it's just another big game, and this team this year has been in a lot of big games. We've had, I mean, GameDay at Louisville, GameDay at Virginia Tech. I don't think it was GameDay at NC State, but it was a monstrous game. Obviously a huge game this past weekend. I mean, these guys have been in a lot of big games this year, and at the end of the day, it's similar to that, and so has Miami. They've been in some huge games, as well.

I think both teams have great experience to draw on from just this season, and that's really what matters.

Q. I just wanted to ask you about Hunter Johnson. He had the interception in which he overthrew Diondre Overton, but he did move the ball down the field about 50 yards or so. How far has he come in the last month or so just in his maturity as a quarterback and command of the offense?
DABO SWINNEY: He's made really good progress, you know, really proud of him, and Zerrick has great command of the offense. Both of them are competing every day, and just the last couple opportunities, Hunter kind of played better on game day, so it was an opportunity for him to go in there first, and I thought he did a good job. Obviously he wishes he had that one play back. Not a good throw. Diondre did a good job of getting open and missed an opportunity there, but he did a heck of a job making the right decisions and made some throws that he needed to make and executed well. He's come a long way, man. He's playing with some confidence.

Q. Back in 2011 at the ACC Championship game, before Virginia Tech, you kind of made an impassioned speech and you said, I guarantee you it won't be 20 years before Clemson gets back here, and you were right. Do you ever just take a moment during this busy season and kind of reflect on everything that's happened since that time and really over these past three or four years?
DABO SWINNEY: That's kind of more postseason time. Yeah, every year I try to really get away and think and reflect and visualize for what's next and all that. But right now, man, I'm just locked in and focused on trying to get ready to play these Hurricanes. That's really it. But I mean, we've come a long way, obviously, and I'm proud of our program and our team and really appreciate a lot of our former players sending me messages and things like that. Those things mean a lot to me. They all take a lot of pride in where we are as a program.

You know, just right now, though, it's all about this week.

Q. On Hunter Renfrow, one of the coaches, I think it was Jeff Scott said last night, that when it's orange pants season, Hunter Renfrow seems to get a little bit better. What is it about that kid that kind of sets him apart from everybody else?
DABO SWINNEY: He's just a baller, man. He's a football player. That's what makes this game great. He don't really look like a football player, but football players come in all shapes and sizes, man, and boy, his heart is 6'4", 250. Man, he's just a special guy. He's very smart, very intelligent, has great passion for the game. He's a great preparer. He's really become a very polished receiver as far as knowing how to work his release technique, run his routes, his break points, his influence in his routes. He's really grown so much, and then he's just gotten stronger. I mean, he was such a small and not very strong guy when he got here, 155 pounds, and now he's pushing close to 185, and he's just stronger, and now he's got the experience in the conference to go with it.

And then he's always been able to run. He can fly. And then really what makes him special is his ability to change direction on a dime. I mean, he can just flat-out stick a foot in the ground and be going the other way without slowing down, and that's really hard to do. And then he's got great ball skills. He's a great finisher on the ball. It's just awesome to watch him play. It really is. And a lot of fun.

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