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January 5, 2019
Santa Clara, California
Q. What would be your move in the WWE?
DABO SWINNEY: I don't know, maybe jump off the ropes and takedown or something.
Q. Excited about the game?
DABO SWINNEY: Oh, yeah, this is -- I just saw my first tumbleweed. I've never seen a tumbleweed in my entire life. We don't have tumbleweeds in Alabama or South Carolina. We're coming down the road on a bus, and this huge, like, ball of sticks, that's the only way I can -- just comes right at the bus. I'm like, what the heck is that? He's like, that's a tumbleweed. I thought those were just in like Road Runner or the movies or something.
But unbelievable. I literally just saw my first tumbleweed. I have not spent any time of my life in this area, so this is pretty cool. It's neat for our guys, too, to land. Yesterday was beautiful, so to land and to see all the mountains, just the beauty that this area has to offer, especially flying in, we got to see the snowcapped mountains and then all of a sudden there was no snow, and then it was flat, and then it looked like Mars with moguls, and then it was farmland. It was just like all this unique terrain coming out here. Just a fascinating country and world that we live in.
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, I actually talked to David last night. He couldn't come. His wife is going to come over to the game and hang out with Kath. But he's flying out -- our coaches' convention is going on at the same time, so that's really the only time -- and I really don't know where I am, but apparently I'm only like 20 minutes from Palo Alto, but we came in here and spent the night with them and went to dinner. He showed us around Stanford, and then he took us down to San Francisco, and he toured us and we had like a three-hour tour. It was awesome. It was awesome. It was just -- it was fascinating, just the streets, and he took us down the I think it's either the crookedest street or steepest street, and he took us and showed us the pier area and Alcatraz and went over to the old military base right on the water. It was neat. It's a very unique part of the country for sure.
Q. Is everybody healthy and here?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, everybody is here, and a good healthy week of practice and ready to go.
Q. We talk to you about Alabama every single time we see you. Talk about your up bringing, your family, and then your relationship moving on to the University of Alabama and how it instilled in you where you are today?
DABO SWINNEY: Were you covering when I was playing high school ball?
Q. I've been there forever.
DABO SWINNEY: That's what I thought. See, I recognize a couple of faces. Yeah, it's just amazing, it really is. It's just -- I'm so proud of where I come from. I never say I'm from Birmingham. I was born in Birmingham. I was born at South Highlands Hospital and grew up in West End. I literally lived right behind West End High School until I was four, four and a half, and then my mom and dad, I guess this little bitty town in the middle of nowhere at the time, Pelham, no interstate or anything, long way to Pelham from Birmingham, I guess some houses were popping up and cheap and that kind of stuff, so it was kind of a -- we moved out to Pelham. But my grandmother lived right off 20th street in Ensley her whole life, so I grew up going to Birmingham all the time, up in Ensley, cutting my grandmother's yard and hanging out up there. Technically I was born in Birmingham, but I was raised in Pelham. I will always consider that home. Even though Pelham has changed, there's I-65 going through it now, and we've got some -- we even have an amphitheater now in Pelham, it's still home, and I've still got a lot of friends there.
That's what shaped me. That's all I can say. I mean, I think that we're all shaped from and by our experiences of life, and for me, growing up in Pelham and going to Valley and River Chase and Pelham High School and being around all my coaches and Billy Tohill and Jim Backus and Paul Kellogg and Coach Crook and Jim Phillips and all that crew and all the great teachers that I had, those people are the ones who really shaped me and helped fuel a belief in me. I was always the shortstop, always the point guard. I was the captain. But I had a belief in all those things because of the teachers and the coaches that put me in leadership roles early on, and I just had this drive, and I know that came from my experiences with my family and all the people who helped shape me, Mayor Hayes, who's coming out here. He's going to be here today. So it was a special journey, and for me, I ended up at Alabama, I had some opportunities. I remember my basketball coach called me in his office. He's still mad at me to this day because Coach Kellogg, he thought I was a really good basketball player, and I think I was pretty good, too, but he wanted me to play college basketball. He felt like -- he had some people that were interested, and he was like, are you going to do this or am I just wasting my time, and I'm like -- I said, coach, you're wasting your time. I'm going to Alabama. Once I realized that I could go to Alabama, I didn't know that I could go to school. I thought I was going to have to go a JuCo route and either play baseball or play basketball or go to a smaller school and play football. I thought that was going to be the route I was going to have to go until one of my counselors told me that I would qualify for what was called a Pell Grant. I didn't know what a Pell Grant was, and I didn't know how to do student loans. I had no clue. I had no collegiate background in my family of how to do that type of stuff.
So once I found that out, I'm like, man, I'm going to Alabama. That was my dream as a kid and so that's what I did. So I moved to Alabama in the summer of '88, moved into a little apartment, and got any student loans, got my Pell Grants, and ended up being there until spring of '01. I went there when I was 18, I left when I was 31. So Tuscaloosa was also a huge part of shaping me, the experiences I had as a student-athlete, the challenges, again, the drive, going into the walk-on program with Rich Wingo and Terry Jones and surviving that to get a chance to be a part of the team and chase my dream and the relationships that I developed.
