October 13 is a special day for Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney.
It was seven years ago that Swinney was named head coach of the Clemson Tigers after Tommy Bowden resigned following a Thursday night loss to Wake Forest. Now as the head coach of the 5th ranked team in the country, this day is all about reflection for the Tigers coach.
"This is always a day of reflection for me. It is always a special day for me and ironically today it falls on a day that we're having a press conference," Swinney said Tuesday. "I thought about it a few days ago and actually mentioned it to the team that over a seven year period it is amazing to me what we've been able to get accomplished as a program."
"We set out October 13, 2008 to change the culture here and create a better brand, if you will. To do things the right way and I am so thankful for that group of guys that bought into the message, and all of the guys that came through here. Most importantly to Tommy Bowden and Terry Don Phillips for giving me the opportunity at Clemson to be the coach here. So it's a special day for me, a day of reflection."
On a day that has such special meaning for Swinney and with a matchup this coming Saturday night at 7 p.m. against the nation's number one defense in Boston College, another topic dominated Swinney's press conference: the resignation of South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier.
Swinney said that he had the opportunity to speak with Spurrier early Tuesday morning and feels that they are forever linked together because of the significance of this date for both schools.
"I had a chance to talk with him this morning, and I really appreciate the opportunity to visit with him. It's kind of ironic that the (anniversary) birth of my career is the end of his career. I guess we're forever linked together in that regard."
"I will say this about Coach Spurrier, he has been great for college football and I have a ton of respect for him and what he's done for the game of college football."
Swinney, who has a 2-5 record against Spurrier, said that his time competing against the Head Ball Coach spanned nearly three decades dating back to his time at Alabama as a player. As the Spurrier era ends, Swinney understands the impact that Spurrier has had on the game of football is immeasurable.
"Coach Spurrier and I have been competing back to 1989 as a player. I remember vividly when he came to Florida because he was different. He brought a different philosophy to the game. He changed the game of college football," Swinney said. "All of his years at Florida I was at Alabama and we had several SEC Championships together. I actually sacked his punter in the first SEC Championship game and he threw his visor."
"Then I went on competing against him as a coach at Alabama and recruiting against coach Spurrier as the head coach. Then, obviously, coming here to Clemson and facing him ever since he's been at South Carolina. The one thing I'll say about Coach Spurrier is he has been consistent his whole career as far as who he is. Always been himself, and he's a winner...South Carolina has been around a long, long time and he took them to heights they had never seen before. He's one of the best to ever walk the sidelines."
Perhaps the greatest gift to the state of South Carolina from Steve Spurrier came in the form of what he did for the rivalry between the Tigers and the Gamecocks. Under Spurrier, the Gamecocks became nationally relevant, which meant the rivalry was nationally relevant for the first time in it's history.
For Swinney, having been a part of the Alabama/Auburn rivalry both as a player and as a coach, the increased national recognition of the rivalry came to a head two years ago when the two teams matched up for the first top-10 meeting in their history.
"This isn't a negative to South Carolina, it's just a reality about South Carolina's program. All you have to do is look at the history and the facts they only had one 10 win season in a hundred years before Coach Spurrier. This game nationally was not that big of a deal...Alabama and Auburn nationally have always had bigger implications. The rivalry part is the same, but with what Coach Spurrier did at South Carolina I'm the fortunate one to have been at Clemson during the greatest run in the history of the school.
"How many top-10 match-ups have you had historically in the Clemson/South Carolina game? Clemson, historically, has always been the better team, historically. There were some runs either way, but pretty much heavy, heavy Clemson. Even from a ranking standpoint. To have the games that we have had, a top-10 a couple of years ago for the first time ever, now the national implications of that game have changed drastically. And certainly with the personality of Coach Spurrier and the success that he's had over his career it certainly brought a more national audience to the this rivalry and now people are much more aware of it."
Even when the rivalry was tense, with both coaches exchanging jabs at the other through the media, Swinney said that there was a different side to Spurrier. A side that was the first to reach out to Swinney and offer encouragement.
"In terms of talking that's just kind of who he is. He's been that way his whole career. He would say something about me and I would be like, 'I can't believe he said that.' And I would make a comment back but then he would be the first one to call me and reach out to me. He's reached out a couple of times to offer me encouragement," Swinney said. "Called me a couple years ago when we got beat down there in Columbia. We just dominated that game and somehow we lose the game and he called me after the game and that's exactly what he said. He said, 'Man, ya'll just kicked our butt but you couldn't hang onto the ball'. Then he called me after the Georgia game last year. Listen, there's that side of him that persona that people see, sometimes he says things he wished he hadn't said or said a different way, but he has never been to a point where I didn't have respect for him or vice-versa."
Swinney and Spurrier have had some battles of the words over the last seven years, however, for Swinney, one exchange stands out in Swinney's mind as a classic Spurrier.
"The funniest one to me is someone asked me about me and Coach Spurrier and I just said that we get along, we're fine, we're just different. He's from Mars, I'm from Pluto. You know, we're just different in ways. And it was just an easy comment that next thing you know it's all over ESPN that he's from Mars and I'm from Pluto. Then he comes back and says,'I don't think Dabo knows Pluto ain't a planet anymore'. So I'm like dadgum Pluto was a planet when I was at Alabama. I missed that news flash along the way. Then low and behold we finally beat them suckers last years and guess what has happened? Pluto has made a comeback. Pluto is now a planet once again...He's just one of the best at picking up on what somebody says and having some fun with it, but again he's always one of those guys that always said what's on his mind. Always tried to do things the right way."
Apparently even in retirement the Tigers head coach is trying to outdo the Head Ball Coach, closing his comments on Spurrier by saying, "He's 70 years old. I'm gonna have to coach until I'm 71 to one up him."