(2009-Current): Coach Swinney became the interim Head Coach of Clemson following a road loss to Wake Forest mid-way through the 2008 season. He had the interim tag removed after beating the Gamecocks to close the regular season 4-2. They’d end the year with a Gator Bowl loss to Nebraska to finish the year 7-6 overall.
The next season, his first full year as the head coach, the Tigers won the ACC Atlantic Division for the first time (there had been four previous ACC seasons with split divisions, and Clemson had finished in second in their division twice under Bowden). They’d fall to Georgia Tech in that epic ACC Championship game in Tampa, FL, but that appearance marked step one in climbing the mountain. 2010 went very poorly as the Tigers finished 6-7, but failures from that season precipitated changes that would lead to a long and rich run of success which Tiger fans are still enjoying. Since the 2010 Meineke Car Car Bowl loss to South Florida, the Tigers have accomplished the following:
- 2011: 10-4 (ACC Champions)
- 2012: 11-2 (Chick-fil-A Bowl Champions)
- 2013: 11-2 (Orange Bowl Champions)
- 2014: 10-3 (Russell Athletic Bowl Champions)
- 2015: 14-1 (ACC & Orange Bowl Champions
- 2016: 14-1 (ACC, Fiesta Bowl, & National Champions)
- Total: 70-13
This six year stretch is easily the greatest in school history. It has come against the toughest competition both in the ACC (FSU won a National Championship and accounts for over 23% of Clemson’s losses over this stretch) and out of conference (LSU, UGA, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Alabama) Clemson has faced.
There have been other great stretches in Clemson history, but none like this:
- Charlie Pell and Danny Ford combined for a great run from 1978-1983 (55-12). Like Dabo’s six year run, it included three ACC titles and a National Championship, but it also includes an 8-4 season (1979) and a 6-5 season (1980) and ends with NCAA probation which would hurt the program in subsequent years.
- Frank Howard had a few great stretches too. A four year run of success from 1948-1951 (31-7-3) included an 11-0 season, but that run was book-ended by losing campaigns. A successful six year run took place in 1955-1960 (44-17-2), but it doesn’t hold a candle to what Dabo’s past six teams have accomplished.
It’s not just the past winning that makes Dabo Swinney the greatest in school history. Coach Swinney has built a rock-solid foundation for Clemson football which they should continue to build upon. While the last six years have been the best Clemson has experienced, there’s no reason to think regression is coming. Facilities, resources, and branding are all sharply headed upwards.
Maybe the greatest reason why there is so little hesitation in ranking Coach Swinney #1 is culture. Swinney has eschewed the “win at all costs” mentality which is ever-present in modern sports (see the current Ole Miss scandal). His emphasis not just on following the rules, but growing kids into successful young men leading fulfilling lives makes Clemson’s on the field success all the more special. Clemson avoids “processing” under-performing players, honors scholarships, and punishes rule breakers, yet wins at the highest level.
In his eight full seasons at Clemson, only 2010 was wholly unsuccessful. Coach Howard had losing seasons in five of his first eight. Even Coach Ford was just 14-9 in his first two seasons. With the future bright, the brand strong, the culture a shining light, and a full trophy case with more on the horizon, there’s no doubt Coach Dabo Swinney is the grandest legend and greatest coach in Clemson football history.
“The best is yet to come.” – Dabo Swinney