And then just the success, you know, little goals, make the team, make a travel squad, make a road travel squad, get in a game, get in the rotation, make some plays, get started on special teams. It was just all -- make all-conference academic, and all those type of things. All those goals that I had from the structure of my time as a student-athlete and the people who poured into me and the men that believed in me and gave me an opportunity from Tommy Bowden and Bill Curry when I first got there, Terry Jones, Rich Wingo, to Woody McCorvey and Gene Stallings, Homer Smith, all these folks, and then just talked to Coach Stallings yesterday before I flew out here. I was going to work, you know, I finished up, I'm getting ready to take a job, and he's like, you need to get a masters. You start in July. You're going to be a GA for me.
So the next thing I know, I'm coaching.
But to me, I think when you're seeking God's guidance for your life, when you're seeking God to order your steps, he will order those steps. He will put the right people in your path and open the right doors, and sometimes what our plan is -- because we have the greatest plans of all time as people, but God's plans is always different, it's always perfect, and it's always sometimes very surprising. And so for me, I didn't go to college to be a coach. I went to be a doctor and I was going to run a hospital, and get my MBA and go do my thing, and in '93 Coach wanted me to be a GA, and just like that I had the clarity of my life on this is what I'm supposed to do, this is my calling, and this is why my journey has been the way it's been since I was a little kid because God was shaping me and preparing me for what I'm doing right now.
And so that's just how I look at it, and I'm so thankful for all the people and the experiences that I've had along the way, and that's what's brought me here. You know, it's just surreal to be in this situation. It's such a blessing. There's so many young people that never get an opportunity to kind of be a part of something like this, and there's certainly so many great coaches that never get a chance to be a part of this. And so for me to do it as a player and now my third time as a coach, to experience -- I mean, it's just so cool to be able to compete at the highest level on this type of stage against the very best.
You know, as a kid growing up, that's what you want. You dream about stuff like this, so to actually be able to live it, man, I'm just so thankful. I prayed that this morning. I'm just thankful to have the opportunity to be a part of it, and I don't take it for granted. I just have such a great appreciation for how hard it is, and for how hard it is for so many people to come together with a common purpose. It's just -- it's indescribable.
But it all starts with a belief, and for me, that belief started as a little kid in Pelham, Alabama, a belief in myself and a belief in a future and a hope in a future that was greater than my present circumstances. I always had that, and that's what's driven me my whole life.
Q. It seems like you and Nick genuinely like each other and maybe even are closer now than you were when you played four years ago. For people that don't understand the dynamics of coaches, how does that work when you're competing against each other for high-stakes stuff?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, a couple things. I think first of all, coaches more than anybody really understand what it takes and how hard it is and how just small the margin for error is. So I think most -- there's very few coaches that haven't lost. We've all been on both sides of it, and I think we can have a great appreciation for success but also failure, as well, and what comes with both.
But I think the biggest thing, also, is how hard it is to have consistency. We're two programs that have been the most consistent over the last probably nine years, I guess, eight or nine years, and I think that I have a great respect for what he's been able to do, and I think he has grown in that with us. I don't think he knew where Clemson was when he came to Alabama, to be quite honest with you, and he dang sure didn't know who I was and I didn't know who he was. We had never met. I don't think we got off to a very good start because he offered me a job when he first came to Alabama, but I didn't know him, and I didn't take the job. I don't know that we got off to a good start there, and never even met.
I don't know, maybe a year or so later, I'm the head coach at Clemson as an interim, and then I get the job, and so that spring, spring of '09 was the first time I was kind of around him at kind of a head coach function type deal, and so that's kind of when we started to get to know each other a little bit differently, and then some different events with the Rise program in Tuscaloosa and then obviously having to compete against each other, and then lo and behold he buys a place down -- I'm the only guy on this island that knows anything about college football, I've got kind of my own little world down there, just quiet, nobody is there, go down there, and then all crap breaks loose, Nick Saban buys a place. So I'm on the south end, he's on the north end. So he buys this place down there, and so that really kind of took our relationship to a more personal level as opposed to professional because now every time we see each other that's what we talk about, when are you going down to the island. And then when we are there, overlap, we're eating burgers together, going out on his boat, we've played golf.
So we always have a bet on this game whenever we have played. Been on the losing end of that a couple times, a little dinner place down there that we both really like. But it's a very small little place, but it's just interesting because you've got one little grocery and one little pizza -- we're like competing for wall space to claim Clemson dominance and you've got Alabama stuff down there. So it's kind of neat.
So that took our relationship to a little more of a personal level and gave us something else to talk about other than football.
Q. I asked him, do you talk about the game you just played when you're down there. He said you don't --.
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, we talk about -- not usually when we're there, but usually when I see him from time to time right after the game, usually it's at the Senior Bowl or something like that we might have a few comments, but typically we'll move on. It is what it is, you know. Again, we both know that this is a game that both teams worked so hard to get to and there's going to be a winner and there's going to be a loser, and when it's over, guess what, you start over for next year, and that's the way it is. You don't get to carry it over. You enjoy it in the moment and then you move on to the next one.
But it's been great getting to know him. It's literally like competing against John Wooden. The guy is unbelievable. It's unbelievable what they've been able to do year in and year out, and the dominance that they've had.
We're lucky that we've won one, you know. We had a chance in that first one and just -- they made a few more plays than we did, but maybe we can find a way to win this one and have a little bit of a rubber match against them.
Q. How is getting ready for this year's match compared to those previous two?
DABO SWINNEY: You know, I think I've just probably enjoyed this maybe more than any other season, any other time. I think in '15, it was so new, and I was kind of as a coach learning a lot about it and just the planning and all the logistics involved and how I need to practice my team. The timing of it was different, too. The actual schedule and amount of prep time has changed. My first year we were also in school, and that was a weird dynamic for me. They were not in school, we were in school, and it was just a lot of different things that we were juggling. And it was kind of a blur, to be honest with you.
'16, that team, it was almost like that whole season everybody just wanted to hit fast forward, like okay, can we just get there, we know where we're going, can we just get there, and it doesn't work that way. And I thought that team -- that was a little more of a grind. But once we got there, they were ready, and we won the game, whereas this year it's almost like we've hit pause a lot, and like man, this is really cool. Let's enjoy this journey, and I think that's to me, personally, has been the biggest difference. I have just really enjoyed this team, the preparation, just the mundane, day-to-day stuff that comes with getting ready and just being around these guys.
I mean, this is an incredible group of young people. I mean, I told them the other day, I can't wait to see what these guys do -- 20 years from now when I'm old and we can get together for one of these reunions or something, I can't wait to see what they do in life. I mean, this is an amazing group of young people. They won the AFCA academic award, first time, and 66 guys make a 3.0 or better. Just the focus, the leadership, the commitment, and just their appreciation for the journey has really made it a joyful season for me.
Q. Can you just talk about Nolan Turner?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, it's amazing, I always tell people, as a person of faith, I just think God's hand is on everything, I really do. We weren't going to sign Nolan. So after that first National Championship Game in Arizona, we had four juniors leave, DB's, because we weren't recruiting DB's, I didn't have any spots for DB's. And all of a sudden I've got four guys go and I got two weeks to recruit, so we got Isaiah Simmons, we got Trayvon Mullen and we got K'Von Wallace and I didn't know any of them until about 10 days before signing day, and all three are starters for us. And then I called -- I said, let me go back and let me look at Nolan Turner because we didn't have a scholarship. So now I'm looking for guys and we're looking at all these guys, and I watched this tape, and I'm like, man, this guy is -- I called Buddy Anderson, who I've known forever, and his exact words to me, and he's coached a million player at Vestavia, and he said, Coach, this is as good a player as I've ever had. I don't understand what people are missing and why. And I said, well, that's all I needed to hear because I watched his tape. I mean, this guy is twitchy, he's fast, he's instinctive, he's got ball skills, he's tough, and obviously he's got the genetics. He's got the DNA. I know what he's made of. So I took his film down to show Brent, and I didn't even tell Brent who he was, hey, what do you think about this kid. He's like, hey, he's good, who is he? I'm like, that's all I need to hear. I told Buddy, hey, I'm coming down tomorrow, and he thought I was going to come and try to get him to walk on.
So I called Kevin, and Kevin was his dad, and so his dad put him on speaker phone, and that was a pretty cool moment, and he was just so proud. Of course Kevin still texts, and I could almost see the tears on the text, of joy, knowing that Nolan was going to have this opportunity and he was going to be around people that were going to love him and people that would be family to him.
So I was a teammate of KT's, Lemanski Hall was a teammate of KT's, Mickey Conn was a teammate of KT's, Thad Turnipseed was a teammate, Woody McCorvey was a coach, Danny Pearman was a coach, J. C. Chalk is Gene Stallings' grandson. So it's just amazing some of the -- how it's all come together. But we've had our arms around Nolan and kind of through his walk, and man, he has just blossomed and he's growing into a great man, and he's going to be a great -- he's already a great football player, but he's just a sophomore, and last year as a redshirt freshman at Louisville, he tackled Lamar Jackson in the red zone, solo tackled, by himself, 99 percent of the time you're not tackling Lamar Jackson one-on-one for a touchdown, and he tackles him in the only field.
And I remember right then, I went, all right, boys, ol' Nolan, he's coming.
So now another year, he's like 212 pounds, his body is just -- every time I look at him, to be honest with you, I feel like I'm back in 1989 because he looks exactly like KT. I know KT is just having a big ol' time up there in heaven. I know he's just as proud as he can be, and to see Nolan have that big play in the Cotton Bowl, and now the opportunity to -- the first time we played in the National Championship was his freshman year. He was redshirted. And then obviously last year we didn't get here, but to be able to play Alabama in the National Championship, for that kid, you just -- it's just, what a moment. It's really cool to see how it's all worked out.
Q. The NFL playoffs start in a few hours. Will you be able to watch any of that?
DABO SWINNEY: What time is it? I'm so messed up on my clock, I -- the ol' Timex, I have to switch it back three hours. What time do they play? 1:30? I might see bits and pieces of it in between meetings, and we go to practice. But I certainly will keep up -- all those guys are coming out, so they're all going to be at the game and excited to see them for sure.
DABO SWINNEY: Oh, I don't know. I'm not looking for validation. That's what I believe. I believe what I believe. I don't need anybody to validate me. I just think he's an amazing human being and he's an incredible quarterback, and I mean, he's really not doing anything any different than he's done his whole life. He's just being Deshaun Watson, and I don't have any doubts you'll see the best version of him tonight or this afternoon, whatever it is his time. You'll see him, he'll be prepared, he'll play with his heart, he'll play with toughness and guts and courage, and he'll be a great leader, and he'll be inspirational with the guys around him and he'll battle until the last second no matter what happens. If he wins, he'll move on to the next one, and if he loses, he'll be the first guy getting ready for next year. That's just how he's wired.
Q. You said that Trevor is beyond his years as far as maturity, but will you feel the need to say anything to him before this game?
DABO SWINNEY: Oh, yeah, yeah. I'll definitely sit down and have a little talk with him. But he's an easy guy to have a conversation with because his mindset and his maturity and his focus is very rare for anybody.
Q. What's the message that you want him --
DABO SWINNEY: Well, it'll be between he and I, but the main thing is, again, just be who he is, and the same thing that won those other 14 games win this game. It's just football, and he's really good at football, so he just needs to be who he is and don't make it bigger than it is. And again, there's pressure on everybody, but I think the important thing is don't allow the pressure to exceed the pleasure of the moment.
It's really --
Q. (Inaudible question about Joe Ngata)?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, I can actually talk about him since he signed with us. It's huge. He's a great player. He's a very skilled receiver, big body that's going to develop tremendously when he gets into college, awesome family, great fit for our culture at Clemson, very dynamic young player. He's one of those guys that he'll be like a Christian Wilkins. He's got amazing mind and leadership abilities. I mean, he is an incredibly well-rounded young person that I think will impact our community and impact a lot of people's lives through the platform of college football. He's so much more than just a good receiver, but I can't wait to get him a part -- he's actually moving to Clemson tomorrow, so all those guys move in -- he and Frank Ladson are out in the Army game, and I think it's the Army game, San Antonio, so he's out there -- they're out there playing ball and they're moving to Clemson tomorrow, they're excited about it. They'll have a big watch party. But for me personally, it's my first recruit from California, so that's pretty neat to get my first guy from out here. I got a chance to go to Folsom. I had never been to Folsom. That was a neat experience a few weeks ago, flying out and getting to see the town and meet the coaches and all that. We're excited about him.
Q. Finished the season with back-to-back state championships. Does that help at all?
DABO SWINNEY: Absolutely, yeah. That's one of the things for me I love to do in recruiting is go visit everyone, because I like to see where they're coming from, the culture they're coming from because they're going to bring that with them. Sometimes it helps you when you go, and maybe it's not a great culture, he's a great kid, great player, but it helps me to kind of understand where I need to meet him to help get him where we need him to get. As opposed to you've got a kid that's coming from a lot of structure, a great culture, all those things. It helps me navigate, because I think that's our job as coaches is to not expect them to meet us where we are. We've got to go meet them right where they are and bring them along to help them achieve their potential.
Q. You talked about what you believe a minute ago. Is Clemson at the level of Alabama regardless of what happens tomorrow night?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I don't think there's any question that we're as good a program as there is in the country. I mean, it's hard to say we're at the level of Alabama because they've won, what, six National Championships in the last few years. I mean, we've got to win -- this is a great match-up. It's a heavyweight fight, but for it to be a true rivalry, we've got to win a few. There's no doubt about that. They've been the best. But program-wise, consistency-wise, year in and year out, there's no doubt where they are. But we're kind of the new kid on the block. This is our third National Championship appearance now in four years, so I think that certainly validates our level of consistency. But we've still got a little ways to go. We're proud members of the roy bus. I think Stephen A said it best. He said, it's Alabama five, four, three, two, one, and then it's everybody else. So we're like sixth, so we're working our way there. But I think for sure we've been the two most consistent programs in all of the country. We've just got to finish the deal a few more times.
Q. You know Alabama, you know the personnel, Coach Saban. What does it do to your preparation when you have two individuals that you have to prepare for? Does it add more complexly or the fact that you know them so well, is it just standard operating procedure?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, standard operating procedure. We're very familiar with Alabama, same bat channel, different bat day, I guess, bat time, or whatever. I mean, they're phenomenal on defense, no different. You just turn the page, whatever year. They're great on defense. You can pick little things here or there. They're great on defense. They're built in the trenches. The biggest difference for them this year is just the explosiveness on offense. This is by far the best version of them we've seen offensively. I mean, it's unbelievable. And we're a lot alike, dynamic quarterbacks, explosive skill, explosive run game, built through the run game in the play action and those type of things. So we're very similar in that way. But for us, we have a great understanding of who they are, but you've got to stop it. They're not going to come in here and do something that they don't do. It's just stopping it is -- it's the challenge. It has been for other people with us. We've been two really difficult teams to handle offensively, but yeah, they've got two thoroughbreds at quarterback. Jalen Hurts is a great player, and what you saw in the SEC Championship game, I mean, he won the game. He made three throws that very few people make, and he made them under pressure with tight coverage, and he created to make a couple of those plays. It's a big challenge for sure, but we've just got to focus on what we need to do to stop what they do, regardless of who's playing quarterback.
Q. We've seen these high-profile quarterback situations, Clemson, Alabama, Georgia. We'll probably see more of them moving on in the future. What are some of the keys to managing that success?
DABO SWINNEY: Same thing we've done for 10 years. We start over every year, and you've got to earn it every year. There's really no different. Just because you were the best player last year doesn't mean you're the best player this year. You don't get to carry over anything. That's just the culture of our program, the philosophy of our program. It doesn't matter if you're a walk-on or fifth-year senior, you've got to prove it every year. When I start my meetings every year, I tell Cleveland, Cleveland congratulations. You had a great year last year. You were an All-American, I'm so proud of you. Guess what: You don't carry that over. You've got to prove that you deserve to be the starter this year, and then I'll tell you your job is to try to beat him out. So that's just the culture we have, and our guys know that.
That's why Hunter Renfrow started as a redshirt freshman walk-on because he was the best player, he earned it, and we had five-star receivers on the sideline. Christian Wilkins came in and started as a true freshman. He beat some veterans out. He was the best player. Deshaun Watson came in and started as a true freshman. He beat a veteran player out.
Just because you're a veteran or maybe you had a good year last year, that doesn't mean that you automatically are -- it's kind of a starting point, but you have to prove it and earn it every day.
For us, it's no different. Regardless whether it's the quarterback position, kicker position, line position, receivers, you prove it every year.
Q. How do you manage to keep depth there, though, with now transfer rules and quarterbacks being a little different? You talked about it last summer, there can only be one on the field at a time. Do you worry about keeping that quarterback room stocked up now that we have the new transfer rules?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I think you worry about that at every position, but that's just the nature of it, so you'd better go recruit, and it's relationships. I think that you have to be able to develop relationships with your players and be able to articulate a clear vision for each individual, not only what your goal for your team is but also for them individually for sure, and you have to as a coach create the buy-in into that.
But at the end of the day, guys are going to come and go and they're going to do -- I'm happy. Listen, we had quarterbacks leave this year, and Hunter Johnson, who is going to -- he's one of the best kids I've ever met, and we have a great relationship, we still text each other, he's one of the best families I've ever known, and he's at Northwestern, and he's going to do phenomenal. So that's what he needed to do for himself. I didn't want him to leave, but that's what he felt like he needed to do. He loved his time at Clemson. We have a tremendous relationship. Zaire Cooper, I just talked to him the other day, called to tell him happy birthday. He just set records at Jacksonville State this year. Man, I'm so happy for him. I love my guys.
So it's relationship, it's being on the same page, it's -- I want to help them if that's what they want to do. And so we've had some guys come and go, but at the end of the day, my job is to recruit the very best player. I'm not trying to go recruit the backup. I mean, let me go recruit five backups. I want to recruit the very best player each year, year in and year out, and then competition drives everything in your program when you're fair.
So that's no different for anybody else. You've just got to do a good job in your evaluation, and we've got a great quarterback coming in in January, Chase Brice is phenomenal. Chase Brice is a quarterback that will play in the NFL one day. He's on a path, his developmental path is right on track. This is going to be -- he's a really good player. I see him every day in practice, what this kid can do. He's already won a game for us this year, and he's going to have more opportunity along his journey to play. He played in a bunch of games, got some experience, but all those guys, you've just got to deal with it. Nothing you can do.
Q. Talking about Alabama, you guys, the programs seem very similar, there's maybe an eyelash difference, but you understand the element of the significance. Clemson obviously won a title in '81; do you have a sense of how unique this group's rise is to become a power like that? To have that staying power --
DABO SWINNEY: I don't think there's any question that we are unique. We are very unique. Alabama is Alabama; I mean, the tradition that they have with Coach Bryant and -- I mean, and what he was able to do, I mean, the 60s, the 70s, and there was a little lull in the 80s, but they were still Alabama and the tradition and the brand. Whereas Clemson, we kind of had that one little run there in the 80s, and that's kind of when I got the job, everybody talked about the 80s, the 80s, the 80s, and everybody was I think living back in the day. And I'm like, man, we've got to -- we can build our own program, and that's really what I wanted to do when I got the job. I didn't want to build a program, I wanted to build a program that was unique to Clemson, and I really had an understanding of Clemson and what it was going to take, and I had a deep belief in my vision and myself and what it would look like if we could just stay the course and kind of just take it one day at a time, one recruit at a time, one graduate at a time, and that's what we've done.
But I definitely think we're unique because we're not some blue blood of college football. We're not the famous logo. I mean, everybody sees some of these other schools out there that have this unbelievable tradition, but the cool thing for me is over the last decade, these kids growing up now, since they were eight years old, seven and eight years old, this is the only version of Clemson they know, and really that's all that matters. That's all that matters is today.
We can sit around and talk about what happened 30 years ago if we want to, or we can be in the moment. That's what I love about it, where we are right now, and it's refreshing. Like I said, for me to have a kid in California that wants to come to Clemson, it's really neat.
Q. Do you see any parallels to Florida State, Miami, 30, 40 years ago?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, probably. Maybe with what Coach Bowden did at Florida State, they kind of came out of nowhere and built a program that -- what Bobby Bowden did was amazing. I think there's some similarities there for sure as far as the consistency, and you can ask those questions now because, again, we've had eight, 10-plus win seasons in a row, and we've demonstrated staying power. And that's what I tell everybody, we're built to last. We have a coach leave, and oh, they're going to stink. Well, we get better. We have a great player leave. Oh, well, now Tajh is gone, now Deshaun is gone, now Sammy's gone. Well, we're built to last. Our program is not about a coach, it's not about a player. It's about our program and the culture that we've established there.
It's pretty neat to be a part of it.
Q. I want to know what teacher made the biggest impact in your life and why?
DABO SWINNEY: You're putting me on the spot because you know I grew up in one town, so from kindergarten to elementary to middle school to high school so I knew all the teachers my whole life. I was very unique that way, from the time I was in the 12th grade, I still knew my first grade teacher, second grade teacher, third grade teacher, so I had so many amazing relationships and I had so many of them poured into me. And, in fact, my fifth grade teacher, just last week, Miss Trenary, she texted me, just letting me know she's still watching. I've had so many great -- it's hard for me to single out one teacher, but I can tell you this: I'm a product of all of my teachers and coaches that I had in Pelham, Alabama, and some great teachers at the University of Alabama that have equipped me to be who I am today.
Q. You've mentioned Christian Wilkins a couple times. Taking away what he does on the field, what's the impact he's had on your program?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, it's really hard to put into words. He just won the Campbell Trophy, so I've never had anybody win the Campbell Trophy, top student-athlete in all of college football. Every semester of his entire collegiate career -- and he's got a Master's Degree, too -- he's never made below a 3.0. His impact, not just what he does on the field but how he handles himself academically, socially, spiritually, how he serves his teammates, the example he sets, he's an outside the box kind of a guy in so many ways, how he's responded to things along the way, whether it's been criticisms or whatever it may be. He's impacted our team because everybody pays attention to your superstar, so to speak. He's not your typical guy. I mean, this is a guy -- I always joke, he's going to either be the President of the United States or he'll be really good friends with him. He's just one of those people that is going to -- I can't wait to watch him in life. And he has so much fun living his life. Like he enjoys practice. I've never been around a guy that enjoys practice more than Christian Wilkins, all of it. And so those are things that I think he's impacted so many other guys with, much more than the plays that he's made on the field.
Q. He's talking about he was doing this substitute teaching work, and he kind of prefers the kindergarten -- is that the kind of a guy you --
DABO SWINNEY: Absolutely. You'll hear him say he kind of thought he was going to go in there and impact these little kindergartners and he was more impacted by them, just their genuineness and sincerity, and they don't know who he is, and they don't care. But just the pureness of a child, I think he really took a lot from that and helped him just kind of keep his feet on the ground and give him a perspective that I think is unique for a guy in his situation.
Q. You had Deshaun, a lot of people would consider him a once-in-a-lifetime quarterback. What was the moment in practice with Trevor where you realized, hey, I've got another one?
DABO SWINNEY: The day he got there, literally. The first day, because we have a lot of stuff that we install -- as a coach you have a plan for what we call installation, day one install, day two, day three, day four, day five, and you're trying to teach everyone your system, et cetera. His ability to absorb everything, first of all, so his mind, but then first day his skill on the field and watching how he just -- he didn't look like a freshman, and that's exactly how Deshaun was. The biggest difference was Deshaun was about 180 when he got there in January and Trevor was probably 205, 6'6", so physically he was a little bit ahead. But just his demeanor, his poise, his ability to absorb the playbook, I knew pretty early, man, this kid is going to be special.
Q. How much have you thought about the experience that you and Will and Drew might get to share Monday night?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, I've thought about it a lot, and it's one of those things I constantly remind myself of. It's just little things. Like I just -- I want to take a picture with them on the field, because I know that those are things 20 years from now that I'm going to cherish more than anything. It's just unique for me to be able to have this experience with my kids. They've grown up a part of it, and to see them now out there grinding every day and doing their part, it's special. I mean, as a father, it's just so special. And it's helped me, I think, really engage with my team even more because man, these are somebody's kid, and I know the love that I have for my own children. So it's been special for me to experience that with them, and to see Kath and -- we're just trying to just love every second of it and not be distracted by things that don't matter but just enjoy the journey.
Q. There are a couple more instances like that on this team, Coach Venables and Jake, the Davis brothers and Jeff. When you talk about family, you've got a lot of it.
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, Coach Stallings, him having a grandson on our team. He was at practice last week at the Cotton Bowl, and Brad has got, Jeff has got -- it's special. It really is. We live family. We are family. So I've loved every second of it. And I was talking to Jeff yesterday, the whole narrative in the Davis household has a chance to change because Jeff Davis has kind of been the man for a long time, and he's got that -- now he's got that one National Championship, now his twin boys have a chance to get two. They're twins, and everything comes in pairs with twins, so hopefully they can bring it home.
Q. When you look back at that Syracuse game, what do you remember from that game the most, and how proud are you how this team --
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, there's no team that's going to get here and not have some adversity or challenge along the way, and that was a lot of the challenge and adversity for us. Sometimes it can be injuries or things like that, but that was a tough moment for our team. But it was a galvanizing moment. Not just that game but that whole week, because obviously we had dealt with some challenge and some distractions and things like that, and to see our team just really kind of flex their muscles and show their heart, and to see how we had to play in the run game and how our defense had to step up in the second half to kind of allow Chase to kind of settle in, and then for Chase Brice, that 4th-and-6 throw that he made, and then coming back and the run that he made to put us down there to set up the score was awesome, and that's kind of been a huge part of this team's story for this year.
Regardless of what happens Monday night, hopefully we can win the game and that's a great part of it. But regardless, man, that's going to be always remembered as one of the biggest moments in this great season we've had.
Q. What's your favorite meal?
DABO SWINNEY: Smoking pig. Are you going to ask me how I like my hot dog? Chili dog, mustard only. This is Joey Chestnut, wow.
Q. What would be your favorite meal?
DABO SWINNEY: Pizza.
Q. What kind of tone does faith set in your football program?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I don't know, other than I think you've just got to be who you are, and I think being transparent and authentic with the people that you're around every day is always the best way to be. Hopefully I can be a good example to all those around me, through how I try to live my life.
Q. Does it ever clash with a recruit or a player?
DABO SWINNEY: No, I think, again, at the end of the day, nobody comes not knowing who you are. I think that everyone accepts each other and what their beliefs are, and to each his own in that regard.
DABO SWINNEY: Todd Bates is a great football coach and he's a guy that I kind of had my eye on for a while. He worked my camp. So when I had Dan Brooks retire, me and Hobby went to the Jags, I was able to hire him from Jacksonville State, and he's just done a phenomenal job. He's a great man, family man. I hire people first. That's what I always say, I recruit people first. I hire people first. Coaches second. So he's a great man, great father, great young coach, and got a bright future for sure, but he's done an unbelievable job in impacting us in his own way his first couple seasons.
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, actually talked to the team about that last night. It's really kind of unique, I guess he passed in June, and he actually called me not long before that, and I had sent him a jersey, and I kept his voicemail. I couldn't delete it because he was -- it took him a while to get the message out, but he was so appreciative of that jersey. I mean, here's a guy who's got Super Bowl rings and you name it, and he was talking about how he couldn't wait to frame that jersey and put it up in his office and how he still roots for his Tigers. So it's just kind of neat that we're getting ready to play in a stadium that I think probably has a statue out there of him. So we've got a couple things involved that I think will be special for our team.
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I'd say that they are the exact same defensively, just all three levels, amazing, physical, well-coached. You've just got to fight for every inch of grass. Every play is contested. Just no different. They've always got some freak inside like that No. 92 that you just go, oh, my Lord. That's no different. The biggest difference is this is by far the best version of the Alabama offense that we've seen in our matches with them. I mean, these guys are -- they scored 47 a game, we scored 44 a game, we've had 33 plays of 40 plus, they've had 30. So they're just explosive. Skill, dynamic quarterback, incredible backs, built in the trenches. So this is the biggest challenge we've had from an Alabama offense.
DABO SWINNEY: I think we're about mirror images. I think this is probably the -- this is the most veteran team that I've had in this game, and I think it's the deepest team that I've had, from a depth standpoint. We've got a true freshman quarterback. Haven't had that. But he's dynamic. He's a playmaker. He's got great skill around him. This is the best rushing team that we've brought into this game. I think we're top 10 in the country in rushing. So I think this is probably our most balanced group. And then defensively as good as we've had in this game for sure.
Q. Can you talk about Trevor's poise on and off the field and how it impresses you?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, I think it makes him unique. There's a lot of things that make quarterbacks great. Certainly size, the measurables, athletic ability, arm talent, accuracy, ability to process things. But I think one of the more underrated things is poise and demeanor. He's just special, you know, when it comes to that. He just is always the same, how he responds to great plays, how he responds to a bad play. He's really very special in that regard.
Q. What did you think of Christian (indiscernible)?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, I thought it was pretty Christian Wilkins-like. That's just kind of how he's wired. He's always going to be the opposite of what you think. I mean, he just -- you think, all right, here's a guy, he's got his degree, he's done, he's coming back for his last year, he's just going to take basket weaving for a semester and go pro. No, no, he's getting his Master's Degree, oh, and by the way, because he's got less time he wants to go substitute teach kindergartners. Who does that? But that's Christian. That's how he's wired. Very apropos for him.
DABO SWINNEY: I don't think it influenced my way of running our program. He didn't come in -- when he came in, I said, hey, I don't need you to come in here and change this program. We are who we are. You need to kind of go on a year listening tour because we're very different. But I want you to make us better, and I want you to -- so I kind of put him in charge of just helping us from a -- I put him in all of our recruiting. I wanted to build a recruiting department. But then more importantly, just facilities. He has this incredible knowledge and gift when it comes to looking at a space and making something great of it. And so he's been an awesome addition for us, and he brings a great edge to our staff. But I mean, our new facility, what we did in the west zone when he got there immediately, what we've done with our new facility, his hands are on all of that, and his ability to drive those things because he has such a great knowledge base from all aspects of the construction and so forth, and then but as he has gotten infused in our program and adjusted to kind of how we run things, he has made us better in so many ways. I mean, he's just been one of the best hires that I've ever made for sure. I'm real proud of that and the impact that he's had on our program.
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, I think he's just kind of caught his breath. I think for all freshmen, they all hit a wall somewhere, because it's a long season, and it's a day in and day outrun, especially for us. You take a guy like Justin Ross, every day he comes to practice he's got to go against Trayvon, Mo, and AJ Terrell, Marvin. I mean, he's not dealt with that. He's not had those days of practice every day. There's just no day off. Every single day you'd better show up or you get exposed. So there's a lot of adjusting that comes with that for these young players, so I think he hit a little wall early, but pushed through it, man, he is as good as we've ever signed, physically, mentally, just gifted ball skills. He's had a huge impact. He made freshman All-American and all that stuff, and he and T have been a great kind of dynamic duo at that 9-man position for us. But you'd best believe there's a lot more coming from that guy. He's going to have a phenomenal career.
DABO SWINNEY: It's been an amazing run. Our guys, we've won 54 games, they've won 55. The difference was last year, they got us. I think that this is the way it should be, the two best teams, the two best programs, the most consistent having a chance to kind of battle it out for all the marbles.
Q. I was talking to Woody McCorvey a little bit, and he said that you choose -- like in the morning when you meet with your staff, you choose a word, like a message, a word for your players, for your staff, and impart that to your staff and send them about their day. An example of one of those messages and how do you choose them?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I choose a word for the year every year, and I will kind of use that, and that's just kind of -- that just comes from God. I pray on it, and it's usually a word that just comes into my head and eventually I'm like, this is my word, and I will use that all year, and my word this year was joy. I just wanted to have joy in the moment, you know, and for me, joy comes from when you focus on Jesus, others and yourself, and that's helped me stay focused and keep my priorities in order, and to just have joy in the moment and not let anything steal it. And so I think when you've had the amount of success that we've had, man, and the busyness that comes with it and this and that, you can get so distracted. For me, just keeping the main thing the main thing.
I know that one day I'm not going to be doing this, and I'm going to have opportunities, my kids are going to be grown, and I don't know where I'll be. I'll be out there hanging out with y'all interviewing somebody or whatever, but I just want to -- I knew I had this great team, and I just wanted them to have great joy in the moment, just the day-to-day, because that's really what we're made from is the day-to-day, the struggles, the grind, the successes, the relationships that you have along the way with these guys. So I've been intentional with that all year. And then for our staff, we just kind of have a message that actually rotates around the room. So everybody has the opportunity to speak whatever they want to speak to the staff, and then I usually listen to them. And then I will take something from whatever it is on their heart and apply it and then we get on with our business. It's a great way for us to serve each other as men.
Q. I know you've been asked this a ton, but I got to talk to your son, what's that like in practice, you call them dad, and one of them was like, daddy coach. What's that like?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, they just call me dad if they ever need me. But yeah, it's really cool, man. It's been one of the greatest joys of my life to be able to watch my kids, because I know what our program is about, and to know that they're getting that, that my own kids are getting what we've been giving so many other kids for years is awesome to me.
It's a blessing.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports